Former air-head turned exercise freak, Maneesha explains how she discovered that getting hot and sweaty could become a calorie-cutting meditation.
A clear, plastic bubble or some kind of isolation chamber encases me. There is the sound of breathing – the gentle drawing in of my breath, the slightly forceful release of the exhalation. A ‘ddudd… dduudd … dduudd…’‘reverberates from somewhere down around my feet. I am expanded beyond the confines of my body, my otherwise-constant, inner commentator replaced by silence. Weightless, and borne along in a space where microseconds feel like eternity, I am quietly delirious with an absolute and irrational joy. This is not some surreal fantasy or last night’s dream: I’m doing my morning meditation, what I call ‘Jogasana.’
The early morning is, without a doubt, my favourite part of the day. Although I’ve known for years that I am a ‘morning type’ (I wilt beyond resurrection after 9.30 p.m.), it’s only fairly recently that I’m actually up and out the door before daybreak. And that happens regardless of where I am – Milan or Manhattan, Perth or Pune or Abu Dhabi.
Jogasana is the contemporary person’s Vipassana. That ancient technique of watching the breath is far too passive for my up-and-at-’em energy. But running while watching the breath lets me be totally active outwardly and simultaneously tuned into a point of inner stillness and silence.
Not only that: watching my breath as I move keeps me in touch with my body. In this way I can be conscious of whether I am pushing it beyond its comfort zone, and alert to any pain or tension anywhere. I can also be aware of outer details such as a patch of road that is slick with oil, or to the sound of an oncoming vehicle. Watching my breath keeps me present, involved only in one moment at a time.
By contrast when I just jog, without the ‘asana’ bit added to it, I can spend the entire time being harangued by my fishwife mind. Sceptical and super-critical, it nags me with an endless stream of disparaging comments. ‘What are you wasting your time for? There’s a ton of work in your office you could be taking care of. You’ve got at least another mile to go: you’ll never make it!’ or it insists on reducing everything to a competition – with an anonymous jogger who happens to be within view, or even with myself, goading me to go faster and further than yesterday. By the time I am on the home stretch any physical benefit has been sabotaged by the demoralising banter of my own thoughts.
Ignoring the mind and, instead bringing awareness to the breath, has given me times of inspiration. I keep the exhalation always longer than the inhalation, and, in this way, I stay relaxed.
The combination of relaxation and alertness allow ideas and insights that must have been lying dormant to surface…and not just one now and then, but lots, in rapid succession. It’s all I can do not to about-turn and race back to my office in order to scribble them all down while they are hot off the press, so to speak!
All this, not to mention the health aspect: an hour of Jogasana provides a great workout. By 6:30am, having flexed both my physical and spiritual muscles, I am set to take on the day.
It was not always so. I used to hate with a vengeance anything that whiffed of exercise. Unconsciously I had a negative inner tape running that told me that I am not a sporty type and would never like working out. That had successfully aborted any routine I might have tried to set in motion.
One day, breathless from pursuing a bus, I ran smack bang into my inner geriatric – and frankly, I didn’t take to her. I determined to get myself up to speed. But before I could begin any kind of fitness program I needed to erase the unhelpful suggestions I had been reinforcing.
Now, whenever I began to waver in planning an exercise regimen – maybe with power walking or launching straight into an aerobics class? – I would tell myself ‘… because you love staying fit and you find exercise such fun!’ With this new tape turned up full volume, I finally made a foray into my first gym. I even signed up to have a personal trainer take me through a preliminary session. And a little further down the road, braving a roomful of sickeningly trim, well-toned bodies, I ventured into my first aerobics class.
‘I love this, I love this; there is nothing I love quite as much as exercise,’ I assured myself as I stumbled and panted my way through intricate limb-engaging, mind-entangling routines. That little bit of self-hypnosis got me over the first and biggest hurdle.
Wasn’t it Lao-Tzu who said, ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step class’? So true! By my second or third workout I was converted.
I hadn’t realised how fabulous I would feel. Hadn’t understood that my whole body-mind would be so drastically impacted. Hadn’t reckoned on the addictive high, delivered by a troupe of endorphins cavorting through my system.
For years, it seems in retrospect, because my day-to-day work was computer-based, I tended to forget that there was life below my neck. So it was a thrill to rediscover my body – a body that could run for the sheer joy of it; that could inhale the fragrance of early morning rain or catch the sound of bird chirp and coo and caw. These days I am exhilarated by the sensation of exerting myself; even, curiously, by the occasional ache, the primal feeling of sweat dripping off my face, or a throat that’s gasping with a deep, raw thirst.
Sex does all that for you? Nah! I’ve been there and done that and I tell you: sex is nothing compared to basking in the sweaty after-glow of my morning meditation.