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My New Year Resolution? I Need to Meditate!

written by Thu Tran, MD,FACOG
on Sunday, 3rd January ,2016

I hope you all enjoyed the holiday time you spent with your families. On New Year's Day, my husband David, a neighbor and I went for a walk to North Beach, half a mile from our house in Chesapeake Beach. We walked past the registration desk for the Polar Bear Plunge to take place at 1PM. The $25 registration fee would get you a long sleeve T shirt showing that you participated in this yearly event to raise fund for Meals on Wheels. The weather at the Bay on New Year's Day was mild (in the mid-forties) compared to other years. I had never gone into the Chesapeake Bay water on New Year day or any day after September. I went into the water of Miami Beach a few years ago on Christmas Day and didn't last long. There was a reason why most people were sunbathing instead of being in that frigid water!

Spontaneously, I signed up for the plunge, shocking Svenn and my husband who reminded me that I had two hours to change my mind. Svenn is Norwegian and was a great skier when he was young, but he politely declined to participate in the plunge with me and stated he will stand side by side with my family to witness my plunging into the cold water of the bay for charity's sake. He wore mittens, a wool cap and heavy coat and couldn't imagine himself jumping into the water in a swimsuit in January.

The air was cold but not freezing. The stocky young man standing next to me on the beach with sculpted tattoed arms was swinging his arms rapidly in circular motion and jumping around on the sand. He urged me to do the same.

"Exercise so you will feel warmer," he said.

I was too amused watching all the people around me, young and old, fit and out of shape, some in bikinis, others in full running clothes. One man wore a sweat suit with a spiderman mask on his face. Many children were huddling with each other, having a great time playing in the sand.

As the gentleman with a loud speaker announced the time for plunging, all of us started running toward the water. I had this strategy of thinking not about the temperature of the water but how deep I wanted to submerge myself into the water. Distraction is a good strategy to avert fear. Some people, I heard, would dip their toes into the water then run back to the beach. That's not a plunge, I said to myself; you either plunge fully into the water or write a $25 check for Meals on Wheels, but do not claim you plunged into the bay with just your toes.

I did plunge into that frigid cold water for about a minute, with the water up to my neck. A young man was counting the minutes for his group of friends as they must have had a certain amount of time they wanted to stay in the water. My toes started freezing and I started worrying about having the cramps and not being able to "drag" myself back to the beach. What if I froze in the water and had to scream for help? Everyone would look at me as I would stand out in my Hawaiin swim suit. I was the only Asian woman in the water, they will never forget my face. What if I go home and started getting sick again? I just recovered from food poisoning a few days ago when I went to a resort in the Dominican Republic with my family.

I had a great time plunging into the bay for a good cause. Maybe someday a woman will do the Polar Bear Plunge somewhere to support me on Meals on Wheel, as you never know how life turns.

I would have had a better time in the water had I not worried about the potential crampings in my legs with me being stuck in the water and being rescued by the emergency team. I shouldn't have imagined going to the hospital for hypothermia. I should have focused on the fresh cool air and the clear water on a sunny New Year's Day.

This morning, I went on a hike on the Billy Goat Trail, off the C&O canal, with my friend Serrin. It's a wonderful trail which can give you a good workout. However, if you are not careful and focused, it is a sure way to meet an orthopedic surgeon. We spent two hours hiking and stopping on and off for the stunning views from below. The ground was still wet from the fog the night before. It was easy to slip and fall in some areas with big boulders. Eventually, I stopped looking so far ahead and, instead, looking at where my next step should be to avoid either patches of wet sand or pockets of water collected from small streams passing by the rocks.

Hiking, many people have told me, is like meditation. You have to be focused with every step and constantly determining which rock you will take next to continue your path. Your mind is on the path ahead of you, moment to moment, not what you will eat for lunch or what you need to get at the grocery store. No time to worry, as you don't have time to create a story around your thoughts. Dr. Arnold Raizon, the radiologist who will teach me to meditate this year, told me how we need to stop with a single thought and not think beyond it, as creating a story beyond it might cause unnecessarily anxiety, worry or unhappiness.

Maybe we all should learn to meditate, not necessarily to sit for a long time with our eyes closed and our legs folded in a dark room. We can learn to meditate actively, with our focus on the moment.

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