Meditation or Physical Exercise...Which Type Are You?

I’ve never gravitated towards meditation or forced stillness (I know, I know, it would be really good for me). I’m not sure if my resistance to is a combination of stubbornness and fierce independence, or what I learned at home.

My parents, Israeli immigrants, had a treadmill in our basement, and my mother still drives to the JCC for vigorous workout classes. My father was a star athlete, the winner of the Israeli Olympics at Shot put at age 17. I’ve always had my father’s stamina (not his coordination), and as a tomboy growing up as the middle of three girls, I was the designated sporty type too, and very competitive. Running, biking, a mean game of Ping-Pong or tennis, and dancing the night away to techno or pop-80s were the kinds of physical activity I enjoyed.

I tried Yoga when I lived in LA, naturally, but preferred the spin classes (now prettified with a new title, “Soul Cycle”), high-speed stationary biking to the beat of a playlist. But still, the class thing didn’t appeal to me. I don’t like having to be somewhere at a designated time, or fight crowds, or talk and smile at people when the whole point is getting with myself; curling up inside my thoughts (or running away from them).

I hear this often: “Cougel, you would love Yoga!” and “You should try meditation!” and “Come to 8am Vinyasa!”

My response: “No thanks, not for me.”

They persist, “Okay, I know you don’t like to get up early. There’s a 6pm Kundalalalala class!”

“During happy hour?“ I say (no I don’t, but I think it).

And, “How about trying the bar class?

“I only frequent one kind of bar class.”

Yoga and meditation, Kabbalah and Buddhism, were often recommended to me when I was at the most lost and pivotal points in my life, like when I was in the throes of deciding whether to leave my ex-husband.

Psychics were suggested to me too. Astrologers. Tea leave and palm readers and phone conversations with anonymous women who could ease my burden by knowing my time of birth. Don’t get me wrong – I was tempted, and sometimes I still am. I do believe in the gift of sight, of intuition, and many friends of mine have been helped enormously via these types of spiritual advisors.

I would gather their information, and a few times, I even reached out, but when it came time to pull the trigger, I didn’t go through with it. Why? At first I thought it was because I was afraid of finding out something I didn’t want to know (Like the time when an Indian man at a midtown bar told me that he reads palms, looked at mine, then burst into tears of fear and sorrow.)

It’s because at the time I was still impressionable to others’ voices and expectations – and out of sync with my own. If I got a sneak peak into parts of my future, would it affect the choices I made now? Would I be reacting to that information, rather than just going with my gut?

And then – since I met my husband and reconnected with God, I realized that trust and faith in something bigger than myself is sufficient and steadfast guidance. Prayer is a form of meditation, and so is accepting that for me, getting answers or a quick fix from a gifted counselor doesn’t align with who I am. I had to, as my husband helped me realize, pray through it, practice, do the work, and trust that answers – often hidden – don’t immediately or plainly appear.

So maybe that’s the reason that guided meditation as a practice doesn’t appeal to me. Maybe it’s the reason it never did.

My friend recently recommended an App called “Headspace,” a digital platform for guided meditation and mindfulness. He swore that it would change my life – I could listen to it while I jogged in my new neighborhood, or on the subway to work. It would force me to bounce the noisy thoughts and clear my head, reconnect with myself, and relieve my stress. I enthusiastically downloaded the App on my phone and planned on trying it.

The next morning, when the hot sun streamed in through our curtainless windows and woke me up at 6:45am, my face and head baking from being shoved under a pillow all night, I decided to go for a jog in Riverside Park. My new backyard of miles and miles of green and water (without having to move to the suburbs). I had a long day of meetings and client outings ahead of me, and I knew that clearing my head would help arm me for it.

But I didn’t touch the mediation app. A calm, soothing voice can’t compete with Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” or pissed off Linkin Park. I ran over three miles, the blue sky, the little boats, and people of all ages running or biking past me made me smile with joy, and by the time I got home, my headspace had been cleared.
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Yes, I know that Yoga would be good for me, and I think there will come a time when I will turn that corner, try it, and realize that it’s the most amazing thing in the world – and write all about it. But right now, I’ve got a little block in the way. Could be timing, could be my aversion to following a pre-set instruction manual or teacher (which was never my bag), or resistance to learning something new. Or, it could just be me.

What type are you, and why? Are you the kind of person who relieves stress through mental and physical stillness, by slowing down, or does physical speed and exertion do it for you?

California Dreaming: Being a Tourist Where I Once Lived.

In the last four weeks, I’ve gone from:

Chelsea, NYC to Short Hills, NJ.
Short Hills to Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Williamsburg to Hamptons.
Hamptons back to Williamsburg.
Williamsburg to LA.
LA to Laguna Beach.
LA to San Francisco (with stops along the way).
San Francisco back to Williamsburg.

In New Jersey: I got to spend four days with my sister and my three nieces. We even got our hair and nails did for my other niece’s bat mitzvah. I got to sit on their deck at sunset and drink margaritas and dance with my six year old niece while getting mosquito bites on my ankles. My sister and I sat side by side, working in silence on our laptops, nursing our coffees, on a Monday morning.

Williamsburg: I got to spend two weeks surrounded by hipsters, cute cafes, and no sirens or pissed-off crowds. Israelis were everywhere, their conversations in Hebrew and gesticulating hands made me feel at home. And the orthodox Jews, who I got to see at the gym on the treadmill in long skirts and hair coverings (yes, this means I actually went to the gym) and the men leaning against buildings (synagogues, schools, and the occasional law firm) dressed in the traditional black and white garb smoking cigarettes (their only permissible indulgence perhaps). I got to experience (yet another) last hurrah of pretending I’m twenty-five (and too cool for the L train).

Los Angeles: I got to spend a long evening with one of my best friends from LA, while she is recovering from a frightening near death accident, talking about life, and our marriages, and love, but mostly, the beauty and fragility of life. I got to wake up the next morning and have coffee in her kitchen and take a soak with my husband in the hot tub overlooking a lush backyard. I got to be a tourist, my husband and I driving down Hollywood Blvd. in a red mustang convertible, wearing dorky matching straw hats and RayBans.

I got to be a tourist in the city I once lived in for six years, when I was a different person, in another life. I got to take my husband to my old house, which I once shared with my ex-husband – a house that I peered into as if I was peering into a diorama depicting another century, another life, inhabited by someone who looked like me and had my name, but isn’t me – and rejoice. I got to stand next to my husband and celebrate how far I’ve come, revisit a life stage that is no longer, and reaffirm that the nostalgia pangs that had lingered on previous solo visits to LA had completely vanished.

At first, I wanted to deny the fact that we were tourists. How could I be a tourist in my former home state? But alas, as soon as we hit the Pacific Coast Highway headed north out of Los Angeles, the brim of our hats and my hair flapping gleefully in the wind, it no longer mattered. We boarded the shuttle at Hearst Castle with forty other sweaty tourists, and listened to Alex Trebec’s voice drone on the loudspeaker about the beautiful terrain and 150,000 acre history (you’ll have to Google the rest because nah, I wasn’t really listening). Half way through the guided tour through the grand rooms of the estate, led by a cheery guide-librarian type, I had reached my follow-the-pack-and-like-it limit. But mainly, I didn’t want to miss the Elephant Seals who we had heard are camped out along the beach like giant lazy sausages with the faces of a Labrador retriever. The Hearst tour had taken three hours and I was worried that the Elephant Seal visiting hours would be closed (and my husband knew I would have a child tantrum if we missed them…he’s been scarred by the monkeys who I didn’t get to hold and have my hair braided by in Mexico). So on our way out, I anxiously asked the dude at the Visitor’s desk, “How long will the Seals be there for today? Two or three more hours?” He looked at me with a bored look on his face and deadpanned, “They’ll be there for another fifty years.” FullSizeRender

At Big Sur, we checked in to a rustic inn at the base of the redwood trees that made my husband look not tall. We were told at the check-in/reception desk/restaurant to sign in, and proceed to our cabin.

“Is there a key?” I asked the hippy lady, long hair middle parted and bemused smile on her face.

“Nope.”

“Is there a safe?” I asked.

“Nope.” Pause, still smiling. “Where you from?”

“New York,” I replied sheepishly.

“Yeah, I hear that a lot.”

Before dinner, we hiked the windy dirt trail out of the shaded canyon, up above the redwoods, me in flip-flops and a summer-dress/night gown (one of four uniforms I’ve been recycling this past month) to catch the sunset. The sky was a deep aqua, the jagged perimeters of the mountains lay against it like a 2D cut out. We watched the surfers down below, birdlike specs bobbing up and down as they waited for the next wave to crest. IMG_2116

By the time we got to San Francisco at the end of the trip and ditched the Mustang, I swapped in the word “tourist” for “visitor” and participated in the sites – the famous trolley ride, the crowded Fishermans Wharf, including ice cream cones from Ghirardelli Square. I was like a satisfied toddler at Disneyland, without a care in the world. We feasted on Mexican food, Belgian food, and sushi, followed by drinks at a bar we stumbled upon that happened to be popular amongst the tech start-up crowd (like most bars in San Francisco, duh). We made new friends, and returned the next night, briefly feeling like locals. We came back to the hotel at 2am and ordered pizza and watched stand-up comedy like college kids.

When I woke up on our last morning in our white hotel room, I looked at my husband still asleep beside me, and felt a spike of anxiety about returning “back to life.” Work, sales. Having to flip the switch back to ‘on’ mode – back to business. What opportunities did I miss while away, jobs that I did not go after for my directors? What novel have I not been rewriting? I need to make clean up appointments: my hair needs coloring, my nails fixing (do not try opening a beer with a key, fyi).

And then I remembered – we are moving this week! – and the stress lifted. Finally, we are moving into our new home that we purchased together, the start of an even more exciting adventure, for which I hope to retain and maintain the same wide-eyed enthusiasm and appreciation of a kid – or a tourist – at Disneyland.

Post script: The drought is apparent and depressing. Hearst Castle had their public bathrooms closed by order of Governor (porta-potties lined up outside like good little soldiers), and flushing unneccesarily is a no-no, as is shaving in the shower. The worst news: Avocados and almonds are endangered.
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