I’ve been kicking ass the past couple months! The second week of January I began a three-part routine on weekdays: Meditation, Vocal Practice, and Working Out. I’d been ramping up throughout 2019 with these habits, so this was not an intentional “new year’s resolution”, but things did seem to line up that way.
Maureen brought home a cool free calendar from our local grocery store shortly after New Year’s Day. It has become integral in keeping myself accountable for my new habits. In the calendar box for each day, I aim to write an ‘M’, a ‘V’, and a ‘W’, after I complete a given habit.
M is for Meditation
I started meditating about two years ago, but never had put together a daily practice. I take off my shoes and my wristwatch, sit cross-legged on our living room couch, and close my eyes for 20 minutes. I began the first few weeks by simply listening to soothing sounds on my phone. The idea is to relax, breathe, and detach from thinking. The idea is to be present. Be here.
During the 2nd or 3rd week, my mind started to go bananas. I was concentrating too much on my breathing and it would become very unnatural. I was thinking *more* than when I wasn’t meditating. I understand that things are supposed to get a little stirred up when you meditate… When one detaches from their thoughts, the things that do pop up are worth noting. These are the issues that bubble under the surface all day. These are the issues that keep one from being present in daily activities. But this was getting counterproductive. and frankly, really uncomfortable. I was dying for the 20 minutes to be over. I wanted to stop after only 5 minutes. What does it say that I was not able to sit with my own thoughts for 5 minutes??? That I wanted to jump up and check my phone for notifications? It means I needed deepen my meditation practice, that’s what!
I decided to go back to ‘guided’ meditation, where a teacher talks you through the process. I use the free version of the Insight Timer app on my phone. It’s got over 1MM free meditations, categorized by type, vibe, time length, etc. So I found a 21-minute recording led by a woman named Tara Brach. It begins with gentle breathing exercises, then lots of space. There are a few prompts… “It’s okay if your mind gets caught up in thought forms… just practice bringing the focus back to your breathing, or the sounds in the room…”
This meditation has really gotten me back on track. Sometimes I feel like the guided meditation is ‘for babies’, or like training wheels. That line of thinking is ridiculous. It’s exactly what I need right now, so I’m sticking with it for the time being. When I’m done, I feel refreshed, calm, and centered. These qualities have carried over into my daily life in a wonderful way.
V is for Vocal Practice
When I started playing shows with my band Boolean Knife in 2015, I took an introductory series of 5 vocal lessons with an awesome Chicago jazz singer / teacher, Michele Thomas. I recorded all my lessons, and later re-edited some of the exercises into a 20 minute ‘warm-up’ mp3 that I keep on my phone. Sometimes I would go through the warm-up before I recorded my vocals, and it really helped out a lot. My voice just locks on to the notes of the scale instead of floating around in space. What’s really helping me sing better? Doing these exercises every single day!
I put in my earbuds, and follow the instructions in the warm-up. Michele and I work through scales and arpeggios that she plays on a piano. I do lip-trills, vocal fricatives, and even a diaphragm strengthening exercise. About 75% of the time, I will do dishes or sweep the house as I do my vocal exercise. I can do my meditation habit any time during the day or night, but I like wrap my vocal routine before 9pm so I don’t annoy my neighbors. If you’re curious what this warmup sounds like, I’ve included the audio file I use below.
W for Working Out
In November of 2018, Maureen and I got memberships at a tiny nearby gym called Chicago’s Neighborhood Fitness Center. I went once or twice a week for awhile, doing a routine that one of the trainers custom-fitted for me during my free intro session. Over the summer, I didn’t go to the gym much because I would run/walk a 2-mile loop by my house. I started going to the gym seriously again last November, and in January starting going to the gym every weekday. I do my weight routine Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and run for 20-30 minutes on the treadmill Tuesdays and Thursdays (up to 5 mph at a 2.5 incline). Here’s what my weight routine looked like for January. This sequence got a little too easy, so starting in February, I raised the weight 5lbs for every step of the circuit.