December 11, 2010

How does an old man with Parkinson's meditate when awake at 5 a.m.?

charter maldriverna

This 81-year-old man is not about to sit on the floor and assume  the cross-legged meditation posture usually depicted for meditating..  Also the posture of extended arms resting on the knees with palms upward and fingers in the lotus pose doesn't feel natural to me.

Here's what I do:

I keep a straight-backed dining room chair in the bedroom. When I have trouble falling back to sleep at 5 a.m., I get out of bed, sit on the chair, put a small pillow on my lap, rest my arms on it, and use the "main squeeze" or "secret handshake" positioning of my hands that has worked for me since I came across it several years ago in the book "The Insomnia Solution" by Michael Krugman.  I know.  This sounds awfully hokey. But it got me over a terrible bout of insomnia three year ago when a long list of meds prescribed by my primary care doctor, a sleep center, and a pill shrink didn't work and often made things worse. Here's the "secret" to the "handshake":

  • Put your hands out palms down.  With one hand, grab the thumb of the other hand between the forefinger and the thumb of the grasping hand.
  • Then extend the forefinger of the grasping hand and wrap the fingers of the other hand around it.
Here's what it looks like:

  • Rest your "secret handshake" on the pillow that's on your lap.
  • While breathing naturally, squeeze the captured thumb on the in-breath, relax on the out-breath
  • On the next breath, squeeze the captured forefinger on the in-breath and relax on the out-breath.
  • Keep alternating -- squeezing/relaxing the thumb on one in-breath/out-breath and squeezing/relaxing the forefinger on the next in-breath/out-breath.
This, I realize, seems like a departure from Parkinson's  Guy's KISS recommendation.  But I've found it a much simpler was of meditating than others I've tried. This gives me a dual focal-point: (1) my breathing in and breathing out, and  (2) the alternating squeezing and relaxing of thumb and forefinger, and I add a third --when squeezing on the thumb, I mentally say "squeeze" on the in-breath and "relax" on the out-breath and when squeezing the forefinger, I say "in" on the in-breath and "out" on the out-breath.

The "secret handshake" is used by lots of people in lots of different ways. This particular version works for me because I've found I need a triple-barreled  focal point to ward off the bombardment of other thoughts from my grasshopper mind. Like everyone else who meditates, distracting thoughts and ideas still get through but I've learned to be relaxed about that and just go back to the focal points.

As I mentioned, it got me out of a bad spot several years ago.  I've used it since, but not regularly enough.  I will use it, for example, if I'm sitting in my car waiting  for someone.  It gives me something helpful to do other than fume at the wait. I try to set aside time every day to spend 5 or 10 minutes or longer on meditation, but I'm not as disciplined about this as I'd like to be.

However, now with the 5 a.m. insomnia, I'm meditating more frequently..  Even when I'm not able to get back to sleep, I figure the time spent meditating  is as good and helpful as time spent sleeping.  And usually when it doesn't work, I find I  catch up on the lost sleep when I doze off over the morning newspaper.  

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