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Be Still

Developing mental fitness through meditation and mindfulness
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“Thank you for my parents. Thank you for the house that I live in. Thank you for the fact that I’m even alive.”

Rather than picking up his phone as soon as his eyes open, Dev Vijay takes a minute to give thanks for what matters most to him.

“It’s actually pretty hard not to look at my phone as soon as I wake up,” says the Indian Master Instructor. “There are countless messages from clients so it’s a very conscious decision.”

“It’s very simple. It’s just about being grateful for what I have and for being alive,” he explains. “During those seven or eight hours that I’ve been asleep, so many others haven’t woken up. I’m one of those lucky people who get to still be alive.”

Gratitude has become something of a buzzword in the 2020’s but there’s no posturing with Dev, no peace fingers held high in selfies, no air of hashtag culture (#blessed #grateful). Dev’s gratitude practice is a part of his life that is understated yet filled with meaning.

Setting the day up for success

For Dev, that first 60 seconds is the cornerstone of a morning routine focused on health–both mental and physical.

Dev typically rises early, in time to watch the sunrise on his balcony with a glass of hot water. Delaying coffee until later in the day is another conscious choice. So is catching 5 – 10 minutes of early morning sun; it helps fortify his circadian rhythm (the naturally-occurring, internal cycle that governs sleep and wake patterns).

Some mornings Dev practices yoga and meditates, other mornings require that he foregoes yoga. No matter the mounting pressures of the day, 25 – 30 minutes of meditation is a non-negotiable for Dev. It allows him to deal with whatever arises without getting overwhelmed.

“I’ve been on the other side where the external things kind of dictate how fast or slow your life needs to be, as opposed to you dictating how you want to pace yourself. The minute you start letting other people, things or situations control how you’re living your day, you’re handing over control of your life. You’ll never be happy if you’re living somebody else’s dream.”

“Starting my day with meditation practice carries forward through the rest of my day,” continues Dev. “I’m calmer; I’m not reactive, I’m responsive. Whatever I decide I want to achieve that day happens almost seamlessly.”

For Dev, stillness is an important element of his daily routine.

Meditation vs mindfulness

It’s a big word, meditation; loaded with meaning that the western world has imbued with its own significance. The terms meditation and mindfulness are often used interchangeably which is understandable yet incorrect.

Oftentimes, when people casually refer to meditation, what they’re actually describing is mindfulness. Another word for mindfulness is presence. It’s actively noticing your thoughts, feelings and sensations, as well as the stimulus from the world around you. You can practice mindfulness when engaged in a conversation with a friend, driving your car, drinking your coffee, and most certainly when you practice Animal Flow.

Meditation, by contrast, is a technique-specific practice that is often (though not always) practiced while sitting. Various styles of meditation exist such as Transcendental Meditation, guided meditation, and mantra meditation.

Think of meditation as a practice that leads to increased mindfulness in life, just like the practice of Animal Flow leads to increased physical function.

Meditation practices can be generally categorized as either ‘focused attention’ or ‘open monitoring’. If you’ve ever sat in lotus pose and focused on your breath or a mantra, then you’ve practiced focused attention meditation. In it, any time you are aware that you are distracted from your focal point, you guide yourself back to your breath or mantra and continue.

Open monitoring meditation allows the mind to be broadly aware of sensations and thoughts without focusing on any of them. It’s the more traditional image of meditation that we get in our heads–and that strikes fear into the hearts of many.

The benefits of meditation and mindfulness

The great news is that you don’t have to sit cross-legged for hours with a completely blank mind to experience the benefits. Even a few minutes of focused attention can have positive effects on working memory, mood, attentional stability, and cognitive processing skills.

Research suggests that meditation in higher doses has the power to change brains. It’s been reported that 30 minutes of meditation every day for eight weeks results in increased density of the brain’s gray matter in regions that relate to memory and stress. Even brief mindfulness exercises have been shown to reduce depression, anxiety and stress.

Getting started

If you’re ready to take the plunge into stillness, Dev has these recommendations:

1. Begin with breathing

“Breathing is a great place to start, particularly if you think “I could never sit still for that long,” or “I don’t know how to stop thinking.” That’s not what meditation is about.
Try sitting in a comfortable position and taking some deep breaths for just five minutes. All you need to do is be conscious of it and allow it to evolve from there.”

2. Try guided meditation

“One of my favorite early methods of meditation was guided meditation. I found it really helpful to have someone who is experienced guide me through the process. There are some great apps such as Headspace (which I tried in the beginning), Calm, and Insight Timer.”

3. Use visualization

“I used to practice visualization right after my morning meditation practice but now I prefer to do it before going to bed at night. I play some calm music in the background and spend 5 – 10 minutes just seeing myself achieving things that I want for myself. It’s not meditation but I feel they go hand-in-hand with each other.”

What does it mean to be a Flowist? Read Becoming a Flowist by AF creator, Mike Fitch, and find out why a life focused on becoming a Flowist is a life lived in the pursuit of betterment.