"The Hardy Heart" monthly blog - June 2017
In the Spring of 2008 I found myself super depressed. I was loosing weight, couldn't get a full night's rest and everything seemed really heavy. I had just come to the end of my first "long term" relationship and being a helpless romantic was, well...feeling helpless. I had been practicing weekly yoga with an incredible instructor Kimmy Warren at the old Centered City Yoga in Salt Lake for about a year and was curious about getting a meditation practice going. I had a really solid idea/instinct that meditation would help see me through the depression.
The previous summer I had backpacked for six weeks with my little brother and two of our best friends through Costa Rica. Halfway through the trip we ended up staying on a Hare Krishna farm for a few days. Immersed in the Spanish language, we enjoyed tasty vegetarian meals, soaked up some peace and quiet, and spoke, sang and sat with some good people. The morning we left, we stopped into their small gift shop and I found a beautiful necklace of wooden beads with an orange tassel as a souvenir for my sister that I presented to her when we got back home. Little did I know how much that "necklace" would come to mean to me.
As I gathered information on how one would go about meditating, one of the techniques I came across was the use of mala beads. In this technique one uses a strand of beads (many traditions specifically use 108 beads) with a tassel as essentially a timer. The practitioner starts on one side of the tassel and works their way through the beads until coming back to the tassel. After seeing a few images of mala beads I suddenly realized that the gift I had given my sister a few months earlier was not just a necklace, but a meditation tool. When I told my sister what I was working on, she pulled the beads from their hanging display in her room and parted them to me for my quest.
The next morning I went into my backyard on a beautiful day and sat myself on a cushion underneath a large tree. I had a glass of water, the mala bead necklace and was dressed in a comfortable pair of thai fisherman pants. Some practitioners of meditation that use malas will recite mantras or chants as they work through the beads. I decided that I would simply take a long inhale on one bead and a long exhale on the next, until the cycle was complete. I used a breathing technique I had learned from my yoga instructor Kimmy called "ujjayi," in which one breathes in and out through the nose while constricting the muscles in the back of the throat (the same set of muscles you use to gasp for air or fog up a mirror).
About forty-five minutes later I came back to the tassel, opened my eyes, uncrossed my partially asleep legs and spent several minutes stretching my body out. The experiment was a success! During the session I was able to tap into a part of my consciousness that felt like a container for the rest. This is often referred to in meditation as "the seat of the observer," where you are able to experience a third party perspective of your mind, emotions and body. I started making meditation a ritual inside of my week. Sometimes I would hit all seven days, sometimes it would just be a couple. It most definitely helped me with processing my break up and depression, as well as I'd say every other part of my life. Flat out, I just feel like a better version of myself when I am making meditation a part of my life.
Over the years I have explored different techniques and approaches. My current rhythm does not involve mala beads all of the time. I get out of bed in the morning and sometimes before my coffee, sometimes after, will sit myself on a cushion in front of my altar. I make sure my phone is on airplane mode, set a timer and then sometimes I actively do my uujayi breathing or other times I simply sit and pay attention to my body breathing. It is not always the same. It comes in waves of clarity like everything in life. One of my biggest take aways is that the more I try to grip tight onto the concept or a specific result, the less I get out of it. It really has become a time in my life where I just get to exist.
I include private meditation sessions in my bag of offerings as a yoga teacher. I LOVE sharing meditation with folks one on one or in a group setting. After I started writing this blog I got a hair brained idea about hosting a by donation weekly meditation session at my home. If you are interested in practicing meditation lets get in touch! I hope all of you are happy and healthy and enjoying the Summer.
- James Hardy