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,






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 @

A Seeker seeks Non-Seeking


One of the fabulous things about teaching yoga with YYoga is the opportunity to attend the weekly teacher development sessions they hold. The topics covered in these sessions are very diverse (from anatomy to philosophy to the Feldenkrais Method), and the trainings also provide the opportunity to connect with and learn from other teachers in the community.

I recently attended a session led by Lisa Gibson called Big Mind Meditation.  While even my own understanding of the Big Mind approach is likely still limited, I offer an introductory sentence from their website:

The Big Mind Process, created by Zen Master Genpo Merzel, is a combination of Eastern non-dual wisdom and Western psychological understanding to transmit the essence of Zen in a way that is readily accessible and relevant to the modern day.

The Big Mind process that Lisa led us through involved engaging with different voices, or different aspects of our consciousness. She first asked us to put our named sense of our self aside (so imagine “Sarah” on the other side of the room), and asked to speak to “The Controller.” She then led us to develop our own sense of the voice of “The Controller,” as she asked about what we did, what our role was, how we helped our named self (in my case, Sarah) and how we hindered her.

Lisa then asked “The Controller” permission to speak with different voices. All Controllers in the room said yes, so she moved on to speak with The Skeptic, The Innocent Child, The Damaged Self, The Protector, Fear and a number of other voices.

(If I am losing you completely, this Wikipedia article outlines the technique with more depth: )

One of the voices I was able to speak from with ease was The Seeker. I am very connected to my seeking self – to put it mildly. But, when Lisa shifted us from the voice of The Seeker to the voice of The Non-Seeker, I was stumped.

She asked the group of Non-Seekers questions about being a non-seeker, and I couldn’t answer because I couldn’t relate to not seeking. While I’m not always seeking things that are commonly lauded as things to seek, I’m always seeking. When I sit in meditation, I am seeking peace, insight and ease. When I sit on the couch and watch my favourite TV show (How I Met Your Mother), I am seeking laughter and light-heartedness.

I wasn’t the only person in the room who felt the lack of a non-seeking voice. A couple people commented on their struggle with the concept, and finally I said, “I don’t think I have a non-seeking voice.”

Lisa directed her attention to me and repeated, “I am speaking to the Non-Seeking self,” a few times.

And, then it hit me.

Only for a moment – maybe two, I was completely present.

I experienced a level of presence that I have never experienced before, and I realized that the non-seeking voice is only accessible when I am completely present. As soon as I start to reflect on the non-seeking voice, I am no longer in it because I am looking to the past.

My mind was metaphorically blown.

I usually have a sense of what my blog posts offer to people, but with this one, I’m not certain what – if anything – I am offering. I am still processing this mind-blowing, “Aha” moment of sorts, but my gut tells me there is something important here.

Maybe I’ll write about that next week…