Meditation + Yoga 365

_MG_7008-77Web.jpg

A hallmark of a good app for me is primarily one I use. If it makes it to the front of my phone, its good. If it makes it to the features bar, it’s gold. Since 2016 I’ve been a raving advocate for Insight Timer. I love it, LOVE IT, and while tech is only as good as the lazy distracted human who is remembering to use it, this app has been a key partner in stabilising and refining my meditation practice.

It all started in May 2016. I’m hanging with my homie Reed Everingham, man of style, whippet owner and psychologist to the stars (well, to him all his clients are stars). He had been getting into meditation and was tracking his progress on an app and wanted me to have a try. Woot the woot I thought – an app that helps you meditate. I downloaded and like vegan chocolate, was instantly hooked. What Insight Timer does, and it does many actual functions, is give you a mechanism to track progress while also setting up an environment conductive to meditate. If you want bells and silence, all there for you, if you want guided meditation of every flavour and length under the sun, similarly available.

I wanted both these things, and I also was intrinsically rewarded by the little accumulation of stars under my profile that rewarded me for the continuation of my practice. When I was a kid I had very bad tonsillitis, and spent seemingly months taking antibiotics. I got a gold star sticker for every tablet, and the pride of the star tally was greater than the effort of swallowing those suckers past my gruesome tonsils. It’s not very zen to feel pride for longitudinal effort, and many more evolved meditators than me have turned off the star function in their apps to simply be in the present. But I’m still loving the present that has a lot of stars on it and the feeling im doing something good. Don’t judge me.

As alluded to before though, the app only works if you use it. Something about being connected to millions of other meditators each time I sat down for a session gave me a massive invisible satsang to connect to. If I wanted more than a nebulous mass of meditators, I could join a specific interest group within the app, or send a shout out to anyone to celebrate their meditation or get support. Somehow, this community means wherever I am, I connect when I meditate and am greater than the sum of my parts. Even greater than the self motivated feeling, was that on January 1st 2017, Insight Timer CEO Christopher Plowman launched a 365 challenge, for people in the Insight Timer community to commit to meditating every day for a year, however they wanted that session to be. As I was already meditating every day, I jumped on board feeling smug and like I could get a quick win. But unlike my often determined projects that dwindle away when I’m distracted by a new shiny object, this one stuck like glue and every single day of 2017 I meditated for a minimum of 30 minutes, racking up mindful stars and along the way, getting a little insight of my own.

On day one of 2018, my first act was to do yoga under the near full moon. Oh yeah, did I mention that I also doubled down on the 365 meditation challenge by adding in a daily yoga practice of 10 minutes, more if I wanted, but no less. That meant, rain, hail or shine, sickness or health or mild hangover, I had to do yoga asana (I’m differentiating asana as I was trying to instil a physical discipline in my practice.) After I rocked out a wobbly headstand and had a delicious sleep, I got up and meditated, and reflected I should write a journal entry about what the year of meditation and yoga has meant.

I think the key element of the practice is that I do it every day. I have wanted to bring some consistency into what I do for a long time. By creating a non negotiable daily action, and being held to account by a little digital star, I am accountable and I have to say willing in the work. Meditation and yoga make you feel good. When you feel great they elevate you, when you feel shit, they soothe and centre you and bring you back. I began to look for chances to meditate, grabbing little snatches throughout the day. I also reached for meditation and yoga when issues came up, or I needed support, or was trying to solve a problem or deal with a gnarly moment at work. The neural pathway clearly got a little groove in it, and so did I. There were definitely days in the year where the last thing I wanted to do was my yoga or meditation session. And I could have simply said f-this and not done it. But I didn’t. And that in itself is the clue to the power of meditation and yoga as a practice. You know you can say no, but you also know that the real work happens when you simply observe your ego having a little tanty, and do it anyway.

There is a saying in ayurvedic medicine that, roughly paraphrased, first comes bitter then comes sweet. This basically means that anything that is to deliver a lasting happiness has to have some hard work and sacrifice at the outset. Sweet first always leads to bitter later, and in a world where we are gorging on instant gratification and quick fixes, it is very satisfying to be part of something where the end game is far in the distance. The bitter is still bitter, but it is an acquired taste. I’m stoked to be signed up for another year of my meditation and yoga practice. Enlightenment isn’t happening any day soon (or is it!) but I’m looking at the stars.

Polly McGee