In this age of instant gratification and "gotta have it now!" mentality, many of us feel overwhelmed, over-worked, and anxious. Life moves so fast that even stopping to take a deep breath sometimes seems challenging. Our bodies are well equipped to react to stress (think fight or flight response), but a constant, heightened state of alert takes its toll on our mental and physical capabilities. Studies show that chronic stress has an effect on nearly every system in our bodies, resulting in a suppressed immune system, increased risk of heart attack and high blood pressure, enhanced aging process, and depression.
To stop the stress cycle one must retrain thought processes and reactions. Along with spending time at a spa or taking a restorative yoga class, developing a meditation practice is one way to quiet the mind and slow down. Dr. Fred Travis, director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University explains that meditation helps people change their view of themselves and the world, which improves how they react to daily stressors. Each area of our brain is assigned to a different task; when brains are healthy these tasks are integrated. Stressful experiences prevent certain areas of our brain from functioning properly. Meditation helps create a state of “restful alertness” which reduces stress, strengthens communication between the different areas of the brain, and develops brain functioning. As a result, a consistent meditation practice ignites more purposeful thinking and decision-making and the emotional response to the world is more balanced and appropriate.
Meditation for beginners:
In order to gain the most out of meditation, make a commitment to do it daily at a regularly scheduled time (some say it takes 21 days to form a new habit, so stay with it!).
1. Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed and make it your own. Perhaps fill the background with gentle instrumental music or soothing sounds from a water fountain or wind chime, the soft glow of a candle or Himalayan Salt Lamp and Aromatherapy from an essential oil diffuser.
2. Sit in a chair, on a cushion, a yoga block, a yoga mat…whatever it is, find your seat and settle. Imagine your body moving toward the earth, feeling fully grounded and supported.
3. Close your eyes and slowly scan your body from head to toe, noticing any areas of tension. Keep your jaw soft, mouth closed.
4. Bring your attention to the breath, inhaling and exhaling through the nose but never forcefully. Watch it move in and out, paying attention to any areas where it seems stuck.
5. Embrace any thoughts and visualize them floating out of your head. If you find yourself becoming distracted pick a mantra and repeat, for example, inhale “let”, exhale “go”. Other options may be “be still”, “so hum”, or “I am”. It’s perfectly natural to think…about your grocery list, your to-do list, your boyfriend from second grade or whatever random thoughts appear. The trick is to not force the clearing your mind. It’s like saying “don’t think about watermelons!” and quickly they become ONLY thing you think about!
6. Keep it short. Stay in your seat for 10-15 minutes to start, gradually working your way towards 20, then 30 minutes. You may want to set a timer or alarm.
7. Awaken. Breathe deeply three times, allowing the inhale to move down to your seat and the exhale to move up and out the top of your head.
8. Slowly open your eyes. Congratulations, you’ve just meditated!
Move gently as you re-enter your busy day. There are tools that can help you to prolong the relaxation experience, such as stress relief blends by Natural Patches of Vermont and Sprayology. And with a little commitment, you’ll be back tomorrow.
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