Monday, May 5, 2014

Today I meditated through an anxiety attack (and how YOU can too)

Wanna learn to meditate without reading my sob story? Here's my take on it:

How to do a seated meditation - click to open video!

For the not so faint of heart...please read below:

I should be medicated. With whatever the strongest pills they're giving to freaks like me these days are. Seriously, if I had ever allowed a Western medical doctor to catch a glimpse of the inside workings of my mind, I would have been prescribed some form of anti-anxiety medication (anti-psychotics?) since my teen years, if not earlier.

Anxiety: "a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome."

I like to call that "imminent event" or "something with an uncertain outcome" LIFE. Yes, my friends- all day every day we have plenty to be anxious about. A little bit of anxiety is healthy. It keeps you on your toes just enough not to get kidnapped in a foreign country or mugged on the subway. It encourages you to turn in your homework and pay your bills on time. It keeps you awake and alert- like a little meerkat in the savanna: eyes WIDE open, neck on a swivel, ready to scurry at the first sign of predator's approach. 

In excess, and when not directed towards a particular "predator" of one kind or another, anxiety is just like poison. As it courses through your body and brain in the form of hormones and other nasty stress-inducing chemicals, it causes shortness of breath, butterflies in the stomach, and general dis-ease. It prepares us for fight of flight and when neither of those mechanisms is engaged, it leads to unhealthy coping methods as a means of self-medication, many of which I know all too well. Eating disorders? Check. Excessive drinking? Check. Isolation and/or self-punishment? Check AAAAAND check.

So what do we humans do, conditioned as we are to worry and obsess and freak out and toss and turn and stew and stress? Pop a magical pill? Sure, that can help. And when you're really in the deep deep depths of a panic attack I say POP AWAY. I've been there. Without drugs. In bed or at my desk feeling like my skin was getting too hot and tight to keep the contents of my body in - when tears are on the verge of becoming projectile and you want to run or tear something apart with your bear hands just to feel some sort of release. Have you been there? Or somewhere like that? Maybe your anxiety takes on a more passive, sad, calm, mourning quality. Or maybe you lash out at other people - usually loved ones - rather than internalizing the wretched feelings like I do. 

But now I'm a yogi so all this is in the past, right? HA!

Sometimes when things feel like they're going to well, I start to crack a little - maybe you can relate. Rather than just allowing contentment  to be the dominant quality of my existence, I find the one area in my life that is the least vibrant and I narrow in on it. Analyze it from all angles. Hurl insults at myself. Take my anxiety-induced chemical concoction of toxic waste and pour it over my happiness until it shrivels up like The Wicked Witch of the West ("I'm melting! I'm melting."). Right now the area is career/income though I won't go into the absurdity of this concern because that is not what's important. The cruel thing about anxiety is that what you are worrying about is (almost) NEVER REAL. Beautiful women have anxiety about their looks. Very wealthy people are up nights pounding shots panicking over their next big business deal. And even when problems are "real," the anxiety does more harm than good creating more fear, rather than bringing you closer to a useful solution.

So today, like everyday, I sat down to meditate. I set my Insight Timer for 20 minutes, I found my comfortable seat, I brought my current mantra into focus (Om Gam, Ganapataye Namaha), and settled my breath. There were a few moments of stillness and then boom: a violent thought crept into my brain. Then another. Then another. These were not your standard "gee my leg hurts," or "gosh I'm hungry for breakfast how much time is left," mundane kinda thoughts. Mean, alarmist, cortisol-producing thoughts.

I felt my chest tightening ("om, gam, ganapataye, namaha"). The mantra would take center stage for a few moments and then BOOM another thought ("om, gam, ganapataye, namaha"). An epic fight inside my mind between my mantra and my monkey brain- just like Arjuna on the battlefield. Tears began to well up in my eyes. I thought more negative thoughts. Then I thought about how useless they were. Then they made me cry again. Then they went away. Then THEY CAME BACK. Then they made me laugh. Then the mantra returned. Then I thought about how hungry I was. Then I got sick of thinking and thoughts subsided a bit and my chest loosened and I could breathe again and the mantra grew louder in my mind (OM, GAM, GANAPATAYE, NAMAHA).  I spent a few spacious moments with my mantra and my breath until the gong chime sounded on my iPhone and my 20 minutes was up.

Does that sound like meditation to you? Well it is. The thing about meditation is you do not have to do it "well" to do it. Remember the first time you went for a jog and told yourself you were going to do a full 30 minutes? You ran for three minutes, you stopped to tie your shoe for three minutes. You jog another three minutes, you stop to catch your breath and curse yourself for two minutes...and so on and so on and so on. That's why we call it a "meditation practice" and not a meditation perfect. 

Sometimes meditation feels easy and peaceful. And sometimes it gives you a front row seat to the horror flick that's running on a loop inside your brain. Sometimes you go for a run and your legs feel like Tigger's tail as you bound along the pavement. Sometimes you feel like you've got cement shoes on and the Marlboro Man's lungs inside your chest (oh and every song that comes on your playlist sucks). 

Meditation is like a microcosm of life. You just keeping showing up and witnessing whatever you experience without passing judgement. Today I had an anxiety attack, and that's ok and I'M OK. Tomorrow I might have an epiphany. It might also just be a decent day - and that's ok too. The point is to keep showing up. And sitting with your thoughts and feelings. And not attaching to them. And not attaching to NOT attaching to them. You get what I'm saying?

I'm far from enlightened, but every minute of serenity that I DO have I owe to practice. I owe to my yoga practice. I owe to my meditation practice. I owe to my gratitude practice. The moments of anxiety in between...those will come and go, but for those precious moments of serenity - that are becoming more and more frequent - I keep showing up and doing my practice. For my mental and physical health. For my spiritual development. For the well-being of ALL BEINGS EVERYWHERE WITHOUT EXCEPTION I do my practice. Practice. Practice. Practice and don't lose hope. It's all coming y'all. Like my man K. Pattabhi Jois says.