I recently talked with Rebecca Pacheco about the topic of meditation.
Rebecca is a Boston based yoga instructor and writer. For more than a decade, she has worked with students of all levels, including beginners and experienced yogis…Olympic, professional, and amateur athletes… ballet dancers, corporate executives, children and teens, people with injuries or disabilities and more.
Robert: I’m a big proponent of encouraging more people to meditate; stress is the cause to majority of hospital visits. What’s your experience with people who are interested in learning to meditate?
Rebecca: The major barrier for most people is that they assume meditation should be a certain way: peaceful, relaxing, enlightening. And, while it can be all these things, it can also be challenging, mundane and frustrating. People assume they are not good at meditation when this happens. Has this been your experience, too?
Robert: Yes, I know what you mean.
Rebecca: New meditators, especially, think they’ve failed because they can’t stop thinking. However, the goal of meditation is to not to stop your thoughts but to watch them—and not grip them so tightly, not to attach to one particular thought. Over time, you find more space between your thoughts. People sometimes get discouraged and give up before this happens. The reality is that the nature of the mind is busy. You simply aim to stay present for whatever comes up.
Robert: Its seems like everything we do in western culture is to win. We want to be the best! People approach meditation like it’s a game and they want to win immediately. If you lift weights immediately you feel something in your body, you feel your muscles getting larger. Meditation is not like that.
Rebecca: I know what you mean, it’s important to understand that this intention is not bad; it’s noble to want to do something well. It’s just that meditation is a different animal—the only way to do it poorly is to not do it.
We have more technology and opportunities to be distracted today, and you can argue that we have more reasons to be anxious. Our lives are continuing to speed up (it’s the age of the Internet!), and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that more people are gravitating towards meditation because they know they need to slow down. That’s where our work as teachers comes into play—to remind people to slow down.
Ironically, I teach a pretty rigorous asana yoga practice, but one thing of which I like to continually remind people is that of the eight limbs of yoga, asana [yoga postures] is just one. Four limbs relate to meditation, which means 50 percent of the traditional eight-limbed path relates to meditation! Yet, all we want to do is touch our toes and stand on our head. After a while, you start to realize that there are many more layers to yoga, from my own experience this is what leads people to meditation…
Robert: I read one statistic that said over 70 percent of hospital visits are stress related.
Rebecca: We hear so much about many illnesses being caused by stress. Yoga and meditation, at its most basic level, help to reduce stress. Here in Cambridge/Boston, I’m a big fan of Jon Kabat-Zinn (who founded the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School), and his daughter is a close friend.
Robert: My hat goes off to him, because he literally pioneered the field of mindfulness-based stress reduction strategies at a time when no one was looking at meditation. At a time when it was considered weird.
Rebecca: Yes, he’s an incredible inspiration of mine—I love his book Wherever You Go, There You Are. It was actually one of the first books in the OmGal.com Book Club. It’s great that nowadays people are using these ancient traditions to calm down and focus. As you said, “Ten years ago it was weird, now it’s becoming more mainstream.”
Robert: I can tell you from my own experience—I was in a fraternity in college, and I never told my buddies I did meditation. Because at the time I thought they would think I was weird. That’s why I did so much of the martial arts component. It was more cool and accessible.
Rebecca: See I was the opposite—I was just a total dork, in college! I would do yoga in a church basement, off campus, with a bunch of Ashtanga yogis. One Saturday morning, it was about nine a.m. I decided to go to yoga, and I’m walking across the front lawn of our apartment, and the fraternity guys are awake and already drinking because there’s a football game later in the day. One of them yells, “Hey, where are you going!” and I’m so mortified, carrying my yoga mat, I don’t know what else to say so I sheepishly admit, “yoga.” He thinks for a minute and then says, “So, do you want to drink?”
It’s a very funny story because now that same neighbor has since come to a class of mine in Boston, some ten years later. He now loves yoga and is really into it. We all know yoga has changed drastically over the years, and that’s one example that makes me laugh a bit. It’s great to see meditation gaining more visibility and becoming more mainstream.
Robert: Recently you did a meditation lecture to a bunch of business executives.
Rebecca: Yes, I did. It was such a wonderful experience. It was for the Boston Business Journal, which hosted the Boston’s Healthiest Employers event. I was there to give the opening speech to a room full of a few hundred people. They asked me to talk about meditation, and I really had to consider my audience: people in the midst of their workday. They’re health conscious, but they probably just finished a morning commute, they need to rush back to the office soon, their time is limited. I knew I needed to keep the speech brief, accessible and light. I also led them through a short, guided meditation, and it was really powerful to look out into a hotel ballroom full of hundreds of busy people in suits, sitting absolutely still and quiet, for a few minutes. People loved it, and the feedback was really positive. I love reaching people who wouldn’t otherwise opt to meditate.
Rebecca’s website OmGal.com was voted Best Yoga & Fitness Site in the 2010 Intent Web Awards. Rebecca has appeared in national ad campaigns for Reebok, Ryka, Ibex and New Balance and is an ambassador for lululemon. Her work has most recently appeared on Fox News.
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger
Like elephant yoga & elephant meditation on facebook.