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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!
I realized the other morning that there may be folks who wonder why meditation is something I’ve started mentioning at One Green Generation. Meditation in our society is sometimes perceived as selfish, intangible, hippy-like silliness, time-wasting or… there are many other terms that could work here. I’ll admit that I, too, had some of these misconceptions not too long ago.
But since I started a meditation practice a few months ago, I have come to understand how much it can play a role in our daily lives as we strive to be as sustainable as we can be.
If any of you are starting to wonder what meditation is and how it can play a role, or if you’re struggling to make it a part of your lifestyle, I hope this will help encourage you!!
How Mediation is Green, Frugal, Healthy and Sustainable
It can take the place of or reduce medications that cost money, support the pharmaceutical industry and can become hazardous to our waterways and fish habitats. This includes pain medication, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, asthma and heart medications, and more. (Obviously make sure to work with your doctor on this!)
It brings about compassion within yourself that radiates far beyond you to other people and other living beings. I personally believe compassion is one of the keys to people chosing to live sustainably.
It increases productivity at work, at home, during daily tasks and in daily thoughts. I’ve heard it several times, and I believe it’s true: meditation actually puts more time into your day. If you put 30 minutes into meditation, you get at least 30 minutes back via increased productivity. It’s shocking (and makes “I don’t have time for meditation” a weak excuse!)
It strengthens relationships as you learn to pause before letting anger blindly strike, to listen more effectively and compassionately, and to become more intuitive and caring in your actions and reactions.
You are more likely to think about the honest consequences before doing something – which can affect your health, your relationships, and the environment.
It’s free psychotherapy – meditation can help you break through anxiety, depression, childhood issues, and, I’m finding, so much more…!
It can make your community stronger. If you meditate with other people in your community, it ties you with stronger bonds to those around you, it brings you together so your compassion ripples outward with stronger effect, and it strengthens, deepens and helps sustain your own practice.
It can reduce your desires for material things, and heighten desires for non-material experiences. This may be a personal effect on me alone, but it is a strong effect: material things don’t seem to matter as much. Plus I’m more likely to read a book, go for a walk, chat with my husband or do other energy-saving activities – rather than watch tv or do something that requires driving and/or money.
It makes you more thankful for the beauty and insight around you, more aware of your surroundings, and happier while doing every day chores. Being present in the moment has made it more fulfilling, calming and meditating as I do the dishes, make dinner, bake bread, even do my taxes.
It facilitates becoming more involved in your community, even in small ways like saying “hello” as you walk by someone on the street, going into a local shop instead of a large chain store, gardening or going for a walk, volunteering, or finding your own other route for becoming involved. Because you have more time in your day, different priorities for your time, and more devotion to well-being.
There is one more big one for me: it has helped me transcend my every day labors to understand my own potential, where I want to head with my life and my work, and how I might best go about it. This doesn’t happen so much while meditating as it does afterward, in the open spaces in my mind that meditation has cleared for just such important thoughts.
My meditation practice is truly becoming richer by the day. This is my personal list of ways I believe meditation strengthens our sustainable lifestyle – there are several other resources and studies out there that show the health benefits of meditation. When you start to delve into it, it’s pretty incredible what you’ll find!
What about you?
Did I miss anything? Do you have a meditation practice of your own?
I’ve spent a lifetime of working to help others and save the world, often to the detriment of my own health and well-being. So in retrospect, I can’t believe I thought I’d be able to dedicate one full year to myself… and then feel completed.
It seems that this will be year two of the “year about me”!
To be clear, I don’t want to change my dedication to helping others and making a large impact. In fact, if there is one thing I’ve learned in the last year, it’s that taking care of myself makes my work with and for others MORE effective.
2011 The Year About Me: Nurturing and healing my body
I made vast improvements to my health, the result of which is that I am only taking one asthma medication (from a high of seven medications at one point), I am gluten free, I have significantly decreased my waist size, I have fewer migraine headaches, I am regularly exercising and doing breathing exercises (pranayama) to increase lung capacity and decrease stress. I’m also finally learning how to relax. These are among many other improvements.
This quest for bodily awareness, nurturing, and healing is of course not over – but several things are put into motion so that I can focus on the next layer of my own well-being.
2012 The Year About Me: Nurturing and opening my mind
In the beginning of this year, I picked an outgoing word and an incoming word that help describe my vision for 2012. The outgoing word: judgment. The incoming word: compassion. Out with judgment, in with compassion.
As I began thinking and reading more about compassion, I quickly realized that compassion has a solid root and foundation in self-compassion. Without self-compassion, compassion for others falls flat. Without self-empathy, I don’t believe you can feel deep empathy for another being. (There are likely many layers to this equation – for instance, self-knowledge is a large part of self-empathy…. and so on.)
Already I’ve noticed that in devoting time to nurturing my mind – namely with meditation and “breath walking” – I have been able to work more efficiently, and I have been able to see the bigger (strategic) picture of my work more readily. I’ve become a better interviewer when I’m creating documentary films. I’ve become a better strategic thinker when I’m working with my startup clients. I’ve become more creatively inspired when working on graphic design or brand storytelling. And I’ve even become a more pleasant person in basic interactions with strangers – like at the grocery store, at a networking event or just walking down the street.
They are little changes: it’s not like I’ve become fundamentally different person! But many things that I do take a little bit less effort to accomplish, and I feel like I’m accomplishing them just a little bit better than I was even a few months ago.
By nurturing my mind, I believe I’m becoming more effective at nurturing the world. This is similar to last year: by nurturing my body, I found I was less focused on pain, pharmaceuticals and just getting through the day.
And the most amazing thing is that my pain has improved even more as I nurture my mind. Half of meditation for me at the moment is exploring the many layers of bodily relaxation. (The other half is exploring mind relaxation.) As a result, there have been a few moments when I’ve realized that I am feeling no pain at all – anywhere in my body. It’s incredible, almost surreal.
How does this impact One Green Generation?
I don’t know what this year has in store, but I will share it with you! One of the ways I’ve found throughout the years to nurture and open my mind, is to write. I am a writer, and the times in my life when I have regularly fed my writing instincts are the times when I have transformed most.
Thank you for your encouragement!
I still receive regular emails asking me questions, thanking me for writing, and hoping I’ll return soon. Without my writing much lately, each day there are still about 2,500-3,000 of you who visit to look through the archives! So this is a community I hope to more actively nurture again. It would be amazing if we could help one another more along our sustainable journeys.
It will be a process getting back to it: letting myself have the time for writing regularly again. But I believe it will happen. Feel free to prod me via email or comments if you see I’m absent for a while here. :)
And thank you all for your continued emails and comments. They mean a great deal, and I’m glad to have helped some of you along your own journeys.
And how are you?
How is your year going? How are you progressing with your hopes and dreams for the year, and for your life? Are you on a path that nurtures you?
All those of you who have done some of this self-exploration and self-nurturing, please recommend any resources that have helped you! I may benefit from your recommendations, as may other readers here.
I was at a beautiful vineyard hotel overlooking the Columbia River Gorge for a weekend retreat. There, midway through a hot stone massage session, I found myself thinking, “boy, she’s not the greatest massage therapist.” And internally I gasped.
Here I am splurging for myself on my 40th birthday, so that I can get some much needed R&R… and I’m not even letting myself enjoy it. I’m judging it. I’m wondering if I should have picked a different massage. I’m thinking over and over about my disappointment in myself, the massage therapist, and the situation.
And then I looked around. The place was beautiful, candles were lit all around me, there was a faint scent of clay and aroma therapy oils. I was about to have an amazing dinner with an amazing husband in a beautiful little winery with a fabulous view.
I’ve worked very hard over the last 3 years just to make ends meet. Finally my hard work was beginning to pay off – socially, enivornmentally and economically. At long last I was able to reward myself and recharge.
And, well it’s high time to reward myself and recharge!
So I stopped my thoughts and repeated a few times in my head, “Just be… without judgement.” After which I proceeded to just be, where I was right then, receiving a pretty good massage from a very nice woman.
And I relaxed. I enjoyed the moment for the good things it had to offer. I accepted the massage she was offering me and allowed it to heal me in whatever way it could.
Leaving Judgement Behind
When I was in the Arizona desert this winter, I found myself standing between a horse and a world reknowned psychotherapist. I was judging this man’s cowboy boots and hat, his aloof mannner, his psychotherapy jargon, his way of trying to get under my skin. And then I realized he had – he was under my skin, digging up details I needed to surface, uncovering things about myself that I needed to face. He was, in fact, quite brilliant.
I falsely judged a good man. The guilt I felt afterwards was shocking.
An hour later I walked a labyrinth as a meditation practice. This particular practice involved picking a rock from outside the labyrinth, mentally attaching to it something you were ready to leave behind, walking the labyrinth in meditation, leaving that rock in center, and mentally bringing something out in its place.
It’s a very simple but very powerful practice. I didn’t know what I wanted to take back in its place, but I knew I wanted to leave judgement behind. As I meditated around the labyrinth, it came to me so very clearly: I wanted to replace judgement with compassion.
Judgement’s counterpart for me is compassion. In the case above, this means compassion for the cowboy therapist who was trying desperately to relate to me – a city girl with a chip on her shoulder – so that he could help me, and do his job well.
And compassion for myself. Self-compassion. Because I could really use this man’s help to get to the next stage in my own awareness and happiness. Because as much as I devote my life and work to helping others, I need to make sure I’m healthy as well – I need to nourish myself so that I can nourish others.
It isn’t easy to give up judgement. I can probably never completely get rid of it, nor would I want to. But I can get much closer, I can be much healthier in my relationship with people and with the present moment.
And it takes time because you have to retrain yourself.
I read recently that you judge yourself the way you were judged by others when you were young. It’s just how you learn.
So maybe you were never quite good enough, never made the right decisions, were always in danger of getting fat… Maybe this will help you as it has helped me: think for a moment about how you were judged when growing up, ask yourself whether or not it might still be the way you judge yourself today.
I believe we also develop early habits of judging others as well, and they’re often very similar to how we judge ourselves. That other person isn’t good enough at what they do, they don’t make the right decisions, they are in danger of getting fat,… whatever it is for you, see if you judge others that way also.
I’ve found that the key to beginning to change is to be present in the moment, so that I can observe my thoughts and actions – plus learn and grow from what is happening now. This requires presence without judgement, of course (you can’t fight judgment with judgement!) – and presence with compassion.
My personal mantra has changed for me a bit since my 40th birthday. It is now, proudly:
I avoided neti pots for years. Until this past year – when I made it my goal to fully eliminate my asthma medications. Years ago I never would have thought that would be remotely possible, but now I’m really close!
I’ve been slowly making lifestyle changes over the years that have brought me from a high point of seven medications (at high doses) to the lowest dose of just one medication.
You’ll notice the neti pot wasn’t on that list of 25 – at the time of writing that post, I was down to 2 medications. Now I’m down to one!
I eliminated the nasal steroid three months ago, and replaced it with the neti pot.
I’m not a doctor, expert, etc, etc – so be safe and careful. Take it slow. Listen to your body. Talk to your doctors. And definitely do not decrease nor go off your meds if your asthma is not under control.
Other Benefits Of The Neti Pot
Washes away dust, pollen, smog, and other irritants.
Rinses out extra mucus.
Serves as an antidote for dry nasal passages (sometimes this is particularly bad in the winter).
Reduces sinus pressure and the risk for sinus infections.
Relieves some symptoms of colds and flu.
Allows your breaths to be easier, less inhibited, fuller.
What Neti Pot To Buy
I have a Himalayan Institute Eco Neti Pot. It’s $10-15 in my local health food store. My pot is made of “bioplastic” and is biodegradable. It’s also super light so I take it when I travel.
There are a number of different types out there. The woman at my health food store suggested for the first time that I use one that is plastic and light-weight. Apparently the ceramic ones are a little more difficult to maneuver because they’re heavier. In retrospect I don’t think it makes that big a difference.
How To Use The Neti Pot
It is amazingly simple.
What You’ll Need
Warm water (more or less body temperature)
Wash your neti pot with warm soap and water before first use and after each use.
Fill the pot with warm water. The water should be around body temperature, so when you feel it with your finger, it should not feel cold or hot. Added: Many people use straight from the tap but to be completely safe I use filtered water, you can use distilled as well. There may be water-born diseases – not to mention chlorine! – in tap water.
Mix in 1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt. Be sure to use non-iodized salt without additives or anti-caking agents. You can buy “neti pot salt” – some are sea salt with more minerals in them and thus feel more mild (I like them better). Start with 1/4 teaspoon on your first try, but then experiment – you may find you like a little bit more. I use somewhere in between 1/4 and 1/2.
Lean your face forward over the sink, and then tilt your head to the right. I was terrified I was going to do this wrong the first time! But really, it’s ok if you don’t have this “right” – you’re not going to screw it up and you’ll get a feel for this quickly.
Place the neti pot spout inside your right nostril. Make sure you form a seal with your nostril so it doesn’t leak.
Breathe through your mouth. Don’t forget to breathe – oxygen is important!
Tilt the pot until water starts to pour out of your left nostril. Keep pouring until the pot is empty. I usually have to pause about half-way through to gently blow out the water and gunk, and then I start pouring again.
Relax your neck and shoulders. No other instructions say this, but boy I tense up when I’m trying to do this right. Relax – it’s not that hard, you won’t screw it up (and if you do it doesn’t really matter), there’s no reason to be tense.
Repeat #2-8 on the other side.
Exhale through both nostrils into the sink, and then gently blow your nose. The pot came with instructions to do crazy hand-to-toe exercises afterwards. I found a couple gentle blows of the nostrils is good.
If you want to watch a video of someone doing it, here is a video. Just ignore adding the extra drops and such – multiple websites, books and health care professionals say you don’t need it. (Try it if you want, but it seems like an unnecessary cost to me.)
Not so bad, eh? Do you use a neti pot? If not, will you give it a try?
Matt and I are beginning a 28-day cleanse today that will last through the month of January 2012. Some of you followed our cleanse last year. This year will be similar, but I will also be focusing on a more spiritual detox in additional to the physical one.
Physical Body Detox
We’ll be using the Clean method to create our daily menus, supplements and physical activity. We’ve looked at a few others, but found that this one works best for us.
If you’re thinking about a cleanse or detox, my advice is to peruse a few different options and then settle on one. Make sure it is something you can follow through on, and one that is healthy.
But otherwise, don’t think too much about it – just do it. You can always modify slightly along the way to better fit your needs, goals and lifestyle. And no matter what cleanse you do, you’re going to be more detoxed at the end than you were at the beginning!
At the least, a physical cleanse focuses on what you put in your body in order to allow your body to better detoxify. In addition, may focus on supplements, physical activity, sweating, hot-cold baths, skin brushing and more. Try as much as feels comfortable, and add on as you go if you start feeling more comfortable.
It’s your body, your program. Do what feels good to you.
Mental and Spiritual Detox
In addition to the physical body detox, I’ll be working on a mental and spiritual detox this year. What does that mean? Well, honestly I’m going to find out as I go! Based on my 2012 goals, here’s where I’m starting…
I’m going to begin by taking a few classes at local yoga studios:
A weekend intensive Intro to Pranayama Series
A weekly Pranayama Series
An Introduction to Meditation Series
A Sangha Meditation Series
In addition, I will probably drop in on a few yoga nidra classes, as well as warm yoga classes.
As you probably know, I walk to work every day – about 3 miles of walking in total. When I was at Miraval in December, I took a class on breath walking. I won’t say it’s as powerful as guided sitting or laying meditation, but it is certainly helpful to slow my blood pressure and clear my mind!
So I’ll be doing that regularly, either to or from work – or both.
I’m currently reading Wherever You Go, There You Are. I believe a couple of you recommended it to me a year ago, and it has come up since then several times. So finally I’m taking the hint! :)
As you saw in my Plans for 2012, my goal is to write regularly again. I had a breakthrough yesterday that writing, cleansing and positive personal change go hand-in-hand! So now I have a bigger reason to write.
So my goal is to work up to daily writing again. That could mean a blog post here, a blog post at my professional blog, a journal entry, or just jotting down some profound thoughts on a napkin.
What Do You Think?
Anyone have ideas for good books/activities I should try?
Or… Have you done this before? Do you think I’m nuts?