“Or this could be Hell.”

Awareness Ishvarapranidhana Living Yoga Meditation Yoga

I attended a yoga class 10-or-so-years ago that was themed around this line from the Eagles’ Hotel California:

“This could be Heaven or this could be Hell.”

The intention behind the theme was to emphasize the idea that we can influence our experience of things. An experience, in this case, a set of challenging asana (yoga postures), could be heaven or hell depending on how we respond to it.

Wisdom has a way of weaving itself through our lives, and I recently had this lesson come back to me in a powerful way. I was sitting in my meditation practice, and I was feeling strong urges to get things done. My mind kept wandering to things I wanted to get done, and physically, I felt like my body was a firework about to explode. Sitting still felt out of line with everything my body wanted to do in that moment.

About midway through my practice, the lyrics popped into my head:

“This could be Heaven or this could be Hell.”

And with that thought, my body softened and my mind settled. I wasn’t going to cut my practice short to try and get more things done, so I could either sit and agonize over not being able to do other things in this moment or I could meet myself where I had committed to be.

Recalling the song lyrics reminded me that there was choice in this moment. There are many things that I can’t control, but my thoughts are not one of those things. It was completely within my power to engage differently with this experience, and so I did.

I accepted that I wasn’t going anywhere until my practice was complete. And, in accepting where I was, I found significantly more ease and even some enjoyment in the moment. I reconnected with my commitment to the practice and the powerful change it has facilitated in my life. I remembered that – for better or for worse – I chose this.

But life can throw things at us that are much more challenging than yoga. Things we didn’t choose. Things no one would choose. Things that are hard and heartbreaking.

It is still worth considering that there is wisdom in reflecting upon how we respond to things, but perhaps it might be better to say something along the lines of:

“This could be [hard and heartbreaking] or this could be Hell.”

This experience could be a challenging one that pushes me beyond what I thought were my limits, or it could be a horrible catastrophe that I can’t see myself moving through. We are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. We can improve our ability to cope. The ego may not love the idea that we could make changes to bring more ease into our challenging experiences, but paradoxically, we tend to feel rather proud of ourselves when we do.

Meditation: Training Your Puppy-Mind



I was thirteen years old when I discovered that my synchronized swimming coach actively practiced meditation. I remember feeling awkward when I found out. My limited exposure to meditation at the time had left me believing that it was something only strange people did. I resisted the urge to jokingly touch my pointer finger and thumb together (in chin mudra) but I didn’t understand why this “normal” person was doing something so strange.

In the days to follow, my respect for my coach led me to start considering that there might be something to this meditation thing – and thus began my first explorations of a meditation practice. I remember sitting at home on my couch trying to quiet my mind completely, but it didn’t take long for me to determine that I could not meditate. My mind wasn’t even close to quiet. I was lucky if I went five seconds without a thought!

Many years later, I have learned that I was more than capable of meditating at that time. Meditation is not about stopping thoughts or completely clearing the mind, nor is it a strange esoteric exercise. Rather, meditation is a practice of noticing when your thoughts wander, and committing to bringing them back to your focus. The focus of a meditation practice could be your breath or your body, a posture, a mantra, or a form of music or art. Whatever your focus of choice, having thoughts does not mean you can’t meditate – or that you are bad at meditation. Thoughts simply present the opportunity to continue to practice.

I find it helpful to imagine that the mind is like a little puppy. It is excitable and distractible and eager to be a part of everything. The mind solves problems. It analyzes, assesses and judges. It remembers and reminds. But sometimes it also broods, fixates and catastrophizes. It means well, but sometimes it pees on the carpet.

When we practice meditation, we are training our mind just like we would train a puppy. We learn to recognize that many of our thoughts don’t serve us and we train and empower ourselves to move away from those thoughts. While scientific studies continue to provide an increasing amount of evidence for the benefits of a meditation practice (including improved memory and concentration, stress-reduction, relief from chronic pain, relaxation, and an increase in qualities such as love and empathy), one of the greatest benefits I have experienced through meditation is a freedom from thought. I’ve learned to recognize how and when my thoughts are perpetuating negative feelings, and that I have the choice – and the ability – to move away from those thoughts. I still feel those challenging emotions, but I am less likely to unintentionally magnify them. Simply put, I am less likely to make things harder on myself.

Practicing meditation has been a source of ease in my life, and with that experience, it has shifted from something I once thought was strange to something I consider to be incredibly practical and empowering.

Photo credit: Chris Yakimov, www.doucy.net






What difference does a day make?

Living Yoga Meditation Yoga

When I was taking her class last October, Julie Peters mentioned that she was in the midst of a personal 40-Day Meditation Challenge. Her commitment was to practice meditating for 11 minutes every day for 40 days. I had been negotiating a daily meditation practice for a few years, but I hadn’t ever thought to approach it in such a structured and succinct way – and I was sold!

With the craziness of the holiday season looming, I decided to take on a 61-Day Meditation Challenge. Each day in November and December, I committed to 15 minutes of meditation practice. The challenge wasn’t always easy, but I made it through without missing a day. And, the noticeable impact of this committed practice inspired me to go bigger.

Starting January 1, 2011, as a New Years commitment, I took on a 365-Day Meditation Challenge. I set out to practice meditation for 15 minutes every day for the entire year. And, I stuck to this commitment, no matter how much I didn’t want to or didn’t feel like I had time to, until April 30.

I had followed through with my commit to practice meditation for 180 days in a row – and then, I missed a day. April 30 was an intense, emotional and draining day, and I completely forgot to sit for 15 minutes. I realized the next morning that I had missed a day for the first time since November 1.

Missing a day felt a lot less tragic than I imagined it would. I moved through it with compassion, and I stayed grounded in knowing that the significance of a 365-Day Challenge is not the perfect completion of it, but the day-to-day lessons of the journey. And, missing a day has turned into one of the most powerful lessons of the experience thus far.

Since missing a day, I have noticed a shift in my relationship with the practice. When I feel resistance towards fitting the 15 minute sit into my day, there is a new voice that joins in to support the resistance. This voice offers that missing a day isn’t really that big of a deal or that I’ve done some other sort of practice during the day that makes up for skipping 15 minutes of sitting. This voice was not present before April 30.

Since missing one day, I have found the commitment noticeably harder to keep, and I have missed two additional days since then.

I have learned that unfaltering commitment is unquestionably easier to maintain than faltering commitment. In other words, once a commitment has been broken it is infinitely harder to stay committed, and a common expression capturing this idea is “Once a cheater, always a cheater.”

While the expression is usually used within the context of a committed romantic relationship, it can be taken to a much more global level: once you cheat on a commitment that you have made (to yourself or someone else), it will become significantly more challenging not to cheat on that commitment again.

Whether it is one day of meditation, one kiss, one cookie or one day not going to the gym, I have learned the answer to the question: What difference does one make?

And the answer is all the difference in the world.

When you break a commitment, it is broken – and it takes a great deal more strength and will power to fully recommit.

So with this post begins my 210-Day Meditation Challenge!

Photo by Chris Yakimov @ www.doucy.net