Summer in the city: Meditating through the madness

Photo credit: Two Macks

Photo credit: TwoMacks

You may have heard about the buzz around meditation and mindfulness as of late. Everyone from celebrities to entrepreneurs to big-time techies are looking for a little stillness amidst the rush of everyday life. Workshops and retreats are offered as a way to detox the mind. There are even apps that provide guided meditation. Yup, apps to help you unplug (Get Some Headspace is one of my personal favorites.) And though I’ve always been skeptical of popular trends that promise ever-lasting health and happiness, I am a big fan of meditation.

It’s not just a fad. Numerous studies have proven the countless health benefits of meditation. Big corporations have taken notice too, and many have invested in meditation training for their employees. Google, Nike, General Mills and Target invite employees to meditate and offer classes that teach them how. Even Wall Street, one of the most wired working environments, is getting in on the good. Goldman Sachs hires experts to teach their employees to pause before sending important emails and silently send good wishes to difficult employees.

They’re on to something. Meditation has done wonders for my recovery and my overall health. After I left CNN and moved home with my parents in New Orleans, I soon realized that I was going to need something to help me survive the madness. That’s when I started researching and practicing meditation.

I had been practicing yoga for about three years at that point. After I was initially diagnosed, I started practicing restorative yoga, which consists mostly of recovery and restful poses. My progression to meditation happened naturally. I began practicing at home and once I felt rooted enough, I wanted to take my practice to the next level. I did some research and found a Zen meditation studio.

Photo credit: TwoMacks

Photo credit: TwoMacks

For the first session I attended, I woke up early and attempted to sneak out of the house, anticipating resistance from my well-intentioned but over-involved parents. Yes, I tried to sneak out to meditate. I woke up earlier than usual, quietly gathered my belongings, and just as I was about to make my great escape, my dad conveniently woke up and my mom soon followed. Damn, I was so close.

“I’m going to meditate,” I told them.

“You’re going to what?”

“Meditate.”

“What is this meditate?”

How do I explain this?

“It’s something that you do to clear your mind and relax.”

“Where do you do that?”

Not here!

“At a Zen meditation house.”

“A what?”

“Never mind.”

“You better be careful what you’re getting into,” my mother said, her eyebrows furrowing in worry.” You don’t want to get caught up in something, and you don’t know what it is.”

“What does that even mean?!”

“Like a cult or something,” she offered.

“Oh yes, be careful," my dad added. "You remember those people in Gayana who drank the Kool aid?”

 

Photo credit: TwoMacks

Photo credit: TwoMacks

Despite the ambush of parental concern, I was still determined to attended the meditation session. My first class was highly structured, almost ritual-like, which for one reason or another, felt unnatural to me.

But I wasn’t ready to give up on meditation just yet. Next, I tried an Art of Living Meetup group, which meets for group meditation at a Mid City coffee shop. This was more of my speed. The open group aspect made it feel more like a class then the ceremony the prior class had resembled. After regularly practicing meditation in a group, I settled into my own practice within the convenient comforts of my own bedroom.

I had to sit down my parents and explain to them that there was no religious affiliation with meditation, and assured them that I was not going to join a cult, and move away to a remote farmland in Texas. I presented them with the hard facts on the health benefits of meditation. I even invited my dad to meditate with me, which lasted all of five minutes.

Despite their skepticism (For months, they called it imitation, which I impatiently corrected, “It’s not imitation, it’s MED-I-TAT-ION!!” They claimed it was the language barrier, and that those letters don’t exist in the Arabic alphabet, but I suspect they were mocking me), much to my pleasant surprise, my parents warmed up to the idea. Perhaps it was because they saw the wonders that meditation has done for my health. I am calmer, more centered, and better able to manage the pain on the days when I don’t feel my best.

Now, if only I could get them to practice too. Maybe there would be a lot more peace and little less crazy to go around this house.

If you're looking for some stillness in the city, here are a few suggestions. Of course, you can always practice from the comfort of your home, or wherever you can find a quiet, undisturbed space.

New Orleans Zen Temple -- for structured and traditional Zen meditation.

Mid City Zen New Orleans -- for both traditional and non-tradtional Zen meditation.

The New Orleans Meditation and Spiritual Upliftment Group -- for a group guided meditation.

Summer Suleiman is a health writer and blogger who writes about her experience living healthy (or trying to) in a city best known for its fabulous (unhealthy) food and debauchery. You can read about her journey saying no to po’boys and Sazeracs, and yes to kale and juicing, at www.HealthySummer.me or on Twitter @summersuleiman.