Improve your health and outlook with meditation

We have had many different reactions from our clients when we recommend they consider a meditation practice. Mostly we hear, “I know, I’ve thought about starting to meditate many times.” Or, “I’ve tried and I just can’t sit still.”

These responses are typically rooted in misconceptions about what a meditation practice is supposed to look like. Many people believe that a meditation practice must include long hours of sitting still, contemplating the deepest recesses of your mind. Or making sounds that would embarrass you if neighbors, or even your family, could hear you. Some even believe that you have to look like a yogi, all decked out in a turban and a beard down to your navel, if you’re really going to seriously meditate. However, the truth is your meditation practice can look like anything you want it to.

Meditation has been very helpful to many of our clients and in our own lives. Meditation can help with the development of the conscious ability to stay in the here and now without carrying old feelings and thoughts into the present moment. Meditation can also:

• Improve focus

• Encourage relaxation

• Quiet a chatty mind

• Improve sleep

• Help you change your attitude

• Assist you in getting through a rough emotional moment

• Speed up recovery from a depressive episode

• Reduce anxiety

• Improve your physical health

• Help with pain and much more.

And meditation can be effective in just several minutes of practice. Effectiveness depends on what you would like to achieve and how quickly you want results. Want to change your attitude, stop an anxiety attack or keep from overreacting? It may take only a few minutes of meditating on your breath once you have practiced enough to know what works. Want to improve your focus and become more relaxed in general? You may find several weeks of daily practice of around 30 minutes per day gets you there.

Getting started

Starting a meditation practice can be very simple. Stay out of any notions that you have to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk in order to meditate effectively. Once you get going there are several books on different types of meditation should you want to advance your practice. Here are some easy steps to begin.

l Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit upright.

l Ask yourself, “What is the intention of my meditation?” e.g., to quiet your mind, or to prepare for the day, etc. Ask yourself to hold this intention as you attend to your meditation.

l Take a few moments to do a body scan, relaxing each body part from head to toe.

l Once relaxed, focus quietly on your breathing, perhaps counting to 3 or 4 for each in and out breath.

l Now focus your attention on one thing, perhaps breathing gratitude through your heart, or simply remain focused on your breath, or a peaceful sound off in the distance. You will want to gently come back to this point whenever your mind wanders.

l How long you meditate is up to you. Starting with just several minutes and build up to 20 or 30 minutes.

A word of caution: Even meditation can be used in an unhealthy manner. Make sure you pay attention to how you feel. If a certain type of meditation feels uncomfortable, then stop and try something else. Or you may need to address your issues in another way first. Make sure your meditation practice is in balance with other parts of your life. We know someone who became so addicted to meditation she would skip work to get it in. Eventually she was fired. That probably was not the best use of a meditation practice.

Ed Bloch, LSCSW, and Jena Bloch, LCMFT, are directors of the Life Enrichment Center in Lawrence.


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