Meditation: Learning to Calm the Anxious, Whirring Brain


Many people who know me are shocked to learn that I meditate.

Put simply, I’m not a one-with-the-earth, feel-good, mantra and “kumbaya” type. I am slightly cynical, with a wry sense of humor and world-weariness to match. I have trouble sleeping. I have had more than my fair share of anxiety attacks. I can be, in short, intense.

But these qualities are what led me to meditation in the first place.

Five years ago, I got to talking with a client about anxiety and seeking centeredness, relaxation. We both struggled with insomnia. How does one quiet whirring, restless brains? I knew that I needed outlets outside of exercise. That alone wasn’t cutting it.

My client mentioned that meditation had helped her tremendously with getting thoughts to slow at night. As a result, she’s been sleeping more soundly, and for longer. That was enough for me; even one more hour of sleep sounded like heaven. I decided to give meditation a try.

Since then, I have been attending meditation workshops twice a month, led by a woman named Linda P. Brown. My experience has not been easy. In fact, meditation has been one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever undertaken—and this from a Pilates master and dancer.

There are two aspects to meditation that make it so challenging for me. One is that I have difficulty sitting still for a long period. (Considering what I do for a living, it's no surprise that I'm into physical movement!) And it’s not just sitting. Meditation involves attentiveness. You can’t fall asleep or slump onto the floor in boredom. You have to be mindful, conscious. For the first workshops, it was all I could do not to move around and fidget like a madwoman.

Second, there’s the whole “quieting your mind” bit. Dancing for ten hours straight is a piece of cake compared to trying to get your brain to shut up for twenty minutes. It’s so hard not to worry about everything known to man during that time. Is this building earthquake safe? Did I lock my car before heading in? What am I going to eat for dinner? Is that woman looking at me funny? You have to silence all of that junk or your brain will go bananas.

But, slowly, you do improve. And since starting a meditation practice, I sleep better and deeper. I am more relaxed. It works.

Though I still find meditation incredibly difficult, there are several things I love about it. For example, I’ve always enjoyed the focus on breath. Regulating your breathing controls your heart rate, bringing it down, so anxiety levels sort themselves out naturally. It’s a fantastic tool to break out when stuck in traffic, thinking about life’s bigger questions, and so forth. Just breathe.

My enjoyment of meditation is also a credit to Ms. Brown. She is a radically intelligent, interesting woman who crafts unique, creative meditations. She will bring up a topic to talk about briefly, which sparks awareness, giving shape to the following hour.

I now try to carve out time for meditation outside of workshops, like I do with exercise. Last year I saw Prem Rawat, who runs an organization called Words of Peace, speak in Pasadena. He mentioned that for Hindus in India, meditation is built into daily life. Everybody meditates. You would have a hard time finding a Hindi who doesn’t meditate regularly. It made me wonder, culturally, what the equivalent would be for Americans. Shopping? Watching TV? Are we truly that pathetic?

It’s hard to just stop, to take time to focus on consciousness, to turn thoughts inward. Perhaps we love shopping and television because it’s a distraction: it takes us outside of ourselves and allows us to escape. Meditation does not allow you to escape. It encourages you to acknowledge and recognize yourself. You don’t have a choice.

So, while I’m still my passionate, sardonic, mantra-eschewing self, I also know the power that meditation holds to calm, focus, reprioritize and energize. The result: a mellower, well-rested Gia with fewer anxiety attacks. And to that I say: kumbaya!

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