A dear friend recently gifted me with Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty. I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s making me laugh out loud as the characters navigate their first encounter with meditation, “monkey mind,” and “the noble silence” during a health retreat set in a remote place in Australia.
I’ll admit that part of my laughter is somewhat shamefaced as once upon a time, my initial reaction to such “woo” concepts was just as snarky as Frances Welty’s, one of the main characters.
Our modern lives are full of demands on our time and energy—they come at us 24/7 in surround sound from the external world, whether real or virtual.
As a part-time consultant and freelance editor, a full-time entrepreneur with a health coaching practice, and the COO of a family of four, I’m no stranger to this noise.
Not too long ago, even at times when those two external worlds were relatively silent—usually in the early morning hours or late at night—my mind often had trouble silencing the inner chatter: there was today’s (unfinished) to-do list, the I-can’t-believe-I-forgot-to-do list (yes, I really did once forget to pick my child up from school), the what-does-tomorrow-require-me-to-do list … and a deep yearning for just a little rest, a little peace and quiet.
At my annual physical 6 years ago, my integrative physician said to me, “I really think you should try meditation.”
I didn’t have time to meditate. I’d always been a do-er with no shortage of self-discipline: I got up at 4:00 in the morning to exercise (because believe me, it just wouldn’t happen once anyone else was up, and I really did need an hour to get through what needed to be done in the morning so I could spend just 10 minutes reading over a cup of coffee); I couldn’t sit through meetings because there was so much to get done; I ate “al desko” to get a few more emails answered; I dropped my work bag at the door and moved directly into the kitchen to empty the dish rack and prepare dinner….
I gave it a half-hearted attempt for a few days, but it really didn’t work. Paraphrasing Erma Bombeck, I couldn’t lie still in a relaxing bubble bath because all I could smell was the mildew around the tub. I just couldn’t still my mind.
I settled for “walking meditation,” which seemed to be a good compromise. I was following the doctor’s orders (kinda) but still doing something, and—conveniently—getting where I needed to be and getting some exercise in the bargain.
It was still all about multi-tasking.
Six months later, I heard a lecture by Dr. Andrew Weil in which he demonstrated what he calls “4-7-8 Breath,” a simple breathing exercise for relieving tension, falling asleep, dealing with food cravings, calming anxiety—really for any time you need to hit the pause button.
I’ll try anything once (twice if I like it), so I tried incorporating it into my day: once at the end of my morning workout and once as I was getting ready to sleep (my husband laughed heartily at this because I really don’t EVER have trouble falling asleep, but I figured it couldn’t hurt).
And it requires less than a minute—57 seconds to be exact. Even I could afford that.
The results were nothing short of amazing: within a week, I was calmer, and not just during or after doing the breathing exercise—I mean all day long. And suddenly, there were opportunities to hit the pause button throughout my day:
- Nothing used to irritate the power walker in me more than hitting a “don’t walk” sign—and it became a chance to stop and look around.
- Internet access issues and slow connections made me tear my hair out—Must. Get. Work. Done!—and they became a reminder to stand up, walk around, and stretch.
- Getting a busy signal on the phone or no answer to an email? That project would just have to wait.
- Slow traffic? Stop sign? Red light? It was a message from the Universe that I was moving too fast.
Every hitch in my day, every glitch that impeded my progress became a sign from the Universe: stop, look, listen, breathe.
Everything that needs doing gets done. I get where I need to go. The family (and the dog) get fed and get to their respective activities more or less on time. The house gets clean and the laundry and dishes and grocery shopping get done.
And I have a much calmer and more focused energy.
(And in case you’re wondering, I do still get up at 4am—and those 120 minutes before anyone else in the house stirs are blessedly quiet, internally and externally!)
If you remember pre-Cosby Show, pre-scandal, stand-up comic Bill Cosby, it’s tempting to channel “Noah” when thinking about messages from a higher power:
“Who is this?”
“It’s the Lord, Noah!”
“Who is this really???”
These “pause” messages from the Universe become more and more audible as you tune your mind to their frequency. And I promise, they come without that annoying “Vooba, vooba, vooba…PING!” alert.
I’m still working on developing a regular meditation practice—we’re all a work in progress—and as a health coach, I recommend breathing exercises as a place to start finding those small moments in between where we can even briefly hit the pause button and find the stillness our bodies, minds, and spirits crave.
As with any new exercise, be careful: breathing exercises—particularly if done incorrectly—can cause light-headedness or dizziness. Proceed with caution and consult with your primary health care provider, especially if you have any breathing or cardiovascular issues.
A few simple breath exercises can be found here:
Happy breathing—may it help you to find the pause button!
Ann Arbor’s Liza Baker, a WLAA health columnist, is a full-time Integrative Nutrition® health coach, cookbook author, part-time consultant, and woefully underpaid COO of a busy family of four. Liza lives in a half-empty nest in Ann Arbor and is passionate about health and happiness, education and exercise, SOLE/SOUL food and social justice. You can get a taste of her work at https://simply-healthcoaching.com and join the (Sorta) Secret Sisterhood, her membership site for women over 40, at https://simply-healthcoaching.com/membership.