A Better Version of You with Spirit of the Lake Yoga

Practicing mindfulness can be an introduction to meditation—and your ticket to improved wellness of body, mind and spirit.
Lovald just published her first book, Om Sweet Om.

Before Nicole Lovald purchased Spirit of the Lake Yoga in Excelsior three years ago, she was a stressed-out working mother of two (Sophia, now 7, and Jackson, 11). For a portion of her kids’ early years, her husband was deployed in Iraq. Her high-pressure job in downtown Minneapolis led her to practice yoga, but the need to be present for her kids didn’t allow for hour-and-a-half-long classes with any regularity. That’s when she discovered meditation.

Mindfulness—another way to look at meditation—might be a buzzword these days, Lovald says, but yogis have been practicing dhyana (meditation) forever. In fact, it’s core to three of the eight limbs of yoga. As Lovald started going to school to become a yoga instructor, she realized that “all certified teacher trainings involve learning the practice of mindful breathing or mindful flow,” she says, adding that she was able to find a private room in her downtown offices where she could go for a 15-minute break and engage in meditation as a midday “reset” that often served to re-energize her as well.

“The goal of mindful breathing is to know how to use breath to tune into our bodies,” Lovald says. The misperception that meditation is time-intensive was one of the barriers to entry she quickly debunked: When first starting meditation, she says, it’s challenging to rest the mind and focus the breathing for much more than five to 10 minutes at a time. “It’s like any exercise. It takes training—training the brain to quiet itself and not wander to the past or the future. Be present with the breath,” she says.

Another barrier for newbies to mindfulness is a general lack of knowledge about where to go to learn how to meditate. “There can be a certain religious connotation to meditation,” she says. “It is a spiritual practice, but it does not have to be a religious practice, or otherwise denominationally specific. That’s part of why she offers a Mindful Flow practice two times a week, as well as private meditation coaching ($80/session).

All 12 instructors at Spirit of the Lake are certified, which means they can assist in meditation instruction. “The biggest thing is the health benefits I’ve seen people have,” Lovald says. “Meditation is a way to improve wellness without medication … I’ve seen patients with ADHD, eating disorders, migraines, high blood pressure. Those who meditate are better moms at home and have better overall health. ” Other health benefits can include improved circulation, a lower heart rate, less perspiration, less anxiety and lower blood cortisol levels.

Lovald shares her tips for getting started: Sit or lie comfortably, and close your eyes. If at all possible, find a space quiet and free of other sensory distractions, like strong odors or fluorescent lights.

Make no effort to control the breath; simply breathe naturally. Lovald says meditation uses breath, because “it’s always there. It’s a repetitive thing that can be focused on, regardless of other noise. The goal is to get into the flow or zone, a place where there are no other thoughts, and the body and mind and spirit are one.”

Focus your attention on the breath and on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. “We hope to bring attention to the present moment, to hear it, see it, smell it,” she says. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage and belly as air comes in and goes out. “If your mind wanders, return your focus back to your breath,” she says. “You have to be kind to yourself, give yourself a break if you get distracted and come back to your breath.”

Meditation can be done daily, but also as needed, Lovald says. After the first few weeks, add time to each meditation session in five-minute increments. For those who want to give meditation a try on their own, there are plenty of guided meditation apps out there, as well as some links on Lovald’s website.

Other resources:
commongroundmeditation.org, yogajournal.com