March is for meditating

Laura sitting in easy pose meditatingLarge-scale change has been a constant for me over the last year and a half (new languages! new cities! new places to travel! new residences!) and, despite being somewhat settled in Calgary, there are still many more changes coming. To help me manage this upheaval, I’m undertaking a personal meditation challenge and committing to daily meditation for the month of March.

I’ve selected a Sanskrit meditation for abundance; partially to encourage my levels of energy and enthusiasm and partially just because I like the way it sounds 😉 I’ll be chanting 108 repetitions of Om Shreem Mahalakshmiyei Namaha along with Deva Premal for the next 31 days and hoping that the regularity helps me feel content and calm.

The words are relatively simple (no long complicated Sanskrit phrases!), it takes under 10 minutes, and Deva Premal’s version is well-paced and easy to follow (take a listen on YouTube, if you’d like). I’ll have very few excuses not to stick to meditating for abundance in March!

What’s wrong with a little vanity?

The current 40-Day Meditation Challenge at Bound Lotus focuses on the third chakra (physically centred somewhere between the navel and solar plexus) and involves a fair amount of contracting the abdominal muscles. One of the teachers leading the meditation was half-joking about measuring her waist at the start of the 40 days and then again at the end to see if all that ab work meant a tauter tummy. She then sheepishly apologized for her vanity.

Laura's vanity shot - looking like a movie star

But what’s so wrong with a little vanity?

Following the assumption that we’re biologically programed to reproduce and keep the human race going, we’re hardwired to want to be attractive. There have been all kinds of studies showing that conventionally attractive people make more money and are more likely to be considered successful.

For better or for worse, we exist in social groupings and we’re happiest in those groups when we fit in and feel valued. Being sensibly vain demonstrates a normal human need to be accepted by others and flourish within our social groups.

There’s certainly a difference between a little vanity and becoming self-absorbed and shallow… but there’s no need to apologize for wanting to be attractive and accepted.

The photo I’ve included with this post shows off my own vanity. I think I look like a movie star 🙂

Meditating on authenticity

Today marks day 40 (the last day!) of the second meditation challenge of 2012 at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre. While I didn’t partake in the meditation challenge this time around, I did get to lead the Friday evening sessions.

Leading meditation sessions was a unique opportunity for me as all the Bound Lotus meditation challenges use Kundalini meditations (which tend to be quite active and can be pretty complex) and I’m not a trained Kundalini yoga teacher.

The meditation was focused on the second chakra and involved chanting the mantra “Har hare haree – Wahe guru” for 11 minutes while holding guyan mudra and performing arm gestures. It celebrates the creative spirit and a loose translation of the mantra is “Hallelujah for the creativity of the universe!” Guyan mudra is the hand gesture of wisdom and the arm gestures are meant to gather creative energy into the second chakra (roughly at the level of the tailbone).

I was a little nervous before leading my first meditation a few weeks ago – luckily a few friends were willing to let me use them as guinea pigs beforehand! After leading a practice meditation session with friends, I knew I could do it for real at Bound Lotus.

The five Friday evening meditations I led went well, but I didn’t feel quite settled for them. While students assured me that I was doing fine and seemed quite comfortable, something felt awkward to me.

Maybe it was wearing the full whites of a Kundalini teacher but not being trained in that tradition; maybe it was not partaking in the whole 40 days of meditation; maybe it was just too far out of my comfort zone. Wherever the disconnect was, I wasn’t confident leading the meditations.

The contrast between how I feel teaching yoga classes (awesome! empowering! satisfied!) and the unease I experienced for each meditation session underscored my unsuitability for leading Kundalini meditations.

I was asked to continue leading the Friday evening sessions for the next meditation challenge, but felt too inauthentic doing the second chakra ones to carry on with the third chakra cycle. I feel like a great version of myself when I teach yoga classes or do a Kundalini practice, but I felt like a fraudulent version of myself while leading the meditation sessions.

I’m happy to have led Kundalini meditations and I’m grateful for the experience (particularly the students’ support!) but I’m also happy to discover how much I value teaching with authenticity and confidence. Mostly, I’m happy to be able to say ‘no’ to situations where I don’t feel like a great version of myself.

Silence through boredom

The hand gesture of wisdomThe second 40-Day Meditation Challenge of 2012 at Bound Lotus started earlier this week and Sofie and I joined the meditation this morning. The first 40-Day Meditation focused on the first chakra (or energy centre); the second one fittingly concentrates on the second chakra.

The mantra (or meditative phrase) we’re using for this Meditation Challenge is the Kundalini seed mantra: Har hare haree; Wahe guru (pronounced: Har haray haree; Wha-hay guroo – with kind of a silent “d” after the har). We’re repeating the mantra for 11 minutes – chanting along to the version by Gurudass from Longing to Belong. This meditation also involves holding guyan mudra (the hand gesture for wisdom – shown in the photo at right) and moving our arms. It’s a trifecta of techniques for meditative concentration; chanting the mantra, holding the mudra, and repeating the arm movements.

I find manta meditations very effective at clearing my brain and finding internal silence. Chanting the same sounds over and over again pretty much bores my brain to death and stops me from thinking. The Sanskrit syllables don’t connect with any meaning like English words might and my mind starts to let go of everything but the mantra.

Adding in holding a mudra and repeating arm movements, further drives out any thoughts and helps bring my mind to stillness.

I’ve compiled a list of other musical mantras I like for meditation, which are great to chant along with or have playing during meditation. I also like having mantras playing while I do other tasks like food prep or dishes; I often find myself chanting along and finding a bit of stillness as I cook!

Celebrating day 41

Laura celebrating day 41 with pink fizzyCompleting 40 consecutive days of sat kriya and an accompanying 40 days without alcohol obviously means celebrating with pink fizzy wine (Summerhill Cipes Rose to be precise) in the tub.

At points, doing without a glass of wine felt harder than getting to the studio to do the meditation, but two weeks in, wine was the furthest thing from my mind. The bottle of white in the fridge was easy to ignore and abstaining while other people were enjoying wine or beer wasn’t a challenge.

That being said, days two, eight, and 12 without liquor were the hardest. On day 12, it felt like the relatively small problems I’d experienced during the day would have been instantly fixed with a glass of wine; instead I had a good friend cheer me up (yay for Scott!) and enjoyed some TheatreSports. Who needs booze?

On balance, I think I’m happier having a glass of wine when I want one (which isn’t usually in the bathtub on Sunday morning 🙂 ), but it’s nice to know that I have the willpower to get me through days two, eight, and 12 without giving in to temptation.

Mission Accomplished!

After 40 days of the Sat Kriya meditationAlthough, in the tradition of Dubya, it’s really only half done smile emoticon I finished the 40-Day Meditation Challenge this morning, but have one last evening of abstaining from alcohol to go.

This morning’s meditation at Bound Lotus felt so positive and uplifting; there was a wonderful energy in the space. I know that the last iteration of sat kriya this evening will be even better and I hope that everyone else who did this meditation challenge feels amazing – whether they meditated for four days or 40.

By day 40, I no longer found 11 minutes of sat kriya physically demanding (other than a twinge in my left shoulder when lowering my arms), but the mental challenge was certainly still present. I know clearing my mind will likely remain easier said than done, but practice will keep making it better.

With the end in sight, this last week was a struggle. It felt great meditating in a group on Monday after going solo for the weekend, but by Wednesday, I was ready to be done. Like really done.

Thankfully, my willpower kicked in and I made it to the studio for the remaining meditations. And today I came home from my 40th day of meditation, ate a healthy breakfast, cleaned the house, did my physio exercises, and got on the indoor cycling trainer afterwards! No signs of my willpower being exhausted!

Weekend warrior

Laura holding Warrior II at Mosquito CreekAfter my Friday evening yin yoga class at Bound Lotus, I was lucky enough to escape the city for a weekend away with friends. The time away (even though we didn’t go far) was fabulous. Nothing like a bit of time away from the usual routine to refuel and reconnect.

Great food, great company, great weather… and the Superbowl on Sunday. Amidst all the eating and relaxing I managed to do my sat kriya meditations on Saturday and Sunday (despite the smell of smoking meat for the Superbowl feast threatening my concentration!) and do a lovely hatha sequence – complete with Warrior II.

My contribution to the amazing food came in the form of homemade cinnamon buns. The recipe is a holdover from my eight months or so eating vegan, but you’d never miss the eggs and dairy. If you’re not concerned about keeping animal products out of the cinnamon buns, I’m sure butter would work in place of the vegan margarine.

Vegan cinnamon buns

Ingredients
Dough

  • 1 cup plain almond milk
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp instant yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups white bread flour *
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp ground flax
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup melted soft vegan margarine (such as Earth Balance in the tub)

* You can also use 4 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour if you don’t have bread flour. The bread flour just ups the gluten content which means the buns rise a bit more and are chewier.

Filing

  • 1/3 cup soft vegan margarine (like Earth Balance from the tub)
  • 1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Method

  • Warm the milk just enough to still be able to dip your finger in it – microwaving it at 60% for a minute seems to work well
    • If the milk is too hot it will kill the yeast, so heat the milk slowly
  • Add the sugar to the warmed milk and stir; add the yeast and let proof for 10 minutes
    • The yeast/milk/sugar mixture should get foamy on top of the milk; if the mixture doesn’t froth, get new yeast and try again
  • While the yeast is proofing, measure the flour and cinnamon into a large bowl and set aside
  • Combine the ground flax seeds and water and whip with a hand-mixer or stick blender until it gets thick and frothy
  • When the yeast is proofed, pour in the melted margarine, vanilla extract, and flax mixture and stir gently to combine
  • Add the wet mixture to the flour and mix the dough until most of it has come together
  • Turn out the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead it for 5 to 10 minutes; you know the dough is well-kneaded when it’s smooth and soft with an elastic texture
  • Let the dough rest for 5 minutes while you wash the large bowl and tidy up the kitchen
  • Place the dough in the now-clean bowl and cover with a tea towel that’s been run under hot water and wrung out; set the bowl in a warm place (like a sunny window or on top of a warm dryer – I often wash towels while baking yeast breads so the laundry room is nice and warm) and let rise for at least 30 minutes or until the dough ball has doubled in size
  • Make the filling by combining the soft margarine with the brown sugar and cinnamon; set aside until the dough is rolled out and ready for the filling
  • Once the dough has risen the first time, turn it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and lightly punch it into a rectangle
  • Stretch and roll the dough into a rectangle that is 1/4 inch thick and roughly 16 by 20 inches
  • Once the dough is rolled out, spread the cinnamon filling evenly over the dough, leaving a 2″ naked margin on one of the long edges of the rectangle
    • The naked edge is important because it will stick to the outside of the dough once you’ve rolled it up and seal in your filling
  • Pick up one of the short edges of the dough and roll the dough into a log; make sure the roll is equal in thickness by adjusting the position of the dough as you roll
    • The whole roll should be about 3″ in diameter
  • Gently grasp the dough with both hands and adjust the length by slightly lifting it off the rolling surface; you can also squeeze the roll gently to even out the thickness
  • Use a sharp knife to cut the dough into 8 roughly equal rolls
  • Line a 9”x12” baking pan with the parchment paper, with the long ends of the paper hanging over the edge of the pan
  • Turn the rolls on their ends and transfer them to the pan; position the rolls so they touch each other, rather than the sides of the pan, with the seams turned inwards so the rolls don’t unravel during rising or cooking
  • Cover the pan with the damp tea towel again, re-rinsed in hot water and wrung out; let the buns rise in a warm spot again for 30 minutes, or until they have doubled in size
  • Preheat the oven to 400F
  • When the buns are finished their second rising, bake them 15-20 minutes, or until they’re light golden brown and cooked through
  • Separate the buns while they’re still warm and let them cool on a wire rack – putting wax paper under the rack catches any cinnamon filling drips and makes clean-up a lot easier