For many, physical fitness is not an issue. Mental fitness is the challenge. How we exercise our brains affects our whole well-being. The mind-body connection is indisputable. Meditation is an excellent workout for the brain that radiates positive energy to the entire self. Here’s how to start utilizing this powerful method to reach your wellness goals.
Meditation may conjure up images of sitting cross-legged on the ground, surrounded by candles, chanting “ummmms” in a trance-like state. Sure, you can find yogis gathered in an ashram, or your very balanced colleague on a Saturday morning, undergoing such practices. However, meditation can be adapted as an everyday, anywhere experience. You needn’t travel to exotic locales or create the ideal setting. All you need is your mind, and a determination to control your thoughts. Convenient, yes. Challenging, often.
Meditation’s Benefits Are Manifold
Quiet the Mind: For many, this is the toughest aspect of meditation. With bills to pay, deadlines to meet, and mouths to feed, we often struggle to clear our heads. Just being—sitting still and thinking about nothing—takes practice and skill. This period of rest is its own exercise toward bettering your health.
Live in the Moment: Perhaps the simplest way to accomplish mindful awareness is to focus on your breathing. When you concentrate on each breath, you aren’t thinking about what you should’ve said to your boss or how you’re going to manage tomorrow’s monster meeting.
Go to Your Happy Place: If you can achieve the aforementioned, you might possibly reach a new level of inner peace. Sound like guru mumbo-jumbo? Evidence does indicate its validity. Meditation increases brain activity in an area of the brain associated with happiness, positive thoughts, and emotions. Regular practice may bring long-term benefits in these areas. Perhaps this is why meditation is sometimes recommended for those with mild depression, anxiety disorders, and everyday stress.
Meditation does not require anything fancy (although some may consider a quiet spot to themselves luxurious). It thrives only through practice. Whether you’re a yoga guru or high-performing stock broker, meditation is an evolving state-of-mind that needs constant perfecting. Here are some ideas to help you reach the next level in your practice, even if that level is deciding to give meditation a try!
If you’ve already experienced some of these meditation techniques, consider trying a new form or a combination.
Basic Meditation: Settle in a comfortable position. You don’t have to take on pretzel-like qualities and twist into an uncomfortable pose. Relax on an overstuffed chair, if you wish. Ancient practitioners were often limited to the hard ground; we’re not. Derail your thoughts by not engaging in them.
Focused Meditation: Instead of completely derailing all thought, focus on something. A rock, a statue, a candle will work. Heck, so will a piece of lint. The idea is to redirect your consciousness to focus on something detached and harmless. For those inclined toward the auditory, focus on the sound of chimes, ocean waves, or your own breathing.
Active Meditation: Some consider certain actions to be “therapeutic.” You may have heard talk of therapeutic baking, gardening, or exercising. Activities where you can submerge yourself in a rhythm, repetitive moments that flow, are often effective types of meditation. More examples include weightlifting, walking, swimming; your body performs on autopilot and your mind is free. With a quiet mind, your brain can shift to an altered consciousness. Some say even simple chores like washing dishes can accomplish this. (Don’t give up your dishwasher.)
Mindfulness Meditation: This appears like every day living in disguise. We continue to function, but in the present rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future. Not an easy task! Many waste the moment with worries of times before and events to come.
A trick to accomplishing this meditative state is to focus on your body’s current condition. What sensations are you feeling? Hunger? Discomfort? What emotions? Happiness? Sadness? Where are they coming from? Do not try to determine “why.” Simply acknowledge them and perhaps try to describe them to yourself.
Another technique is to narrate your situation. For example, if you are putting a child to bed, pay attention to the details. The softness of his/her PJs, the smell of freshly shampooed hair, the sweet sound of giggles while a book is being read, the beat of a heart as breathing slows into sleep. Suddenly, you might not be as anxious to rush to the next task. Congratulations, you are living in the moment and enjoying it.
Loving Kindness Meditation: You have to love the way this sounds. Also referred to as Compassion Meditation, this Buddhist practice is now one of the most widely enjoyed and used forms. The goal is to nurture acceptance, forgiveness, and compassion for yourself and others. Thank yourself for all you are at this given moment. Shift your focus to loved ones. Envision ideal scenarios of physical and emotional wellness. As you advance, you may choose to include difficult people in your focus as an attempt at forgiveness.
Spiritual Meditation: Although meditation is a well-accepted part of the secular, many gain spiritual wisdom or guidance through it. Using it as a form of prayer, they open heart and mind to whatever comes their way as the will of a greater force.
“The whole of yoga is a deep focus. Yoga is meditation,” explains Group Fitness Yoga Instructor Donna Henry. The stillness of yoga allows the energy needed for movement to be channeled into restoring mental and physical health. “The ego constantly strives and competes against all else. It aims to keep us completely engaged in the physical world. Through yoga, we redirect our energies. We aim to still the thought parade always marching through our heads, and finally become master of our own minds,” she shares.
The calming power of yoga has left many to drift into sleep. However, sleep is not the goal of meditation (hey, most of us would take it), so a yoga instructor will gently awaken someone who has dozed. The adept hold chime balls, which clatter to the ground if sleep overtakes them. A sleep-like state is the goal in Yoga Nidra, yoga sleep (one of meditation’s deepest forms). Lying flat on the floor, following guided meditation, the yogi is taken to a place of profound relaxation (though not true sleep as there is still awareness of the environment). In this supremely quiet state, energies coalesce and are free to heal and restore the body and mind.
Take It to Go
Unfortunately, we can’t walk the earth in a constant state of contentment. Life gets in the way. Irate drivers cut us off the road. Personalities clash. People catch colds. Only you can control your thoughts. Bring them back to that peaceful bliss you experience during meditation. Revisit the calm with several deep breaths and a shift in focus. Meditation enhances quality-of-life beyond your time “in the zone.” Indulge in the deepness of the universe and the simplicity of nature anytime. You just have to let yourself.
Coming soon in F&W News (www.fitnessandwellnessnews.com): Yoga and its restorative powers, beyond meditation.
“Be Mindful,” Erica Rodefer at www.yogajournal.com.
“Benefits and Different Types of Meditation Techniques,” Elizabeth Scott at www.about.com.
“Benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation,” Elizabeth Scott at www.about.com.
With Sighs of Fire (candle heart): www.flickr.com/photos/vinni/4024516351/in/photostream