Even before we met the four horsemen of COVID-19 (illness, panic, isolation and toilet paper shortages), meditation was a cultural darling. Businessmen are bullish on investing in it, brain scientists are quantifying its effects and Oprah practices it. I’ve dipped in and out of the discipline over the years and found it helpful in a variety of ways, from making me more patient to helping me feel more energetic and break addictive behaviors. And while solo meditation in the comfort of your own home is certainly effective, I find this practice hard to sustain; quite simply, it’s more difficult to focus when I’m home alone than when I am in a class setting. Something about the combined energies of the other meditators together with a teacher make the shared experience more like a warm bath. When I try meditating alone at home, the whole setup feels like the drafty floor time that it is.
But given the events of the past few weeks, some mindfulness was definitely in order. And with going out to a class no longer an option, I decided to try online meditation. Here are a few tips from my firsthand experience.
1. Keep an Open Mind
When I found out that Den Meditation, a local studio with locations on La Brea and in Studio City, was inaugurating regularly scheduled online classes led by their usual teachers from the privacy and virus-free security of their own homes, I was curious. Would it be creepy to just close my eyes while facing my laptop? It turns out that the guided meditations offered in both studios’ programming are wide-ranging, with all sorts of different formats beyond just sitting cross-legged on a cushion. There is yoga nidra, which is a lying-down meditation that’s good for people with insomnia; intention meditation, which is useful for setting goals; and self-compassion meditation, which helps quiet your inner critical voices, plus many more.
2. Don’t Expect to Stay Awake
The first class I took was a 9 p.m. breathwork class. The description warns users to “be prepared for some big emotional shifts.” For someone who basically ping-pongs between heightened awareness (read: anxiety) and detachment all day, I certainly did experience a big emotional shift when I leaned back on my pillows with my laptop screen balanced on my lap. The teacher began leading me (us? were others logged into the $10 class? could the teacher see me/us?) through deep breaths, alternately holding and releasing them in a regular rhythm, while she coolly and calmly counseled on the importance of breath. Thirty minutes into the session, I awoke with a start, with no idea where I was and for a moment no idea why this woman was speaking to me/us/whomever from my laptop. Abashed, I shut the screen, rolled over and fell into a deep sleep.
3. Experiment with New Disciplines
While I’ ve only once taken a kundalini yoga class (which I found not yoga-like at all but instead a sort of hyperventilation-inducing pillow party), I registered for one the day after my breathwork class. It was advertised as releasing “an ecstatic and electric energy running through you.” Sign me up! Led by a kindly older woman in a white turban who giggled fetchingly as she let on that this was the first remote class she’d ever taught, the class did turn out to be the sort of pulse-quickening midday pick-me-up I was looking for without being a sweaty workout. Small hand gestures, abdomen stretches and syncopated breaths, with a big crescendo of me “elephant walking,” or holding my ankles in my hands while I walked around the room, made me feel uplifted if a little dizzy. My three dogs, however, were upset that I seemed to be moving in a playful manner around my bedroom without wanting to play with them.
4. Bring Your Baggage
While solo home meditation for me has always been a mind-clearing zazen practice of sitting in silence and counting my breaths from one to ten, the last class I took—three classes in three days—was a sound meditation. I settled back in the dark, against my pillows, for this nighttime aperitif of a teacher rubbing crystal bowls, tinkling chimes and tittering wooden blocks. And unlike so many meditations in which I tried to build a wall against my dark thoughts, here I just let them in and allowed them to wash over me: What if we run out of food? How long will our California shelter-in-place order endure? What about getting sick? The teacher’s calm, clear and encouraging voice rose out of the sounds, drowning out the anxiety. Today I can’t even remember what she said, but I realize now that these meditations worked wonders, and the common thread is that, during all of them, I luxuriated in having someone speak to me in a soothing voice for 45 minutes.
So maybe I’m a little bit hooked on online meditation right now. Try it—you might find your own high in it.