Have you ever tried meditating?

Big Sur

My husband and I spent this past Sunday in an 8-hour Labor & Delivery class in the basement of our hospital (happiness is being done with that class!). All kidding aside, it was actually really interesting and much more enjoyable than I feared it might be. One thing we focused on was how to use mental and physical techniques to endure painful contractions.

On the physical side, we focused on massage by a partner, friend, or family member. As much as I deeply enjoyed the time devoted to massage practice (being the pregnant one means getting to be the recipient), I was really interested to learn about some of the mental techniques. I’d love to share them with you.

Slow and controlled breathing

Our instructor talked a lot about the value of slow and controlled breathing. The idea is to slow down your breathing, taking breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.

Counting our breaths

Counting our breaths, or having a partner count for us, is a great way to accomplish slow and controlled breathing. The basic approach is to slowly count to a number (say, 4) as you breathe in, and then to count to that same number as you breathe out. This ensures your breaths are even and controlled. Personally, I preferred to count myself in my head.

Imagining a golden ball of warm light slowly expanding to encompass our body

Our instructor guided us through this technique. She told us to imagine a golden ball of warm light slowly encompassing our body, starting first with our feet, very slowly expanding to travel up the body, and finally receding back to the feet and, ultimately, back into the earth. It was a great way to slowly think about each part of our bodies and tune out other thoughts.

Imagining that every exhale comes out as a color of light

Another more imaginative technique we learned about is to imagine that all of your exhales come out of your body as a color. For me, it was green. I think the idea is to help your mind focus on your breathing and not on anything else, like pain.

Letting out sounds, low and sparingly

This technique is reminiscent of many Hollywood movies, but we learned we should actually use it sparingly during labor. Labor is often many hours, and we burn energy making sound. However, in limited instances it can be helpful in dealing with pain. We learned to avoid higher pitches; lower pitches work better at keeping us calm.


While some of these techniques were familiar to me from all the time I’ve spent in yoga and pilates classes, I considered this a broader introduction to meditation, something I don’t have much experience with.

What really caught my attention was the idea that our body can only handle so many incoming signals (sounds, smells, touches, tastes, sights, sensations, and so on). If pain is one of those signals, it’s best to overwhelm it with other signals. Going for a walk, jumping around and shouting, watching a good movie, listening to music, and using the mental techniques described above can help push pain into the background. Just sitting and enduring it makes the experience more painful to us.

She encouraged us to try these techniques for 10 minutes a day. So, the past three days I’ve been trying this great app called Headspace that walks me through a 10-minute meditation every day. Once I get a little further along with it, I’d love to chat more about it here, as well as meditation more broadly.

Have you ever tried meditating? Do you use some sort of guided approach, or do you meditate on your own? What techniques do you use to deal with pain?

Join the conversation: Do you go out or stay in?

Mazzali Domino bed, bedroom area, romantic atmosphere (Mazzali, Flickr)

I’d love to introduce a new series where I ask readers to join the conversation. Today’s question:

Do you go out or stay in?

Say you realize Friday night is coming up quickly and you have no plans. Do you scramble to make plans with friends, or do you look forward to a cozy night at home, maybe reading a good book or catching up on your favorite blogs?

My tendency is to stay in. But I have to fight it because I almost always am glad when I decide to get together with friends, and I’m often bummed when I stay in.

So I chose to actively seek out activities out of our apartment when my husband was recently out of town for a week —

  • I went for a swim at the local university
  • I made brunch plans with a friend in the neighborhood
  • I took a day trip to Santa Cruz to catch up with an old friend
  • I had dinner with my husband’s cousin’s family; they are our age and good friends

But, true to my nature, I also stuck to home some days, but this time I focused on staying busy —

  • I cleaned out some bookshelves and drawers and got things ready for donation
  • I worked on this blog🙂
  • I watched Mad Men (which I am still not quite caught up on!) since my husband doesn’t care for it

The balance proved to be a good one for me, and although it didn’t always sound appealing in the moment, I was always so, so glad when I got together with other people. So the lesson for me was this:

Seek out time with friends, even when you may be feeling lazy. You will almost always be glad you did.


I’d love to hear you weigh in: If you have a weekend home alone, or a quickly approaching Friday night with no plans, do you lie low at home? Or do you immediately pick up the phone to make plans? How does it work for you?

(Photo credit: Mazzali, Flickr)

What is the most adventurous thing you’ve done?

Adventures

I believe that adventure can be a shortcut to happiness. The lure of the unknown, the excitement of the activity, and the conquering of a challenge can combine into a perfect cocktail that brings us pleasure and meaning.

I’ve always believed that doing something adventurous with someone cements a bond between you that is stronger than if you’d gone about ordinary activities. Think rock climbing on your first date or trying a cooking class specializing in a cuisine neither of you knows much about. You get to work through challenges together, experience the unknown, be there for each other, and come out of the other side closer as a result. But adventure does not have to be social; it can be just as fulfilling on our own.

So I’ve gotten to thinking, what kinds of adventurous things have I done? What other adventures would I like to take on? Here, I define an adventure as an experience that is unusual, exciting, and possibly hazardous.


First up,  some adventures I’ve conquered —

Hiking Half Dome in Yosemite

Half Dome is an epic hike in Yosemite National Park in California. Starting at the valley floor, the 18-20 mile day hike climbs 4800 feet in elevation before returning that same distance down to the valley. The final 400 feet are the crux of the entire trip. This final push is a steep ascent up the granite face, in between two steel cables that are held up a foot or two off the surface by metal poles.

When I hiked it, before permits were required, the lines for this portion were long (45 minutes!), and the time we spent hanging onto the cables waiting for people ahead to pass folks coming down was long and sobering. One man dropped his water bottle, and we all stared, silently, as we watched it bounce, bounce, bounce down the side of the dome. I love hiking but am a bit uncomfortable with heights, so to conquer this hike was hugely satisfying. At the top, we enjoyed breathtaking views and took turns going out onto the Visor. An experience I will not forget!

Yosemite Half Dome Visor

Learning to surf and windsurf

I was lucky enough to go to grad school in Northern California, where both surfing and windsurfing are popular sports. Not having grown up in California, I was eager to try the local activities. So I rented a surfboard and a wetsuit and gave surfing a try! I have always loved water sports, and I was instantly hooked. Later, I took a windsurfing class, which I later helped teach, and loved it too (maybe even more?). I’m by no means good at either activity, but they always challenge me and put a huge smile on my face.

Moving to California

I was not at all convinced, when I graduated from college, that I wanted to move to California. I had friends and family in Texas, and I didn’t want to leave all of that behind. But I had an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, and I went for it. It makes me so happy to say that I’ve never once looked back or regretted the decision. Although there were challenging times in the beginning in particular, and I would love to have my family closer by, this life absolutely suits me. I’ve grown and changed in ways I never would have expected if I’d stayed in Texas. Change is good!

Walking 60 miles in 3 days

A few years back, I participated in the Susan G. Komen 3-day walk. I signed up without knowing another soul participating. I can be shy in new situations and especially those in which I don’t know anyone else, but in my very first mile I made a friend — also walking alone — and we kept each other company throughout all three days. It was challenging trip socially and physically, but I am so, so glad to have done it. As an aside, I would recommend it as a particularly great way to see a new city.

Applying for a work-abroad program in Germany

After working for a couple of years, I decided to apply to a program that sends recent graduates overseas for a few months to gain experience working in another country. Although I did not get the opportunity to actually go, the process of applying was an adventure and cemented my desire to someday live and work abroad. The lure of learning a new language, having little adventures every day, and coming to understand a different culture all call to me.


Some adventures I’d love to attempt and conquer —

Living abroad

See above🙂

Hiking the Appalachian Trail

I love the idea of a few months “off the grid”. I don’t think I would be happy going off the grid indefinitely, but a few months would be a good challenge and a great break from the fast-paced lives we all lead. The Appalachian Trail has appealed to me ever since reading A Walk in the Woods, which I highly recommend. Escaping the rat race for a bit, seeing gorgeous vistas, immersing myself in a most basic challenge, and challenging myself in a completely different way, at a much higher level than the comparatively short backpacking trips I’ve done so far — what’s not to love?

Having a child

This one is just on the horizon for me, at 8 months pregnant. I know there will be plenty of challenges, and that they will evolve as the baby grows into a child, a tween, a teenager, and finally an adult. I look forward to meeting these head on with my incredible husband, getting to know our baby, and watching as the baby develops a personality and unique features. I look forward to understanding this most basic of experiences firsthand. I also want to help my child(ten) experience adventure, and to see life in new ways through their unspoiled eyes.


Reflecting on my adventures, past and future, I am struck by the notion that my adventures may seem small in relation to what some people undertake. But I think a great way to increase our happiness is to change our perception, to view more experiences as adventures, and to seek out small adventures in everyday life. Looking forward, I know there are so many more adventures I could undertake. These three stand out for me, for now, but I will be curious to see how I define my future adventures!

I’d love to hear — what is the most adventurous thing you’ve done? What adventures are you hoping to embark on in the future? How do you look for adventure in everyday life?

(Photo credits — 1st photo: Janet Ramsden, Flickr; 2nd photo: me)