The Meditation Factor – Why and How
Welcome back to my three-part blog series around meditation!
I think it’s safe to say that most of you know me and perhaps follow me because of my snowboarding career. You’ll also know then, that along my career, I’ve felt the responsibility and the inspiration to use my voice to speak up for our natural environment, talk about the effects of climate change that I’ve witnessed as I’ve traveled and competed around the world, and why protecting our winters as we know them is just another aspect of who I am, just like buckling into my bindings. But over the past year, you also have probably seen that I’ve become fairly outspoken around meditation and the benefits of meditation. But I’ve realized that I’ve never really told you the full story of how this tool and technique snuck into my story, or the real reason why I feel like it’s important for me to even share this part of my life with you at all. And so I wanted to write this blog because I realize that some of you may be asking the question, why does someone who gets to do what they love for a living need to meditate?! That is a message, I again, feel responsible and inspired to share with you all. And so I’ve decided to write a three part series around meditation. The first blog covers the story of WHY it came into my life. This blog will cover HOW you can incorporate meditation into your life and WHAT the benefits will be, the actual journey of my meditation practice, why I chose the technique that I practice today and what exactly that technique is. And the third blog will cover HOW meditation and SNOWBOARDING have more in common than you might think!
After the whirlwind of the 2006 post-Olympic appearances, competitions and general craziness I became pretty burned out. But it took someone I didn’t see very often to help me realize this. Each year before X Games I visit Dr. Dave Jensen in Aspen for a “tune up”. Dr. Dave is a very talented chiropractor who combines technology in modern medicine with old world medicinal arts. Spirituality is a vital component to his overall work. The WIN Health Institute is his alternative healthcare ‘one-stop shop’ for chiropractic adjustments, massage, acupuncture and all the latest treatment technologies. Basically he helps to make sure that my body is running like a Ferrari before all my big events. During my 2009 pre-X Games visit he called me out, “You don’t look like your usual self.” This is when I had an “AHA!” moment and realized I couldn’t continue like I was.
Dr. Dave introduced me to Diana McNab. Diana is a former member of the Canadian National Ski Team and now offers individuals coaching for optimal living with an emphasis on the mind-body-spirit connection. One of the first things I was introduced to by Diana was Ayurveda; an ancient wisdom system for living your life in balance. According to Ayurveda there are three constitutions within us all called doshas. Most of us have one or two dominant doshas and that unique blend helps shape our very nature and how we experience the world around us through our senses. Basically different people — based on their different doshas — have different mental, emotional and physical needs. All of the things we surround ourselves with from foods, to the types of liquids we drink and their temperatures, to exercise, colors, textures, and smells all either support our balance or can unknowingly throw us out of balance. When we are out of balance, understanding where our imbalance lies empowers us to then be able to take very specific action to come back into balance.
An analogy of how I felt after being introduced to Ayurveda goes something like this… you know those TV shows where a professional organizer is paid to go into someone’s home (who is typically a hoarder!) and they completely clean it out and get it organized?! That’s what I feel like Ayurveda did for me. I was hoarding WAY too much information in my brain and Ayurveda came in and just categorized and classified and chunked all of it into easy to digest groups and I was left feeling totally clear and empowered!
Simultaneously Diana also introduced me to meditation and specifically Primordial Sound Meditation. Primordial Sound Meditation is a meditation technique — one of MANY out there — that came from the same ancient wisdom tradition that Ayurveda came from. It made sense to invest myself into a modality that has been practiced for thousands and thousands of years, yet is simple and easy to apply in our modern day times. In primordial sound meditation, all you need is you. You’re not reliant on a group or a guide. You can do it anywhere. There really aren’t any rules or regulations except that you sit comfortably and you never judge your meditation practice! There is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” practice, just doing it daily is the point.
There really aren’t any rules or regulations except that you sit comfortably and you never judge your meditation practice! There is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” practice, just doing it daily is the point.
And this is a really important point that I want to share because it’s something that I failed to do in the beginning. From 2009 to 2012, I was practicing meditation but I was doing it sporadically. I hadn’t quite committed to Primordial Sound Meditation as my technique of choice. I toyed with Zen meditation and guided meditations and while I did feel better and was starting to realize the benefits of meditation, it wasn’t until I participated in a week-long Primordial Sound Meditation retreat at the Chopra Center that I realized what all the fuss was about when people talked about committing to a daily practice.
Each day for seven days we practiced yoga and meditation, ate nutritious Ayurvedic lunches, and went deeper into the philosophy behind this ancient wisdom tradition where these modalities of Yoga, Ayurveda and Primordial Sound Meditation have their origins. That was the turning point for me. I left the retreat feeling like everything had changed yet nothing had. I was lit up. I was hyper aware of everything around me. I was living from a different state of being where I felt totally connected, clear, and happy.
I’m sure you’re saying,” Gretchen, those are nice words and I’m happy for you. But you aren’t telling me how it helped change your life or how it could help change mine. What was really different?” Well, that’s just it. My life didn’t change, but how I looked at it and how I interacted in it did. I remember riding my bike to the gym a little while after the retreat and even though I was on the same route I had ridden hundreds of times before, I felt like the world had opened up around me. I could more crisply smell the flowers; I was able to really see what a beautiful place I was living in and also appreciate the fact that I was even getting to ride my bike to the gym in the first place. Every thought, decision and action had more meaning because I was aware of all of it. This awareness helped me see that I was also much more creative, efficient and intuitive in my writing and work now too.
Now this doesn’t mean I don’t have hard days, I do and always will because that’s just the fluctuation of life. You can’t control what it will bring, or not bring, from one day to the next. What meditation does help us to control though, is our response to life’s fluctuations. Where once before we may have felt completely threatened by a certain scenario and reacted unconsiously, we now are able to look at those circumstances from a more balanced place and see them for what they really are….an opportunity and a challenge to creatively work through them instead of withdrawing or blowing up!
An example of this concept goes something like this…I have a lot of going on in my life and am constantly juggling a lot of balls in the air. Besides this I also have a job where everyday I have a 30 minute commute to work. I’ve been feeling really overwhelmed, frustrated and run down lately so I’ve dedicated one month to meditating everyday. With this consistent meditation, I’m really feeling much more rested, balanced and aware. As I’m driving to work someone cuts me off and we almost collide. I feel myself start to react to the situation in the form of anger and getting really HOT and my middle finger begins to rise!!!! BUT as all of that’s rising, I instantly realize “I’m ok, the driver is ok, there was no accident, no one is hurt, maybe the driver didn’t see me, I don’t know that person’s situation and I don’t need to waste my energy getting upset!” So instead of flipping the person off like I normally would:), I choose to continue driving along to my final destination without making a fuss. And that’s just one small example of what meditation can do for one single event. Imagine if we all could face the challenges of our days in that manner? I believe we would be living in a much different world! And quite frankly that’s the world I want to live in!
Meditation helps create space between you and your reactions to life’s seemingly stressful events. That space is actually just your own awareness that is innate within you. When you take the time to meditate everyday you realign with that innate wholeness and awareness which allows you to see that most of your reactions are actually unnecessary and also deplete a lot of your energy and also just create a lot of drama! When you are operating from a place of wholeness and balance you see that how you respond to life’s fluctation’s is actually a choice. And the choices that you make in your everyday life is what determines the quality of life that we you’re living!
Meditation creates space between you and your reactions and in that space you realize that most of your reactions are unnecessary which saves energy and a whole lot of drama!
But it’s important to know you can’t get there over night or with sporadic practice. It took me three years to realize this! Meditation has to build on itself. You have to take the time and create the space every day. Think about it like scheduling yourself into your day. You schedule dentist appointments, meetings, happy hours, and laundry into each day all the time. Take the time to schedule you into your day. Consistency is key. And the more consistent you are the easier it becomes to drop into a session. I mentioned earlier, part of why I love Primordial Sound Meditation is you can do it anywhere; no matter where you are — on the bus, in a hotel room, at work — as long as you are sitting down, are comfortable and you have your mantra. Which brings me to, “How do you DO Primordial Sound Meditation?”
So glad you asked! As I also mentioned previously, it’s pretty simple. It’s just you and your mantra. Your mantra is a sound that’s used for its vibrational quality. You don’t put any awareness on its meaning because it’s a vehicle for taking you beyond the regular activity of the mind in order to slip into subtler and subtler layers of stillness and silence. “So Hum” is a universal mantra that everyone can use. As you use subtle ‘ujjayi’ breath, you begin to feel the back of your throat vibrate, and as you inhale listen and feel for the “So” sound and as you exhale listen for the “Hum” sound. Get into a rhythm. When you realize your awareness has drifted away from the rythm of this mantra, in the awareness, you actually have a choice. You can choose to continue being distracted by your thoughts, sounds in the room, or a sensation in your body OR you can choose to go back to your mantra. Because you have committed to meditating you will choose to go back to your mantra! And so the practice of meditation is simply a dance between your mantra and thoughts, and then choosing to go back to your mantra. It’s that simple.
One of the misconceptions around meditation is the idea that you have to remove thoughts from your mind entirely. I disagree. It’s not about sitting still and having no thoughts at all, rather it’s about the awareness that you give to your thoughts. And if you have a mantra to direct your awareness then the thoughts simply fade away….until they don’t! But then you just simply choose to go back to your mantra.
I like to use the anecdote of a person living and working in New York City. She leaves her house each morning and makes her way to work. She takes the same path each day. But each day she may experience different potential distractions: honking horns, people bumping into her, puddles on the sidewalk. But instead of getting consumed in all of the distractions of the day, she continues her walk to work without paying attention to or judging any of it. This path — with the office at the end — is her mantra. It allows her to focus her awareness on where she is going rather than the horns, the people or the puddles. Those distractions are just like our thoughts during meditation but when we know where we are going (“So Hum”) then the thoughts no longer have the power over us that they once had.
Meditation is about sharpening our awareness. As we become more refined in our practice, the results of that sharpened awareness play out in our everyday life. We become more connected to what is most important to us in life and also begin to see the distractions that have been leading us away from that place. With that awareness, our distractions have less power over us and we’re able to make more nurturing choices for ourselves that are in alignment with our greater purpose. This is not only beneficial to ourselves but also for everyone else effected by our decisions and actions. My meditation practice has helped me bring back balance into my life and has helped me lock into what’s most important. I’m more efficient, more creative, more open to opportunities that serve my greater purpose in life and more present with my friends, family and surroundings. If you choose to dive into the world of meditation, I hope it does the same for you.