Each year in our tai chi community we have been undertaking a 21 Day Standing Meditation Challenge to bring in the new year and to help introduce standing meditation and reap the benefits. The benefits of Standing Meditation are often difficult to explain because of their subtlety. A student responded with his experience so I thought it only appropriate to share.
My Experience with Standing Meditation
This time last year, I found myself in very tumultuous times personally. I had hit a depressive state that I had not experienced since my mother passed away over 20 years ago. I was very unfocused, in a very dark place, and constantly had suicidal thoughts. Fortunately, during that time in my youth I was surrounded by amazing friends and remarkable professors, one of whom integrated some Tai Chi, Chi Gong, and Yoga into our daily warm-ups in class. His class was one of the most transformative classes I have ever experienced in my life. What I learned in his class laid the foundation for how I take care of myself today mentally, physically, and spiritually.
When I heard about the standing meditation challenge last January, I felt like I was needing something like this since I found myself struggling with depression again. I liked how they spent some significant time during that first class in January to explain what was behind the meditation (ncluding these two articles: Benefits of Standing, What is pole standing?). They told a story about how Master Chen Qing Zhou would not tell them the secret to improving one’s Tai Chi, because they would not believe it. Ultimately he shared that standing daily would improve their Tai Chi. One of the sound bites that stayed with me throughout the time that I did the standing meditation and even today is that it only takes 5 minutes of your day.
The True Commitment
I did the math: There are 1,440 minutes in a day. This meditation would only take .3% of my day. That’s less than one percent of my time during my daily routine. I was also looking forward to doing the challenge with my fellow Tai Chi peers. Basically, every week we would report about our progress and talk about the challenge in class, and it was inspiring to see so many fellow peers committed to doing it every day.
Trouble with Weight, Sleep and Health
During the month of December I had lost 5 pounds due to a loss of appetite. I was really struggling with depression that came about due to some personal challenges that I was facing. I was at 200 pounds when we started the standing meditation challenge at the beginning of January. I was also struggling with insomnia, so sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night, and toss and turn for 1 to 2 hours before being able to go back to sleep. I would try to force myself back to sleep because I knew that in the morning I would feel very tired going to work. I was a high school teacher at that time. In addition, I had been cautioned frequently by my physician that I needed to take care of myself, since I have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Both of my parents died of cancer, and I have witnessed many of my relatives fight a losing battle with these illnesses. This provides a lot of motivation for me to be proactive about my health.
Despite all this motivation my greatest challenge in doing the standing meditation was finding those 5 minutes in my very busy schedule to do it. So my attitude became that I would make sure to do it everyday no matter what. And one of the drastic measures that I took was that I quit watching television completely. I started dedicating those 2 hours a day to playing music, and doing my standing meditation. There were several days where I did the standing meditation in the morning before I took a shower to go to work. Some days I would do it after coming home from work when I felt really exhausted and stressed out.
The standing meditation would reenergize me on those days, and I would be more productive the rest of the day. And some days I would do the meditation before doing my routine to go to bed. I would be really tired, and not really feel like doing it, but I would push myself.
Even during the 21 day challenge I continued to struggle with insomnia. It would not be until much later in the year that I figured out that the stress level at work was really affecting my sleep. The stress of being a teacher is not the students. The stress comes from the toxic attitudes of colleagues and administrators, the pressures of high stakes testing, and politics in education. These problems kept me up more times than not in the middle of the night. There were times when I would just get out of bed and do the standing meditation as well as a few other Chi Gong exercises that I had previously learned that helped with settling your core so it would lead to better sleep. I had also discovered that the nights I got the best uninterrupted sleep was on Tuesday nights after Tai Chi class.
There was another discovery I made about the standing meditation: The more I did it, the more difficult it got because I would need to sink deeper into my stance to experience the sensations you experience when you are doing it right. However, I kept going knowing that my Tai Chi peers were doing the same. After about 2 weeks, I started to experience several positive effects. One of them was the reenergizing effect the meditation had on my mental state as well as my physical state. I was able to easily deflect the negativity I was experiencing from some of my colleagues and administrators at the high school, even if figuratively speaking they threw daggers, knives and spears at me.
During those first 2 weeks of the standing mediation, I started getting my appetite back, but I was also eating a lot healthier. I was staying gluten-free, cutting down on the carbs, eating more protein like fish and chicken, and making sure that I ate more veggies and fruits. I stayed away from wheat, dairy and sugar. And I drank lots of water along with my daily dose of green tea.
During the third week of the challenge I had sustained a minor injury that landed me in a medical clinic. It was there that I got on the scale that I was so surprised. The scale read 190 pounds. I didn’t have time to really take it in because they hurried me over to one of their examination rooms, but I even told myself, “that scale must be off or broken. It can’t be.” When I returned to Tai Chi class the following week I weighed myself on the scale right outside the
weight room, and it was true. I was down to 190 pounds. I was blown away because I hadn’t been anywhere near that weight since college. More than anything I liked the way I was feeling physically. I had more energy during the day. And I started to notice that I was sinking deeper into my stances as I was practicing Tai Chi in class.
However, life kept coming at me in so many ways that even after the 21 day challenge was over I continued to do the standing meditation. The meditation would bring me back to center when I felt my life was spinning out of control. I was also still battling my depressive states at times. My work environment was not improving, and I was still facing personal challenges that created emotional instability.
I continued doing the standing meditation all through the month of February without missing a day. I continued to observe small improvements in my Tai Chi form. I remember in late February several aha moments where I was either doing one of the exercises with the bowling ball or doing the form and feeling like “Wow, this is how this is supposed to feel!”
I continued doing the standing meditation in March. The second week in March I attended theSXSW Edu conference, and I continued to do the standing meditation daily. The following week was Spring Break, and I attended the SXSW Interactive, Film & Music Festival. I wanted to keep the streak alive, and I succeeded for one day of the festival. Then on March 12th I came home extremely tired and worn out from being at the festival for over 14 hours that I just went to sleep. I had gone 67 straight days doing the standing meditation.
The Rest of the Year
Even though my streak stopped, I still continued to make the standing meditation a part of my daily routine after Spring Break. I haven’t had a streak like that since then, but I will have streaks where I still do the standing mediation for like ten days straight. I also bought a bowling ball so that I could do the strengthening exercises that we do in Tai Chi class at home at least two times a week. I continue to see positive results in my Tai Chi form, and in my overall health.
I am looking forward to another 21 day challenge with all my peers at the Chen Tai Chi Association of Austin. I decided to share this story because I know how tough it is to overcome procrastination, challenges that life presents us, and depression. I hope that this personal story that I am sharing with you will inspire you to commit to something that enhances your well being. You deserve it.