Monday, August 3, 2009

Aum in Motion

“Get out and walk!”

With a small beep, this reminder pops up on my screen at 12:20pm every day that I'm in the office. If I'm ‘being good’, I'll press Snooze, ensure my work is at a point where I can pick it up when I return, and then go out for a walk when the reminder pops up 10 minutes later. All too often, especially when I'm busy or stressed, I'll keep pressing Snooze until I get fed up with the reminders, press Done to stop them, and then not move until the end of the day. Yet it is those busy and stressful times when I really need the break.

It was my sedentary job and home life that led to high blood pressure and weight problems. But it was also these same problems that led me to yoga. Although my yoga practice helps relieve the stress, it is not a very dynamic practice so I need to complement it with walking to lower my weight and blood pressure.

Walking buddies ensure that I walk most of the days that I'm off so I tend to justify to myself that I'm already walking three times a week and really don't need to walk the days that I'm in the office. However, it is the mental break I need rather than the aerobic exercise. My preference would be a yoga nidra session but finding a private room in an open-plan office is not an easy task.

Last week I had a flash of inspiration: combine walking and meditation. I tried Aum walking, a practice I learnt in my course.

There are a lot of articles on the Web about walking meditation, but nothing seems to describe the practice we learnt. To perform the meditation, I keep my eyes downcast, try to remain aware of what is happening around me, focus on my steps and then silently chant the mantra Aum for each step I take.

I chose the top car park at work to perform the meditation. It is at the top of a very steep hill so few people trek up there at lunch time. There I was, three tiers of paint-marked bitumen separated by kerbed islands of shrubs and eucalypts, the whole car park hidden from the road by the surrounding bush.

Initially I was a little wary: keeping an ear out for those fitness enthusiasts who include the top car park in their lunch time walks. But this wariness soon disappeared as I started to focus on the meditation and I began to feel secure in the environment.

I immediately and instinctively slowed down—a long mental aum could not fit into the power steps I took to reach the car park—and with that physical slowing down my body relaxed. I actually found it strange that both arms wanted to swing forward and back together, and any attempts to have them swing ‘naturally’ in opposing directions just brought tension into both my body and mind.

I had a heightened sense of awareness. I could hear the whoosh of an occasional car, invisible behind the screen of trees, rushing down the hill outside our company grounds. The wind gently rustled the leaves as birds called to each other. The bitumen was no longer a dark-grey sheet leading up the hill but a miniature world of undulating mountains with meandering river-like cracks and tiny spotlights of glittering mica. It was a world littered with an assortment of dead, dry leaves, twisted twigs and clusters of soil; a world of contrasts from radiating warmth and brightness or dappled light to cool, dark shade with verdant, mossy mounds. I meditated for about 20 minutes then stood still with eyes closed, soaking in the peace. On opening my eyes, my mind and senses seemed clearer—everything around me looked sharp and new.

The next day, I walked with my hands in anjali mudra (prayer position). I was accompanied by a friend and there were gardeners working in the bush nearby, so I felt a little self-conscious and only meditated for 10 minutes. But even with this short session I could feel the prana radiating from my palms and I felt so energised and alive—something I haven't felt in a long time.

I'm currently on leave and therefore, practising yoga nidra again. But I will definitely try aum walking again when I return to work. On reflection, aum walking could be a metaphor for how we navigate through life: we need to focus on that spiritual path towards finding our true selves, be aware of what is happening around us but not be distracted from that path despite its ups and downs.

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