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Couch Potato or ?

By Christine Mason. As summer is approaching, perhaps you are considering how to get the most out of whatever break you may have– and if you are like many teachers, students, or school administrators, you may be worn out. Last week I suggested that one way to leap frog head this summer is to make sure and take a break — and actually to sit still and do nothing.

So if you are like millions of Americans, and others round the world, it may be that your most common way of “doing nothing” is to plop down on the couch, grab the remote, and veg out.  If you are like me, you might even find yourself, despite all of the action on the tube, falling asleep and waking to ask a family member, “what did I miss?”

Mind Breaks. So if you are taking your mind breaks by sitting with the remote in hand, will that have the same impact as yoga or meditation?  Is one type of “deep relaxation” equivalent to another?  The short answer is that they are different.  With yoga and meditation, the mind and body are active, even as you are increasing the length of your inhales and exhales, and starting to feel more relaxed. In fact, there are yoga and meditation practices that will stimulate the frontal lobes of the brain.

I have found that if I begin with a focus on my breath, warming up my spine, stretching, and then a yoga set, that after the yoga set, meditation simply is easier. What happens is that the breath, stretching, and yoga prime my brain for meditation. Without the warm up and preparation, it is much more difficult to meditate. Without the warm up and preparation, the active mind that focuses on our normal, everyday tasks, relationships, and worries is more likely to take over.

Turning Inward. As many yogis have indicated, when we breathe deeply, when we meditate, we are turning inward, letting go of the exterior world. We are not involved in adding more external stimulation to our lives. Instead, we are listening to our hearts, focusing on the quality of our breath, considering how to increase the depth of a stretch, or centering on only one thing or on nothing. With meditation, the point of nothingness can be found in the brief interludes, the seconds, between thoughts.

My yoga teacher described yoga work as housecleaning or getting rid of the clutter, so that the brain can operate more efficiently. In comparison, with television, we are turning to external stimuli to entertain us, to add something more to our day to day  lives.  And with TV, we can sit on the couch and be passively engaged in our TV viewing. In comparison, with yoga and meditation, our brains and bodies are actively engaged, even as we become relaxed.

TV has it’s place.  And like other forms of entertainment, TV can enrich our lives.  However, if you are searching for a mind break that will lead to rejuvenation, rather than reaching for the remote, consider taking a deeper breath, closing your eyes, and letting go. You might even consider beginning as I did, with a daily yoga/meditation practice that started with a mere 5 or 6 minutes.

Coming soon: Comparing yoga and meditation with a “summer vacation”


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