Breathe in…Breathe out: Meditation Reduces Stress and Improves Wellness
Everyone suffers from it at some point in life. Prolonged stress takes a toll on the body, causing emotional and physical disorders that can lead to anxiety, depression, heart attacks and autoimmune disease, to name a few.
When physicians offer up their menu of services to reduce stress and improve wellness, meditation is almost always listed. Spiritual leaders and counselors also prescribe meditation as a method of seeking clarity, finding answers within and letting go of things you can’t control or that don’t serve your needs.
The professionals make it sound so easy, like filling a prescription: “one dose of meditation daily.” But learning to quiet the mind doesn’t come easy for most people living in a world full of external stimulation, and neither does knowing where to start.
Meditation can be active or passive, according to Dr. Melinea Holman, owner of the Center for Health and Healing in Fort Myers. “Passive can be when you are driving home and don’t remember getting there. You’re just going through the motions, your mind is slowing down.” Active meditation “is when you sit, center and become actively aware that you are slowing everything down.”
Yoga is a type of meditation. It requires you to be aware of your body and breathing, letting go of other thoughts so you can properly execute poses.
Meditation starts with being mindful, according to Mary Robinson, a psychotherapist and founding board member of the Caloosahatchee Mindfulness Center in Fort Myers. “Mindfulness is being aware and present in our moment-to-moment experience,” says Robinson. “We have a mind that chatters all of the time,” she continues. “If someone was beside us talking to us all the time like our mind, we would call the police to lock them up.”
Social worker Anne Louise Kracmer is a mindfulness facilitator. She advises, “If you think you are not good at meditation, well, who is? Just start where you are. It helps us to get out of our stories, the drama we create.”
During the sessions she leads, participants may sit in silence, or they may do walking meditation, concentrating on their steps and feeling the foot as it hits the ground from heel to toe. This simple exercise clears thoughts.
Self-help author Wayne Dyer’s book, Getting in the Gap, offers easy-to-follow guidance for finding the gap or space between thoughts, where your mind is quiet and void of chatter. The book comes with an instructional CD, but you can also find the audio online. In fact, the internet is full of guided meditations.
While some skew toward specific spiritual or religious philosophies, the foundation is the same—slowing down and quieting your mind. Buddhists are renowned for using meditation to seek enlightenment. They use a number of techniques that are widely embraced by non-Buddhists as well.
“There all kinds of traditions that you can bring your own roots to,” Robinson says. “You don’t have to give up or change any beliefs because you are adding meditation.”
While guided meditations can offer a jumpstart to the discipline, some people are distracted by the narration. If you prefer to go it alone, meditation can be as simple as sitting still and listening to your breathing, regardless of where you are. Robinson says, “Find even five minutes and just pay attention to your breath because it’s something that is always with you.”
Holman advises in the Buddhist tradition, “Take a deep breath and focus on the nose opening up, the breath coming down the throat, opening up the chest, into the belly and then there is a hook at the end that is a quiet zone where you can meditate in. Or you can just concentrate on letting the breath out.”
Meditation can also help with successful completion of tasks, and the practice is used by many athletes before competing. Take a few deep, relaxing breaths to clear your mind and then focus on one thing, such as seeing the golf ball go into the cup during a putt, hitting the high note in your solo or any number of other goals.
Research shows the benefits of meditation to be vast, including improvements in brain function, immune system, blood pressure, decision-making, focus and overall well-being. While it won’t solve all of your problems, regular practice can help you deal with them more effectively.
Gina Birch is a regular contributor and a well-known Southwest Florida media personality.