Meditate as a meerkat. Wind down as a whale. Or keep your cool as a big cat. CLAUDIA CONNELL tries a…Wild new way to relax
- Ever fancied lying on the sofa pretending to be a sloth… this could be for you
- Claudia Connell tries out the latest form of meditation, channelling animals
- She hung upside down as a sloth, swam as a salmon and hunted as a jaguar
My time spent as a humpback whale was one of blissful contentment. I found being a salmon far more stressful, and don’t even get me started on my experience as a jaguar in South America.
No, I haven’t lost my marbles I’ve just been practising a new and rather peculiar form of meditation.
When it comes to meditation, I think people fall firmly into two camps. There are those who are easily able to switch off from their day-to-day life and focus the mind on relaxation. Then there are people (like me) who start with the best of intentions but cannot stop trivial thoughts intruding on the Zen-like calm I so want to create.
But what if there was a different way of meditating? A method that enables the participant to relax by imagining themselves living as an animal?
While wildlife and nature are known to have a relaxing effect, slipping into the mind of a different species for meditation is a new approach
Animal Meditations is the brainchild of a group of 12 film-makers, and meditation devotees, who have done just that. They were inspired by actor Jeff Bridges, who recorded an album, designed to help you get some shuteye, called Sleep Tapes. During one meditation, Bridges suggests people pretend to be a crow, which sparked the idea for animal meditations.
Animalmeditations.com contains 19 different options, ranging from five to 13 minutes long, where participants can become everything from a cheeky meerkat to a sinister rattlesnake.
Will picturing myself as a creature make me more chilled out? I decide to put my human scepticism to one side and indulge my animal instincts.
I ease myself in with my first meditation by becoming a sloth. They’re loveable but lazy, take ages to get anywhere and have slow metabolisms. Maybe it won’t be that much of a stretch.
Claudia Connell tried out the wild meditation
As I lay on my bed, my room fills with the sound of birds chirping as the narrator tells me I am in the central American rainforest, just as the forest is waking up. I’m 25 ft above the ground on a branch.
I’m encouraged to take deep breaths and, as I exhale, to focus on the birds I can hear and monkeys in the distance.
A short distance away a huge leaf glistens with raindrops that are slowly falling off it. I am a sloth and I am 18in long and weigh 9lb. I have thick, grey fur and I want to eat that lovely, dewy leaf.
Jake, the narrator, tells me that my objective in life is to use as little energy as possible. His voice is deep and soothing and he speaks slowly as he tells me that I am hugging the same tree where, earlier, I slept by hanging upside down.
Soon I am on the move, slowly making my way to that big, juicy leaf. I inhale and exhale, deeply transfixed by the tree’s bark as I begin my slow climb.
Claudia found herself ‘hanging upside down’ as a sloth, chewing with a ten inch toungue
I find myself relaxing and drifting off as I really do start to picture myself in the rainforest. I can hear the branches snapping and can visualise the sun’s rays breaking through the trees.
My 10in tongue brings the leaf to my mouth, I chew slowly.
When I open my eyes after the eight-minute meditation, I do feel less stressed, and enjoy it so much that I later fall asleep by listening to it all over again.
It’s a hot day when I do my next meditation and am drawn to the idea of being submerged in cool water, so decide I am going to become a salmon for a few minutes. I’m working in my office and take a break by sitting crossed-legged on the floor. My meditation starts with organ music and the sound of running water. The narrator, Jon, tells me to find a comfortable position and relax my shoulders.
I draw my knees under me in an armchair as he tells me to focus on my breath and then, instead of air, imagine cool, fresh water. In that cool water is me — a salmon — swimming in the Oregon River, the water washing gently over my gills.
As a salmon Claudia faces the dangers of a hungry bear, which leaves her feeling anxious
Jon tells me that hormones are surging through my body and turning me from silver to a deep red. I’m not sure it’s what he intended, but I imagine my salmon to be menopausal and experiencing a hot flush.
The coolness of the water feels blissful on my hot and bothered salmon skin. I am five minutes into my six-and-a-half minute meditation, feeling perfectly chilled out and have managed to assuage the guilt I feel about having eaten one of my sisters in a salad earlier on.
Just as I start to really switch off, I learn that I must hurl my body out of the water to avoid a waterfall ahead.
As I throw myself into a giant leap, I notice a large, hungry bear in the distance. ‘You’re safe,’ says Jon — before adding a rather sinister ‘ . . . for now’. All I can think about is how I’m on the verge of being grabbed and eaten whole. I feel like the star of a salmon snuff movie, and open my eyes feeling far more anxious than when I started.
I’m not proud to confess that before a certain well-known TV advert, I’d never even heard of meerkats. What better way to appreciate them than to become one for five-and-a-half minutes?
As a meerkat Claudia was transported to the Kalahari Desert
This meditation I do in bed before I start my day. It’s not a drizzly day in England, but a hot and dazzling one in the Kalahari Desert. I’m standing on my back legs, all 20 in and 5 lb of me, and my 20 in-long tail wags.
My problem with meditation has always been that I can’t stop random thoughts entering my head. I didn’t know meerkats had tails, and instead of surrendering myself to the hot desert wind, all I can think about is whether Aleksandr, the meerkat in that advert, has a tail.
I’m in search of food, and my meerkat chums and I organise ourselves into packs as we go off. I can hear the sounds of scraping as I dig into the sand and under rocks looking for a tasty millipede or frog to snack on.
My meerkat meditation isn’t hitting the spot and I can’t switch off. I need to know whether Aleksandr has a tail.
I can now confirm that he does.
When I scroll through the list of available meditations, the jaguar is the one I am least drawn to. Perhaps because they’re super-fit predators and I just can’t picture myself as one.
But I see that as a challenge and decide to become a jaguar last thing at night in the hope the meditation may help me sleep.
Peter, who is leading the meditation, speaks deeply and with a dramatic sense of purpose as the sound of running water drifts into my bedroom.
I’m on the banks of the Manu River at the base of the Andes. It’s night and I am hunting. My coat is a golden-red with black spots and I weigh 200 lb. (After my lockdown gluttony I can imagine that, but that’s where the similarity ends.)
As a jaguar, I have a toned and muscular body and a powerful jaw. I’m crouching in a balsa tree awaiting my prey; my paws are digging into the branches while monkeys chatter in the background.
‘Oh God, please don’t eat a monkey!’ I find myself thinking.
Tiny white flowers are giving off a heady scent and I breathe deeply, trying to imagine their aroma rather than a monkey massacre.
A twig snaps and a brocket deer appears nearby. Uh oh! My paws dig deep into the bark so that the sap seeps into them.
My heart rate’s increasing, my blood is pumping and I am perfectly still as I time my deadly pounce.
The meditation fades, but all I can think about is the poor deer. Never mind helping me sleep, it gives me nightmares.
Being a humpback whale relaxes Claudia the most. She would like to see one in the wild
The whale is the meditation I’m most drawn to, and not just because I currently feel like one. Whales are beautiful, they make people happy and, one day, I would love to see one in its natural habitat.
This morning, relaxing in a chair in my garden with my headphones on, I am transported to the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii where I am moving towards the surface of the water. The ocean is deep and I can see the sun’s rays rippling on it.
I’m in no hurry; I’m relaxed and moving at my own speed. The closer I get to the surface, the more the pressure on my body decreases. I’ve been holding my breath under water for 30 minutes, something I can easily do since my lungs are the size of limousines.
A sound fills my ears. It’s a beautiful, melodic sound — it’s me singing my not-so-little whale heart out. My voice travels to the ocean floor and echoes back to me.
But what’s this? I’m not alone. Suddenly, other whale voices join in. We are having a joyous whale singsong. I fall asleep toward the end of the 13-minute meditation to the sound of my whale friends serenading me.
Of all my animal alter egos it’s the whale that makes me feel most relaxed. It even makes me forget about that poor deer and the bear‑fodder salmon.
- Available at animalmeditations.com and on Spotify.com
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