6 Hours of Silence: A Meditation Lesson

Monks is brown robes greet me in the entry. Each person bows and and I’m warmly welcomed. I find a spot on the floor, fold my legs beneath me and settle in for the first meditation.

This year I added meditation retreat to my 2015 goals list as a building block to support my daily meditation practice. Since January I’ve done my best to meditate daily. The type of meditation has changed around a few times and I’m always curious to explore other practices.

I do genuinely enjoy my meditation practice, although the time commitment is a drag. Every day I remind myself that I never have the time, I just have to do it. That’s how I felt about the retreat too. So I picked one and made the time for it.

I blindly signed up for a six hour workshop. And unbeknownst to me so did several hundred others. The retreats I’ve taken part in the past have been small, under 20 people. So this was a bit overwhelming. But I’d already committed and there was no turning back.

For me, meditation is a tool to manage my ever-building anxiety. I have a tendency to live in the future, projecting forward to all the things I want to accomplish tomorrow, next year and five years from now. Meditation brings me back to now and I’m able to clearly focus without distraction. Well maybe with much less distraction than before, I don’t think it will ever cease to exit. The constant nagging of my to-do list is softer now.

This spring I began a walking meditation. Every morning I take a short walk around my neighborhood and listen to a looping mantra song. I take in the lovely streets, passing people and I’ve noticed that I actually smile the entire time too. It truly is a joyful experience.

Meditation has mounting evidence of benefits, including:

  1. Decreases anxiety
  2. More energy
  3. Improves ability to focus
  4. Improves memory performance
  5. Reduces intensity of physical pain
  6. Increases accurate self-knowledge and reduces many cognitive biases
  7. Heightens positive mood
  8. De-excites the nervous system to give the body rest
  9. Mitigates the effects of the “fight-or-flight” response, decreasing the production of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline

The retreat was hosted by Blue Cliff Monastery, a mindfulness practice center in the southern Catskills, founded by the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich Nhat Hanh’s approach is a

combination of traditional Zen teachings, Buddhist traditions, and ideas from Western psychology for a modern approach to meditation.

The monks and nuns seated themselves around the room with all the public participants.

This looked strategic, as a way to put everyone on the same level. We sat silently, listening to the soothing words of the first meditation. The day was divided into four practices: seated, walking, eating and active relaxation.

As I sat, my thoughts went immediately to planning an exit strategy. I started to compromise with myself. Okay, if I stay through the first part then I can sneak off towards the doors. No, no, no I’d already committed and meditation is about sitting through discomfort, I could do this. And then nope, I’m done, out of here. My thoughts fought back and forth, my body shifted every two minutes and then Ding!

I’d make it to Part 2. Everyone stood and began forming a line for the walking meditation. This was my chance to escape…just walk over to the door and slip away. But I stayed. And out the door we went, all filed in a neat little line silently walking towards Union Square and through the busy farmers market.

Our group sat down in Union Square right next to a passionate Syrian protest, rallying to persuaded the U.S to let in the displaced refugees. I do not think this was a coincidence. Thich Nhat Hanh is a well-known peace activist and by positioning a group of peaceful meditators next to the protest, he was making his message clear. The protestors chanting made it difficult to focus on much else.

Part 3. Mindful eating. Now this is the part I most wanted to experience. Everyone brought their own lunches and we were encouraged to share with those that did not have food. It was inspiring to see such generosity. We were instructed to take small bites, notice each flavor and chew thoroughly. It was even suggested that we chew each bite 40 times. Now I’m all for appreciating food, but this seemed excessive. I tried it and every bite liquefied too much for my liking.

After the meal, we sat for another meditation. By this point the hard concrete in Union Square was making my butt numb and I had to really concentrate to stay put.

My mind darted off into every which way and direction. I thought about:

  • My arms are so sore from carrying those cucumbers.
  • What I am going to make for dinner?
  • Is it rude to go to the bathroom in the middle of meditating?
  • How should I write my story about this experience?
  • Feeling guilty for not calling back a friend
  • What in this retreat can I Instagram?
  • Does this retreat have a hashtag I should use?
  • Why can’t I stay still and everyone else can?
  • I wish I could sit in a chair and get off the ground.
  • Do we all need this much silence?
  • I wish that women would stop looking at her phone.
  • Maybe I’ll get ice cream after this.

Ding! The bells chimed and we all walked back indoors for Part 4: active relaxation. We were instructed to find enough space to lie down on the floor. I pushed two large floor pillows together and collapsed into them. After three hours of uncomfortable sitting I was relieved to have a cozy spot.

Everyone worked together to make room. Over 100 people were packed in, laying on the floor like we were kids at a big sleep over.

No one seemed bothered to be laying near complete strangers. The shared experience of the retreat had brought us together, we were open to the connection.

Part 4, active relaxation, was the most challenging type of meditation. 45 minutes of laying in stillness. Absolutely no sleeping allowed. The monk talked us through it as I fought my body’s inclination to close my eyes. Ten minutes in and I was out (and this is why I switched to walking meditations…).

Ding! The instructor spoke, “Slowly begin to wiggle your fingers and toes, stretch your arms, then legs and gently roll over to your side.” The room rolled and everyone sat in their own time.

Every urge to leave the retreat vanished. I didn’t want to move. I was content and my mind was finally at ease. The group had shared something so intimate and I felt a closeness to every person in the room. There was one thing missing though, human touch. I wanted a hug. We’d shared something intimate and it did not feel right just walking out the door.

But there was no one to hug. It did not feel appropriate. I left the space with a strong feeling of isolation. All of the silence and reflection had been too disconnecting and I felt separated from the world. Many of my friends have partaken in 10 day silent meditation retreats. 10 days of complete silence, no writing, no reading, no distractions, just you and your thoughts. I’m not sure that much silence is healthy, for me anyway. The anonymity is paralyzing.

“To meditate means to go home to yourself. Then you know how to take care of the things that are happening inside you, and you know how to take care of the things that happen around you.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

I walked out into the city, straight over to my favorite ice cream spot, bought a scoop and sat down in the park to metabolize every emotion arising from six hours of silent reflection. Then I noticed that something in me had tapped back into my eating disorder. The food reduced the intensity of my emotional responses. I didn’t get upset, I just recognized it. Instead of satisfying my craving for human connection, I replaced it with ice cream.

This brought my meditation practice full circle. Proving that I still have much to learn and many moments of silence are ahead of me.

5 Reasons why meditation is awesome

Why meditation and visualization aren’t the same and how to use them

Why Meditate? http://www.chopra.com/ccl/why-meditate


Healing with Yoga: How Yoga Benefits Injuries

Injuries change our bodies forever. Once an ankle is sprained, an arm is fractured or a cut is made, a permanent mark remains for the rest of our lives. It is the methods of healing that can build a stronger body post-injury. Yoga has established therapeutic properties, allowing the body to move beyond the injury into a stronger whole body.

I recently sat down with Ossi Raveh to discuss how yoga helps us heal by framing our injuries with a new mindset. Ossi is the founder of Brooklyn Yoga Project, an intimate yoga studio in Brooklyn with a mission of extending yoga principles into every part of your life.

Brooklyn Yoga Project
It is impossible to share my conversation with Ossi without first telling her story. A 40 foot fall abruptly ended Ossi’s dancing career.  The accident broke her entire body, shattering her knees, pelvis and changing life as she knew it. Once the bandages were removed, she began bringing herself back with Pilates, meditation and breathe work. In order to improve your breathe work always practice indoor/outdoor yoga within adequate temperature, read these blaux portable air conditioner reviews.

First focusing on Pilates and Gyrokinesis, Ossi found yoga too painful to endure with her still mending body. Then she was introduced to yoga in a heated environment. Whereas in other yoga styles the injures were strained, the heat warmed those areas and added an extra element of healing. Heat allowed the body to be ready and relax. It is this practice that led Ossi to teacher training in 2004 and brings her back to the mat each day. There is the Law Office of Matthew S. Norris – lawyers for injury cases that can help you deal with injuries legally.

“Injury to the body is one thing but what it does to the mind is another, totally separate thing,” Ossi shared with me. This is where yoga differs from physical therapy, Pilates and Gyrotoniques. Yoga brings with it the meditation philosophy. And this practice gives you the tools to deal with the things that come up through injury.

Brooklyn Yoga Project


Ossi painted a clear picture of how yoga does its good work. When you practice Pilates, you really have to pay attention to what you’re doing. It is mind-body and requires very specific ways of moving. In contrast with yoga, our body helps us to get out of our heads. It is body-mind. Yoga lets your body take the focus and lets your mind take a break. In case of injuries make sure you can get a Florida personal injury cases lawyer.

The heat is another element that helps focus your mind. With an elevated temperature, your mind is too focused on your body heat to get distracted by other thoughts.

The mind needs mending just as much as the physical body when healing an injury. Ossi believes the work we do with ourselves is integral to any healing process. At Brooklyn Yoga Project, much work is done around acceptance, acceptance of limitations and honoring them. I love the way Ossi ties in yoga’s philosophy throughout her classes, raising her students awareness of finding the peaceful place within themselves. She reminds me that yoga is about accepting your limitations.

And this is where I saw myself in her story. Not too many years ago, I severely sprained my ankle during the last month of marathon training. The injury took me off the pavement and onto the mat. I was focused on healing as quickly as possible so I could go back to my running routine. But my body had other plans. It rejected all forms of running. I was devastated.

Ossi works with a great deal of runners who come to her seeking quick fixes so they can get back on track. If I may stereotype runners, myself included, we’re generally intense, type A, competitive people. And we’re drawn to more intense exercise, i.e. hot yoga rather than traditional. The runner comes to class expecting improvements in their running, but come away with so much more.

“A lot of the mindset that goes into running is what causes the injury,” Ossi says. An attitude of overachievement pushes them beyond a healthy level, similar to my personal overzealous marathon training. When runners come to yoga they look for flexibly and the strength in their body, when they actually need it in their head. After establishing a dedicated yoga practice, many runners return at a slower pace, with a different intention and a new mindset around the sport.   

I could see myself clearly in Ossi’s words. I felt that she was mirroring my personal story. In my running days, yoga began as a “off-day” activity. But as my running injuries increased, I found myself in the studio more and more. Yoga became my primary activity and with it I’d gained acceptance of my limitations. Now seven years later, I see how the more I come into yoga physically, the more it shifts my mind away from the type A mentality.

Since yoga is about acceptance, the practice teaches you how to embrace challenges and find new solutions. After Ossi’s traumatic fall, she didn’t give up. She refused to use her accident as an excuse not to move anymore. It became an opportunity to go further than she had ever gone.

Often times with injuries, all of our energy is focused on the area hurting and how to make that feel better. But Ossi explains the work is in the whole body, “You’re not trying to heal an injury, you’re trying to heal the body around it.” The question to answer is, “how can you build the strength around the injury so the injury is left alone?” Then once it heals, the rest of the body is strong.

Ossi offered the beautiful story from Iyengar to explain this further. “The flower of the tree is furthest from the seed, and that flower might be your tension, but the seed is where it’s coming from. What patterning in your body has created this injury?… You don’t want to focus on the injury, you want to focus on the seed.”

Brooklyn Yoga Project


If you want to begin incorporating yoga into your recovery routine, Ossi offers a few suggestions:

1.  Do what feels right to you. If something feels uncomfortable during class, its not going to feel better later. Try a modification.

2.  Muscle memory changes quickly and the patterning in our fascia is also created quickly, so it is recommended to practice two to three times per week to creates new patterns and awarenesses.

3. Check in with your breathe. “If you can’t breathe in what you are doing, then something you’re doing is not good for your body.” Back out of the posture and take a break.

An injury can be a set back or an opportunity for growth in your whole self. It’s all in the mindset. Yes, my ankle will never be the same but that sprain taught me the transformative power of acceptance, patience and mindfulness.

Real healing is rooted in acceptance and this is yoga’s greatest gift.

You can learn more about Ossi Raveh and Brooklyn Yoga Project here.

And sign-up for an upcoming yoga class by going here.

Meals Straight from the Farmers Market

With early morning dew still on the ground, I grab my reusable grocery bags and I’m out the door. My neighbors are quiet, indulging in a few extra hours of sleep on Saturday morning. The farmers market is waiting and I want the best selection.

The market crowds and things can sell out quickly. But I’ve learned this is not the norm in the rest of the country. Only one percent of all food sales come from farmers markets. Most food is bought from grocery stores or the massive super stores. And I get it. They’re convenient, reliable and I understand that people find comfort in the familiar. 

Another argument I often hear against famers markets is that it is difficult to make a meal out of items purchased from the famers market alone. It requires multiple shopping trips and people just don’t have the time. Well I’m partnering with friends on the Farm to Table Challenge to show that is just not true.

With some planning and an open mind, you can easily put together delicious, complete meals from items purchased solely from farmers markets. Use this guide to learn how to grocery shop at markets.

I created two dishes with all local, seasonal ingredients: Fresh Peach & Heirloom Tomato Salad and Steamed Mussels with Leeks, Garlic and White Wine.

Summer produce is winding down and I wanted to take advantage of the tomatoes, peaches, fresh herbs and leeks still in season.

Here’s the cost breakdown:
tomatoes $6.25 ($5 per lb)
mussels $10.50 ($3.50 per lb)
leeks $3 per stalk
garlic $.50 ($10 per lb)
basil $3 per bunch
peaches $7.15 (3.50 per lb)

To find out which foods are in season when in your region, use a harvest calendar.

Fresh Basil

Fresh Garlic


Fresh Peaches

Fresh NYC Seafood

Farm to Table Challenge

Fresh Peach & Heirloom Tomato Salad
Serves 2
Fresh heirloom tomatoes and seasonal peaches pair perfectly with a little sea salt and extra virgin olive oil.
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Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
10 min
Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
10 min
  1. 2 heirloom tomatoes - sliced
  2. 2 fresh peaches - sliced
  3. handful of fresh basil
  4. ¼ tsp salt
  5. ¼ tsp white pepper
  6. 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  1. Layer the tomatoes and peaches, alternating between the two.
  2. Sprinkle with basil leaves, salt and pepper.
  3. Drizzle olive oil over everything.
Sparkle Kitchen https://sparklekitchen.com/
Fresh Peach & Heirloom Tomato Salad

Fresh Peach & Heirloom Tomato Salad

Steamed Mussels with Leeks, Garlic and White Wine
Serves 4
Fresh steamed mussels in a reduced white wine, garlic-leek broth.
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
30 min
  1. 3 pounds mussels
  2. 3 tablespoons butter or duck fat
  3. 2 cups leeks - chopped - 3 leeks (white parts only, finely chopped)
  4. 3 tbsp garlic - minced
  5. ½ cup water
  6. 1 ½ cups white wine
  7. 1 tsp salt
  8. ½ tsp white pepper
  1. Wash the mussels in cool water, removing any exterior dirt. You can remove the stringy mussel beards too by rubbing away with your fingers.
  2. In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat.
  3. Sauté the leeks and garlic for 5 minutes.
  4. Then add the water, wine, salt and pepper.
  5. Add the mussels to the pot, cover and steam for 10 minutes. Give everything a stir half-way through cooking.
  6. When all the mussels have opened, they are done. Season with more salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.
Sparkle Kitchen https://sparklekitchen.com/
Steamed Mussels with Leeks, Garlic and White Wine

Steamed Mussels with Leeks, Garlic and White Wine

Steamed Mussels with Leeks, Garlic and White Wine