How to Meditate with Gretchen Bleiler
By Cristina Goyanes
Meditation isn’t just about managing stressing, which is why pro snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler initially began practicing primordial sound meditation (PSM) at the Chopra Center in 2009 as part of her mental plan to make the U.S. team for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Though she didn’t compete in Russia, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist quickly discovered how meditation improved all aspects of her life-not just her performance.
“It made me a calmer, nicer, more patient, productive, efficient, and happy person,” admits Bleiler, who has since become a meditation teacher (she received her certification in April) and taught fellow pro snowboarder Elena Hight, her husband Chris, and father-in-law how to practice. Even more: This year, at the fifth annual espnW Women + Sports Summit, Bleiler was invited to share her new-found insight, teaching three group intro-to-meditation classes. We sat in on one of these special sessions and took notes for you (not during the actual 30-minute meditation, of course) so you can start practicing right now too.
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Take a 60-Minute Vacay Every Day
Thirty minutes twice a day may sound like a lot, but Bleiler swears it can be done. “You can make excuses, but there are clever ways to figure out how to take this time for yourself. It’s important and necessary. We all need to spend more time being and not doing so much,” says Bleiler, who at the Olympic qualifiers earlier this year locked herself in a shared bathroom and sat on a pillow on the floor to meet her daily practice needs. “You can find creative ways to squeeze this in,” she says. Two cute acronyms she uses to remind herself to practice in the mornings and evenings: RPM (rise, pee, meditate) and RAW (right after work).
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Never Meditate on Your Back
As tempting as it is to practice from under your cozy covers, especially as it gets colder out, you need to sit up-whether it’s in bed, in a chair, or on the floor. Being comfortable will make sitting for 30 minutes straight easier, but getting too comfy, like lying down, may signal your body to sleep, Bleiler warns. While it’s fine to pass out during meditation (a sign your body really needs rest), you don’t want to start out your silent retreat en route to Slumberland.
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Ease Into It
When you close your eyes, take some time (about 30 seconds or so) to slow your breath and get into a calm breathing rhythm. During group meditation, this is when the meditation teacher may ask you to think about four soul questions to “help shift our mind and ego into our heart and soul,” Bleiler says. You can ask yourself these same questions before you start your own practice: Who am I? What do I want? What is my purpose in life? What am I grateful for? Whoa, deep stuff. Don’t feel pressure to answer any of them right away, Bleiler advises. “Taking the time to ask will help open us up to the answers.”
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Move Onto a Mantra
The literal translation of the sanskrit word “mantra” means a vehicle of your mind. A key component to the PSM technique is to silently repeat a mantra which mimics a sound in nature that you use as an anchor (single point of focus) whenever you’re getting lost in your thoughts (i.e., dinner plans, a work email, a fight with your boyfriend). These mantras are chosen for you individually, but for the purpose of this intro class, Bleiler offered the universal sound “so-hum”, which corresponds to our breath (inhale on “so”, exhale on “hum”).
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Don’t Empty Your Head
A huge misconception about meditation is that you must silence your mind to have a successful session. “It’s okay to have thoughts,” Bleiler reassures. “Meditation isn’t necessarily this magical experience where we don’t ever have thoughts. It’s a dance between your mantra and theses thoughts. You choose to refocus back to your mantra.”
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