The Vegetarian Meditation Experiment

Updated: Aug 13

How it Started

As you may know, I returned back home from Spain last Saturday evening. Paloma will be staying on in Spain until late July. As you would expect, there wasn’t much food around, so after class last Sunday I went to the grocery store. As I was moving through the aisles, I got an inspiration. Why not take advantage of this mid-year, empty fridge fresh start to explore a completely vegetarian diet? And so I didn’t get any meat - and it started. I have a few frozen chicken breasts in the freezer, but there they will remain. It has been a week so far and frankly it doesn’t seem that dramatic as I have been a light meat eater for quite a while.

But wait there’s more! This week after teaching my regular Thursday in-person class at my employer, Intuitive Surgical, I was having lunch with one of my students, who happens to be a meditation instructor. After talking with Monica Bansal teaches SKY breathing meditation techniques, I got another inspiration, The next day would be July 1st, Why not commit to a regular daily mediation practice throughout the month of July? And so, I am doing that as well. For 2 mornings now I have done a brief, light asana practice leading into meditation. Up until now I have been an opportunistic meditator, without regularity. It was a goal of mine entering 2022 to establish a regular practice. Again, with this mid-year reset and a month on my own here at home, this seemed the perfect opportunity to get this going. So far so good - 2 days and countiing. It is hard for me to just sit down and meditate. I have most success transitioning into meditation following asana practice. For me now, am quite focused on refining/optimiziing the asana sequence ahead of mediation for the best results.

One of my favorite aspects of yoga is the experiential, experimental nature of the practices, using your own body as the subject. For this month (and hopefully beyond) I have now two concurrent experiments to be with!

First Update

I have now been vegetarian for 13 days and meditating daily for 8 days. At this point I am very confident that I will be able to make it to the end of July as planned, at which time I’ll assess the future. On the vegetarian side my staples are oatmeal, salads, and lentils/beans. I snack on veggies with hummus and almonds. I just had potato broccoli soup with crusty bread for dinner tonight and I am looking forward to making gazpacho this weekend. Thanks to all of my friends who have sent me their favorite vegetarian recipes. Adapting to the vegetarian way of life has been a fairly easy transition thus far I wasn’t eating that much meat anyway, so cutting that last bit out has not left me feeling deprived. However, I have lost 3 pounds in these 8 days moving from 149 to 146. While that is not that much weight, I have been very consistent in my weight for many years, so any change is of note. Perhaps I need to make sure I am getting enough calories and nutrition. I’ll continue to watch. Maybe TMI, but my bowel movements have been very full, consistent and strong first thing every morning. This has never been an issue for me, but the performance these days is at an amazing level.

On the meditation side, I have been practicing each morning right after waking up at around 7:00am. generally doing about 15 minutes of light asana practice followed by 10-15 minutes of meditation. I have generally been pretty successful at maintaining that special soft sleep state of consciousness through asana and meditation. Although, during the first few days considerations regarding the asana sequence distracted my meditation somewhat. That has improved a lot as of late as I have settled into a more regular asana pattern requiring less thought. My body is stiffer getting out of bed, so I need to be patient and kind with myself regarding flexibility in the morning. I feel my body and mind are starting to get into the rhythm of the morning mediation to the point where I feel some joy as I move towards the mat. Very interestingly, I have been sleeping more deeply, with much more frequent and vivid dreams. I am able to remember the details of the dreams much more than previously. This was completely unexpected and has been pretty amazing to experience. On the flip side, from time to time during the day I have noticed my body/mind softening and entering towards a meditative state spontaneously, with soft deep breathing and high awareness. Also very interesting. It seems as though the boundaries between being asleep, awake, or in meditation is blurring. I have spontaneously noted and commented to others how beautiful things are that I see around me. These seem like some pretty profoundly positive affects in just a few days. Definitely worth continuing the journey.

Second Update

I am now three full weeks living as a vegetarian and 16 days into daily meditation, sticking with the plan on both sides. In general, I have now fallen into a bit of a rhythm with both vegetarianism and meditation as I am in a bit of my own personal retreat here in my home-cave, before Paloma returns in 10 days. Overall, it has been easier to settle into the vegetarianism than the meditating, probably since I wasn’t eating that much meat anyway. Although I have to mention that yesterday late afternoon I got really, really hungry. Just a reminder to myself that I need to get my calories and my protein. I ended up making a 3 egg omelette (with mushrooms, onions, and cheese) and a lot of hash browns. That satisfied me and things have normalized today. I lost 1 pound this week after losing 3 last week - no more please. Thanks to everyone for sending me their favorite vegetarian dishes and other thoughtful inputs to this lifestyle. My favorite dish thus far has been Spanish style gazpacho. In fact, the meditative focal point of the blog photo was soon integrated into that yummy gazpacho.

I have had to call on a bit more discipline to maintain the morning meditation practice. Especially mornings before busy days, I had to go through a bit of convincing and self-negotiation to get into meditation practice. Always made it though, never really a doubt. However, my practice has evolved into a shorter asana/centering routine before moving into meditation. At the same time, the meditations have gotten a bit longer. Now it is more like 5 minutes movement and 15 minutes of meditation. I have now set up not only a dedicated space, but a dedicated seat (comprised of a bolster and side supports for knees) which creates a clear pathway into meditation. My heart rate lowered to 44 bpm according to my Apple Watch. I am still having more frequent and vivd dreams. Last night I dreamt I was in a bicycle race down a tall mountain. At some point we became uncertain as to the route due to missing route markers. As it turns out the previous CEO of my company was also in the race and we were doing our best to find the way, while going pretty fast downhill. I am sure there might be many interesting interpretations for this. I just found it pretty entertaining for sleep time.

Third Update

I have been vegetarian and meditating daily for nearly a month now. On the vegetarian side, I feel like I am eating too much of the same things and need to expand my range of ingredients. I have been taking care to eat enough and get enough protein. This week my weight was steady at 145, thankfully not losing any more. Paloma gets back on Wednesday, so I’ll get to see how this goes living with an omnivore.

My mediation practice continues to reveal the unexpected and the beautiful. I continue to meditate for around 15 minutes each morning, a couple times nearly 30 minutes. Surprisingly to me, I am doing much less movement before meditation than when I started. In fact, some mornings I go directly to my meditation seat and just start. I go to the same place every morning - the same area where I do our online classes. I have my bolster and blankets for under knees already set up. It can oftentimes be a quiet and peaceful transition from sleep to meditation. I generally use breath counting to stay focused and quiet. Here is my big learning this week: The effects of meditation happen not so much while meditating, but all the rest of the time. I continue to dream vividly, almost every night. I am actually sleeping a bit longer as well (I don’t know if that’s related). I am aware of my breathing with more frequency. Also, it seems like many times during the day things are occurring in “slow motion” with much detail, a sense of peace, and beauty. I can only hope that these experiences and feelings continue.

Fourth Update

The vegetarian/meditation lifestyle continues. Paloma returned from scorching Spain on Wednesday (yay!). So now this week I have been focused on integrating my new practices into a home life with another person. There was not much change on the meditation side. Since I get up earlier than Paloma, I get up, I do my meditation and move on with the day. I have encountered many more interesting challenges this week on the vegetarian side of things. On Tuesday, I was part of a large outdoor event and barbecue. I went through the line and saw a wide variety of beautifully cooked barbecued meats. I asked the server about vegetarian options and was directed towards the vegetarian lasagna at the lonely end of the line. As I am 100% committed, so I strolled past the aroma of the meats and took my lasagna and some cole slaw-esque salad. That really felt like a loss. I had no doubt that the meat would have been a far more delicious plate fo food to share with friends,. Last night I was having dinner with a vegetarian friend. I told him the story and he gave me some great perspective: you really get to the point where you don’t see the meat as food, it doesn’t register it in your brain in that way, and you eat as you eat. I am clearly not there yet, but I like the aspiration. On Thursday I made dinner for Paloma and me. I made rIce and beans with asparagus. I also made a single salmon fillet for Paloma. I usually do the cooking for us, so that does give me the ability of organize things - definitely a positive factor to maintain the lifestyle and strain the relationship less. Funny thing though - the next morning Paloma said, “Hey, you’re not a vegetarian. We had fish last night.” I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. On one hand, the dinner was clearly a success for the both of us. On the other hand, it is very clear I am on my own with this.

Fifth Update

I had set the original goal to eat vegetarian and mediate daily for the full month of July and then assess things. I made it through July have just kept going, now at 45 days. This is approaching the auspicious point where habits are “formed.” And that’s how it is starting to feel, there is much more ease and comfortable routine to both practices.

I would say that daily mediation for me is now an established habit, with almost no risk of falling out. I have been consistent every morning just after waking, meditating in the same place. I have been varying the approach, but always including at least 10 minutes of quiet seated mediation. Very importantly, it feels good. I have been positively reenforced with the clear life benefits I have experienced by meditating, as described in previous posts. This last week, I have been practicing SKY (Sudarshan Kriya Yoga) breath meditation after having completed a workshop led by Seema Batavia and Monica Bansal through the Art of Living. The SKY approach uses a structured pranayama sequence, including Ujayi breathing, Bastricka, and measured breaths to quiet the mind. For me this part has largely substituted for my construct of light asana and stretching as a lead in to seated meditation. I have found the SKY approach to be quite effective and will stick with that for the time being. It actually feels great to now include regular pranayama as part of my overall practice.

Eating vegetarian has also become more routinized. I really don’t even think about eating red meat or chicken - I don’t miss them at all. Paloma (non-vegetarian) and I have found a comfortable balance of eating in our household. However, I can’t say I am feeling the same positive reinforcement on eating vegetarian. I am not sure I feel any difference and I do get very hungry sometimes and I do miss the fish. Last week we went to our favorite fresh fish taco restaurant in SF (Hook Fish) and I ended up getting guacamole instead of the fish tacos. Difficult. I feel that sometimes my taste buds and my body are calling out for fresh fish, as I feel so nourished eating fresh fish, especially raw sushi or poke. I am still hanging in there with full vegetarianism, but this one may fall back to “vegetarian who eats seafood sometimes.” I would prefer the vegetarian ideal for aligning my actions with my best intentions, but sometimes we can’t let perfection be the enemy of pretty good. We’ll see.

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