Science often calls meditation “mindfulness-based stress reduction training”. This is just a fancy way of saying that calming the mind can reduce stress and many other pesky health problems. If you’re at all like me, that’s easier said than done. So frequently we allow the tedium of daily routines and worries to take control of the wheel and drive us off a cliff! We lie awake at night, our minds humming with the buzz of to-do lists, due dates, finances, and familial woes. Exercise can make a huge difference as will a healthy, well-balanced diet, but there is one more thing I’d like to recommend: meditation.
Meditation is a medically recognized form of treatment for many common ailments. Most commonly used for stress reduction, meditation is also proven effective in the treatment of insomnia, concentration problems, muscle tension, and pain. Meditation works by lowering and regulating oxygen consumption and decreasing respiratory rate. The average rate of breathing in a resting adult is 12-17 breaths per minute. Hyperventilation (rapid breathing) can result in panic attacks, numbness, headaches, and sometimes even fainting. Meditation also slows the heart rate and decreases blood pressure in people who have normal or mildly elevated pressure. It allows our muscles to release and our bodies to reach a deeper level of relaxation. Pain from muscle tension, headaches, dysmenorrhea and various other conditions can be lessened with regular meditation as well. Meditation has been known to increase mind-body coordination, heightened senses, and musical memory as well.
Now, before I lose my more strictly religious readers, let me explain that meditation comes in countless forms, including prayer. Prayer is a private conversation between you and God in which you allow yourself to vent your frustrations and heartaches, apologize for wrong-doing, ask for your hearts deepest desires, examine your soul and give thanks and appreciation for the blessings in your life. Prayer is quiet, calm, and deeply concentrative, a classic and very effective form of meditation.
Buddhism gives us a method of self-awakening meditation which they call vipassanna (we know it as insight meditation or mindfulness meditation). In this method, instead of shutting the world out, you allow it all in with an open mind. Sit quietly, focus on your breathing, and allow your thoughts and feelings to come to you as they will. Do not judge or reject them, but allow them to flow in and our and around your mind. Gradually allow the sights and sounds around you to enter your consciousness and consideration.
Walking meditation involves moving your body. You may be walking to work, moving about your home, or even on a treadmill at the gym. As you move, concentrate on the body parts involved. Feel the muscles contracting and relaxing in your core, your thighs, your calves. Listen to your breathing and notice the way your feet feel as they touch, leave, and touch again the ground.
Another well-known form of meditation is empty meditation. Sit alone in a quiet place in a comfortable cross-legged position. Remove all distractions and noise. Allow your body to relax, but maintain good posture with a straight spine and slightly bent head. Empty your mind by removing one thought at a time until nothing is left, allowing peace and rest to take over.
Finally, transcendental meditation utilizes a mantra or chant. If you are easily distracted by your environment, this may be effective for you, as it will help to keep you focused and block out the world. We’ve all seen the satires of monks repeating “ooohhhmmm” over and over, but transcendental meditation can be achieved by any calming word or words that you like. These are just a few popular examples of meditation, but feel free to find one that works best for you. You can even mix and match, so to speak, to achieve your own calm and relaxed state.
Whether you are religious, agnostic, in good health or beyond stressed out, meditation is beneficial to everyone. There is no prescription for how often or how long you should meditate. Some people like to take a few moments in the morning, calming and preparing themselves for the day ahead. Some like to meditate in the evening, reflecting on the events of the day gone by. Some mediate 6-7 times a day, some only once a week; the answer is meditate when you feel moved to do so, otherwise you are just wasting time and energy trying to force something to which you’re not mentally committed. I have two favorite meditation times: in the sauna after a workout and just before I go to sleep at night.
Here are two easy and effective techniques for beginners that you can do today!
1.) Sit cross-legged with a straight spine on a comfortable surface such as a pillow or yoga mat. Listen to the tick of a clock or a metronome (here’s a free online metronome you can use: http://www.metronomeonline.com/). Inhale and exhale through your nose. Count every inhalation. As you breath in, visualize that you are pulling positive thoughts into your core, and as you exhale, visualize the negative thoughts fleeing your body.
2.) Light a candle and place it at eye level. Turn off all other sources of light in the room. Sit cross-legged with a straight spine on a comfortable surface such as a pillow or yoga mat. Breath in and out slowly through your nose as you stare at the flickering flame. Gradually, close your eyes and visualize the flame in your mind. If you lose sight of it, open your eyes and begin again.
Good luck, seek peace, and as always, I wish you well.