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The Fat Girl's Guide to Meditation, Part 2
Posted by Toni in Health + Beauty
Last week, we covered why meditation is great for us fat girls' minds and bodies. This week, we get down to the nitty gritty and share how to meditate, with a few resources to get you started, with the help of yoga teacher and author Kate Hanley. A contributing editor at Body + Soul magazine and founder of MsMindbody.com, Kate specializes in making yoga, meditation, and breathing accessible and relevant to our million-mile-an-hour lives.

FGG: How often should we meditate, and for how long per sitting? Can you suggest ways to find pockets of time, and modifications on how to sit - can we sit anywhere, or even lie down?

I've seen a study that suggests that you need to meditate for at least 20 minutes at least four times a week to reap the kinds of benefits I mentioned in the previous post. That's basically every other day. You don't need to be alone in a quiet room—you can meditate on your bus or train commute, or while you're waiting to pick up your kids from school. If you're the antsy type, you can also choose to go on a 20-minute walking meditation, which is basically walking very slowly with your attention focused on the physical sensations of the ground under your feet, the feeling of your body weight shifting, the feeling of the air on your skin, the smells you notice. Or you can do a similar practice while you do something mundane and unavoidable, such as washing the dishes. You simply have to set an intention to use that activity as a time to immerse your focus on what you're doing—not composing your grocery list.

That being said, it is nice to dedicate at least one formal time a week to sitting in meditation. You don’t need to get all pretzel-y on the floor if that's dreadfully uncomfortable—try sitting in a basic cross-legged position on one or two firm cushions so that your hips are higher than your knees. Or sit in a hard-backed chair. You do want your spine to be straight—assuming some basic form signals to your brain that this is different than just zoning out. You can meditate while lying down, so long as you aren't so tired that you drift off every time. Sleeping is an important self-care practice, but it ain't meditation!

Over the long-term, your practice will take different forms. You might get on a kick where you are really loving your quiet alone time and find that you do most of your meditating on your cushion (or chair, or floor) at home. Some times you will be lucky to eke out 10 minutes here and there. Even during the crazy times when you get no time to meditate at all, when you do come back to your practice, all the effort that you've put in up to that point will be holding your place in line so you don't have to start from scratch all over again.

FGG: Can you share a couple of basic meditation techniques?

KH: The most basic meditation technique is to focus on your breath. You can do this in a couple of different ways; try a few so that you have options at your disposal:

· As you inhale, think "inhale." As you exhale, think "exhale."
· Count your exhales. When you get to 10 start again. (This gives you just enough of a task to make it a little challenging—when you come to and realize you're on breath number 45, you'll know it's time to rein it back in and start again.)
· Hone in on the physical sensations of breathing—the air moving past your nostrils, the movement of your ribcage as you inhale and exhale, where in your body you feel the breath flowing.

No matter how you choose to focus on the breath, when you notice that you've started daydreaming, silently say to yourself "thinking" and get back to following your breath.

You can also focus on a particular word or phrase, otherwise known as a mantra (which translates as "tool of the mind" in Sanskrit). Your mantra could be something formal and spiritual-ish, such as "Om" or "Amen." But it can also be any word or phrase that has particular resonance for you. The only true requirement is that the words you repeat are meaningful to you. And try to leave any negative words out of your mantra. For example, thinking "no fear" places a lot of emphasis on the word fear. Instead, flip it to something more positive, such as "brave" on the inhale and "confident" on the exhale.

I like using the word "now" – it helps you not spend your time on the cushion anticipating the future or rehashing the past. Try "happiness" on the inhale and "now" on the exhale. This phrase can also help you remember that happiness isn't conditional—it's not reserved for when you lose weight or achieve some other goal, it's basically now or never, because now is all we've got!

Here are some other inhale | exhale word combos to experiment with:

Acceptance |  Now
Big body | Big heart
Clear mind | Open heart
Here | Now
Love | Now
Peace | Now

Feel free to develop your own words or phrases that hold personal meaning to you.

FGG: Are there any great resources for beginners - iPhone apps, DVDs, books, CDs, web sites?

KH: Check out Sharon Salzberg. She's wonderfully plain spoken, and she's no 90-pound nun either. She's a real woman with a real body and it's a total inspiration to see how comfortable she is in her own skin.

The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh is fabulous at explaining how to turn your entire life in to an opportunity to practice meditation. Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk who has been living in exile since the 60s when he traveled to America to denounce the Vietnamese war. He's the closest thing we have to Gandhi, and he often travels the U.S. giving talks. It's worth seeing him in person—keep tabs on his whereabouts at PlumVillage.org.

I love the guided meditation and visualization CDs from Belleruth Naparstek. These are a little woo-woo, with pan flutes in the background, but there is something about this woman's voice. She helped me through my 72-hour labor, my friend recover from breast cancer, and another friend not lose her mind while on bed rest. She's got a CD for nearly every ailment at HealthJourneys.com.

And if you're Type-A, check out Meditation in a New York Minute by Mark Thornton. He teaches CEOs how to meditate, and he's very approachable and down-to-earth.

Mental Workout is an iPhone app with guided meditations written and led by Stephan Bodian, author of Meditation for Dummies. (You can also download sessions as individual MP3s). Full disclosure: I haven't tried it, but if you find yourself in the doctor's office with a long wait ahead of you, listening to one of these could be a lot more productive than flipping through US Magazine.

Thanks, Kate for making meditation so appealing, like a free mini vacation just for us! We can all use a little of that in our lives.

Toni here: For my recently adopted meditation practice, I love the Ambiance iPhone app, which is also available in a free "Lite" version in the iTunes store. You can choose from a variety of natural sounds ("Forest Rain Inside Tent" is my fave) and original, soothing music from what I like to call the "yoga class" genre. You can make custom music and sound mixes and even better, you can set a timer to fade out after a set amount of time - a soothing way to ease out of a meditation session.

Girls! Whether you've been meditating for years or these guides have inspired you, we want to hear your stories. If you're feeling stuck, unsure, or have any questions, post them in the comments, too.