Meditation & You
Have you ever thought about adding meditation to your wellness practice? The new year is the perfect time to start! People are meditating to promote overall wellness and also to cope with anxiety, pain, depression, stress, insomnia and physical or emotional symptoms associated with chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and HIV/AIDS (NCCAM 2010).
Shirley Archer, JD, MA, IDEA’s mind-body-spirit spokesperson and an award-winning author, shares some insights on this popular mind-body practice.
Changes in the Brain
Researchers are finding that meditation practice creates structural changes in the brain, which is significant, because neuroscientists used to think the brain’s development reached a peak in adulthood and then declined with age. Research is now showing that how we use the brain impacts its development and function (just as how we use the body affects its health and function).
Health Benefits of Meditation
Meditation benefits may include
- stronger immune system and enhanced attention;
- lower blood pressure and reduced risk of heart disease;
- less anxiety and depression;
- increased feelings of compassion and empathy;
- lower blood sugar
- improved sleep; and
- better pain management.
So how can you begin your own meditation practice? Diksha McCord, director of meditation teacher training at The Expanding Light Retreat in Nevada City, California, offers the following tips:
- Create a dedicated space. A small room or closet is ideal, but if this is not possible, create a quiet area in your home and return there each time you practice.
- Set a consistent time. Choose a regular time—such as dawn, noon or dusk—and try to practice daily.
- Ensure quiet. To sharpen your mental focus, wear headphones or earplugs if sounds are distracting.
- Sit with good posture. Sit upright, with spine erect and body relaxed, and place your hands, palms up, on the thighs at the junction of the thighs and abdomen.
- Be comfortable. Use pillows and cushions as necessary. Sit in a chair if it’s more comfortable. Place a pillow across your thighs if needed as a place to rest your hands. Experiment with different positions (including different hand positions) to find what works for you. McCord emphasizes that what matters is not how you look, but how you feel.
- Start gradually. Start with as little as 5 minutes and increase your sitting time in increments of 5 minutes. Work up to 30 minutes, twice daily, if possible. Let enjoyment be your guide.
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There is no one “best” way to meditate. Choose the style that works for you. Here’s a sampler of some of the more common practices:
Mindfulness (vipassana). Popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn in his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program and influenced by Theravada Buddhism, this style involves observation through paying particular attention in the present moment, without judgment (Kabat-Zinn 1994).
Mantra. From the yoga tradition, this method uses mental repetition of a phrase, word or sound, often coordinated with the breath. Mantra practice requires singular focus upon an object of attention.
Focused-attention or concentration. This form also requires singular focus on an object of attention, but a mantra is not necessarily included. The object can be one of many things: a lit candle, for example, or just the breath.
Zen. From Zen Buddhism, this approach uses conscious awareness of momentary experience to lead to a generalized “openness” or “empty mind”—a totality of being “at one” with the present moment without concentrating on any specific object or sensation.
Loving kindness (metta). Another Buddhist practice, this involves focusing on self and others with unconditional love. From this singular focus, the intent is to expand feelings of love and compassion to embrace all beings and to wish them to be free from suffering and all of its causes.
NCCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine). 2010. Meditation: An introduction. Publication No. D308. http://nccam.nih. gov/health/meditation/overview.htm.
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