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Meditation

Meditation helps us to find love, peace, faith and tolerance in this crazy world. These pages are devoted to the art and science of meditation.

WHY THE SHAKTI MAT IS GOOD FOR YOU

Claire Chitham

I was first introduced to this magical, highly effective self-care tool - known as the Shakti Mat - by my yoga teacher Suzi. Following a conversation about good ways to relax before bedtime, she arrived in class the next day and handed me a bright-orange, spongy mat with little white circular points all over it. 

“This is a Shakti Mat,” she said, presenting it to me with that knowing look she often gives. “Borrow mine and see how you go.” She recommended my hubby and I try lying on the Shakti Mat each evening (with a bolster under our legs).  

Originally created in Sweden by Yogi Om Mokshananda, the mat has 6,000 acupressure points and uses the same principles as a bed of nails. The points work to apply consistent pressure to the muscles and skin. This helps the body and mind descend into a deep state of relaxation. 

It is also a highly effective tool for athletes to help muscles recover from injury and, internally, for improving blood circulation and oxygen and nutrient delivery. 

That night, my hubby and I couldn’t wait to give it a whirl. After brushing our teeth (our night-time routine that helps us signal, “we’re ready for bed”), we unrolled the yoga mat and put down the Shakti. 

I’ll never forget the feeling of unfurling my spine along that mat for the first time. Like you imagine lying on a bed of nails would be, for the first minute it pinched and felt uncomfortable. Three minutes in and I began to experience unfamiliar sensations.

By five minutes, I could feel the acupressure points descending me into serious relaxation - the kind I’d only ever experienced after a 90-minute yoga class.

I let out an audible sigh, my breathing had slowed to a gentle undulating rhythm, my neck and back felt alive, as though millions of tiny fingers were running up, down and around my spine, all knowing exactly where to push. At 10 minutes, I was so relaxed, I was basically asleep. Five minutes later, I was. 

For my husband, it took a bit of time to be able to stay on the mat comfortably. At first, when you’re not used to it, the process can feel a little painful. But he persisted.

By night three, he was laying on the mat for 5-10 minutes and the following morning waking up noticeably refreshed. He also reported how quickly it improved the circulation in his legs (an issue he’s forever struggled with). After a week, he came home one day and said, “I feel very different and the only thing I can put it down to is lying on the Shakti Mat.”

The shakti experience has been so good for us that, within a week, we’d purchased our own and now it’s a delicious, regular part of our night-time routine that we both look forward to. For my husband, it’s given him a level of rest and relaxation he’s never experienced before. For me, it’s as effective as having a float or intense body work/massage.

As a yogi, I love to use it at the end of my practice where I lie on it in Savāsana or sit on it when I want to descend quickly into deep meditation.

As a writer, I love the origin of the word Shakti, which in Sanskrit is a feminine principle that symbolises empowerment, abundance and change.

We’re so thankful this #goodthing was brought to New Zealand by a couple of young enterprising Kiwi blokes, who had a chance meeting with the Swedish inventor and decided to bring this effective, ethical self-care tool to us. The product is made from 100% organic cotton, plant-based dyes and non-toxic ABS Plastic.

They are a #goodbusiness too with their workshop in Varanasi, India run by skilled women, who are looked after properly, paid well with holidays and free healthcare. In 2018, Team Shakti gave scholarships to nine girls from the families of their workers.

Now we want to help them spread the word ‘cause we know from experience that Shakti Mats are really good for you. 

Yours In Health and Happiness, KB x

We bought our Shakti Mat from Yoga Arts NZ. To find out more about the people behind Team Shakti, head here.

HOW TO USE A SHAKTI MAT

  • Lie on it on your back for 20 minutes. Good Tip: This is a really lovely thing to do in bed before you sleep!

  • Place it under sore, tired legs for 10 minutes, elevated on a cushion. I used this when I had a groin injury and it was highly effective for getting the blood flowing into the area, especially when the injury was in its acute phase.

  • For deep acupressure action, stand on it with your feet. They recommend five minutes, I usually can only last a few!

  • Roll it up and turn it into a pillow. Lay on it for a few minutes.


FOR THE LOVE OF A DOG: HOW I LEARNT TO MEDITATE

Claire Chitham

 

When our beloved American bulldog Moon was diagnosed with stage four lymphoma in May 2016, my whole world was turned upside down. The fact her cancer was such late stage meant we were hurtled from the vet clinic to the animal hospital and faced with tough (and expensive) decisions about what to do next.

I’ll never forget that ride home - coping with the reality that our beloved beautiful big girl was very sick. We were crying but both my husband I knew we had to be courageous. This was a battle and we would do everything in our power to stay strong for our girl (and to beat this insidious disease!).

Gentle Giant: Beautiful, big-hearted Moon.

Gentle Giant: Beautiful, big-hearted Moon.

That day, I went home, got on my knees, begged for a miracle and decided that the only way out was to move through whatever each day would bring. 

To help me cope? I would commit to meditating. For five minutes. Every day.

Two friends had referred me to a couple of meditation apps for my iPhone - Headspace and 1GiantMind.  Given all of our financial resources needed to be poured into Moon’s treatment (chemotherapy costs upwards of $12,000), I wasn’t able to pay for a course or seek out professional help to learn how to find stillness in my mind so that’s why I went the “app” route and opted for 1GiantMind's FREE 12-step course to get me started.

Thankfully, I had learnt the foundations of meditation practice the year earlier when I was working with my yoga therapist Vandana Steadman at the Yoga Therapy Centre, based in Northcote, Auckland.

I knew I needed to do a bit of a stretch to limber up the body and release the mind so I did a few basic poses - a seated forward bend, a downward dog. Then I sat down on a cushion on my yoga mat. I put the head phones on, closed my eyes and listened to the instructions coming from 1Giant Mind founder Jonni Pollard.

For the first minute, I could concentrate. By the third minute, my mind was wandering - “When is Moon’s next treatment? How the f**k are we going to get through this? Why us?”.

But I kept listening, trying (and failing) to redirect my focus back to the voice.

The second day, I got to three and a half minutes before I couldn’t concentrate anymore. So I stopped and started again the next day.

I kept repeating this the next day and the next, trying not to lose focus or dedication at the fact my mind was so wildly wandering. Given I was working full-time, developing a business and creating Good For You TV on the side, it meant I had to get up at 5am each day to ensure nothing could interrupt my meditation practice. But I kept on and boy was all that effort worth it...

Within seven days, I was sitting peacefully for five minutes. Within two weeks, I was seeing colours in my vision and each time I would meditate, I’d be overcome with a feeling of total and utter peace. Like falling head first into a calm pool of water but when your head hits the surface, barely creating a ripple. That’s how gentle the feeling was. In fact, it was only while sitting in quietly in meditation that I could find release.

Three months into Moon’s cancer treatments and meditation had become my anchor. I was managing either 10 minutes early in the morning or, if pushed for time to get out the door, I would make sure to listen to a guided meditation on the train on the way to work.

More than one year on, regular meditation has become my path to finding my light.

Sadly, our big, beautiful girl lost her fight in December last year. She showed me what the meaning of bravery is and was courageous until the bitter end. Her death devastated my husband and I but it's given us both a renewed commitment to do whatever we can to help create a happier, healthier future for humans and creatures.

Without meditation, I honestly don’t know how I would have survived. How I would have been able to show the kind of brave love I did on the day she was put down and, how I would have released my grief, anger and devastation at her passing, in those dark months after she left the physical world. 

Thankfully, earlier this year we got another (not-so-little) American bulldog puppy Rā, who is filling our hearts with love and growing into a mini Moon more every single day. Yet I love the fact that sometimes when I sit on my cushion and meditate, the wind blows, and I am able to connect with Moon’s spirit. She always did love running free in the west coast wind.

Meditation has brought love, peace, faith and tolerance to my life. I’ve learnt different ways to do it and I have my favourites. I love following guided meditations from Gabrielle Bernstein, using my mala beads from Archer Mala Beads or chanting the Sanskrit mantras I’ve learnt through my work with Vandana at Yoga Therapy Centre.

Meditation has unlocked so much more for me than just coping with Moon’s illness and death. For many years, I switched my feelings off to be “more productive” at life. I’ve been lucky to have a really interesting career so far and to be entrusted with telling the extraordinary stories of human triumph over diversity. But even though I was working in senior positions in top-selling magazines, I had shoved everything so far down, in the process, I forgot how to feel. 

Meditating for a year has connected me to me. To my feelings. Just ask my husband. We’ve been together for 17 years and it’s only recently that the penny has dropped at just how far I would shove down anything that was stressful.

Meditating has brought me face to face with those parts of myself that are uncomfortable. It’s allowed me to sit, to get real and - most importantly - to understand these feelings. 

Yours in health and happiness, KB xx

Five steps to starting a meditation practice at home…

  1. Stretch - yoga poses are simply designed to help make the body flexible so it can sit for extended periods of time in meditation. Take this ancient discipline and do a few stretches before you sit down to work out the kinks.
  2. Find your inspirations - meditation is exploding all over the world as we seek to find ways to calm the anxious, ambitious world in which we live. Find teachers who educate, inform and inspire.
  3. Commit to just five minutes a day to start - you'll be amazed at just how transformative daily meditation will be.
  4. Create space in your life for meditation - even if it means getting up with the birds.
  5. Get the family involved - kids can benefit hugely from introducing mindful practices such as meditation into their lives. Get them on the mat with you!