The first time our marriage was in trouble, my husband and I did a few sessions with a marriage counselor. Afterward, we still fought regularly—me locking myself in the bathroom to cry or flinging my wedding band across the room—but, once the dust settled, we’d have a rational conversation.
“Do we need to do some reflective listening?” my husband would ask, patting the space next to him on our bed. I’d sit and say some variation of I feel X when you Y, because Z and he’d repeat it back to me, showing me he heard and understood. And then it would be his turn, and around and around we’d go.
Learning how to better communicate was no small thing. The fact that we weren’t communicating was a big part of our problem to begin with. But what all of this post-argument polite conversation failed to do was address our root issues. And so the fights continued.
The next time our marriage was flailing and fragile, I ran away…to a yoga retreat. It was there that I began to learn how the practice of mindfulness could make my marriage strong again.
1. Savasana. I know. Savasana is not technically a meditation technique. Rather, it’s a pose typically done at the end of a yoga practice. During this pose, the practitioner lies on her back, eyes closed, gradually relaxing the body and mind, systematically releasing stress. But when I first began practicing savasana on that long-ago retreat, what I experienced instead was an overwhelming sense of gratitude burning in my belly and my chest, sitting like a lump in my throat. This was the knowledge that I was lucky to have the life that I had, including the life that I had built with my husband.
2. Breathing meditation. From there, I went on to learn other meditation techniques. Now, I often lead my yoga students in breathing exercises because it’s something they can take home with them, accessible in that it can be done and can be effective in as little as 10 minutes or five minutes or even 60 seconds. All that’s required is to press pause on the chaos in the head, choosing instead to focus on the breath, on the way it feels as it moves throughout the body, letting each inhale and each exhale lengthen out and, in turn, letting everything else soften. When I stop and focus on my breath, I give myself the time to choose how best to respond to my husband-induced agita.
3. Body scan meditation. Instead of tossing and turning at night, agitated at some small, imagined slight or annoyance, I now lie flat on my back beneath the covers, place my hands on my belly, tune in to the breath, and start to scan through my body, relaxing each body part as my mind rests upon it. I start at my toes and end with my face and, by the time I’ve loosened my jaw, I am at peace.
4. Mantra meditation. The word mantra comes from two Sanskrit words: man, meaning “mind,” and tra, meaning “vehicle” or “instrument.” Basically, your mantra is your mind vehicle, a virtual form of transport that carries you further inward. Meditators repeat a mantra over and over, either silently or out loud. Some practitioners use “om” or a small phrase such as “so ham” (“I am”) as their mantra. I like to think of something I need or want more of as I inhale (“patience”), and something I want to get rid of on the exhale (“the desire to strangle my husband as he sleeps”).
5. Loving-kindness meditation. This has become a favorite of mine. This form of meditation is meant to evoke within you feelings of love and compassion toward yourself and others by way of several repeated phrases (ex. “may I/you be well/safe/at peace/strong/happy/etc.”). After sending thoughts of love and compassion to yourself, you move on to loved ones, then acquaintances, then to those who cause you difficulty, then to strangers and, eventually, to the entire world. I often hold my husband in my mind as I repeat these words of intention and, almost magically, I feel my heart begin to soften toward him.
6. Visualization meditation. This is a form of meditation I find especially challenging. No matter how determinedly I close my eyes and try to envision my husband and I holding hands while frolicking about a spotless home, the glow of the recessed lighting warm on our skin, I always remain aware that, just beyond my eyelids, my home is in actuality littered with cat hair and toddler toys and sippy cups and a fine layer of dust. Perhaps that’s the next level before full marital enlightenment? To each their own meditation technique. Inhale patience, exhale cat litter.
Over to you, yogis: Do you have a meditation practice? If so, what’s your favorite way to meditate, and what do you use it for the most?