Mediation – Does the Mind Good
For most of us who live in this busy world where our cell phones are now literally attached to our ears, the idea of sitting quietly for more than a few minutes and focusing solely on our thoughts sounds either impossible or just downright scary. We can hardly sit still for ten minutes to wait for a table at a restaurant or at the doctor’s office. Why else would there be so many magazines around but to cater to the small attention spans we’ve all come to acquire? This is probably why many people have never even thought of trying meditation. Not even in the form of a hot, relaxing bubble bath once in a while.
But did you know that daily meditation has been found to improve overall health and stress levels? A 2007 study by Chinese scientists revealed that forty people who had spent five days meditating for twenty minutes a day had higher stress reduction than the other forty people that practiced simple muscle relaxation techniques. So it’s time to get the picture of the cross-legged, ooming and aahing yoga instructor out of your mind, because contrary to popular belief, meditation is not just for the overtly spiritual.
What is meditation and how is important to my health?
Meditation basically means awareness. It is the practice of focusing your attention to give you a clear awareness about your life and surroundings. Dr. Alan Wallace, founder and president of the SB Institute for Consciousness Studies, says “meditation includes a wide array of methods for healing the mind of its imbalances and afflictions, while cultivating beneficial qualities that enhance one’s mental health and well-being.” While there are many different forms and ways of meditating, he says that “some of the most practical types of meditation entail methods for relieving stress, cultivating mindfulness and attention, and bringing forth a deeper sense of empathy for others.” We could probably all benefit from one or the other, and so could those we interact with. One practical form of meditation called ‘mindful meditation’, refers to becoming aware of your present thoughts while dispelling thoughts of the past and future that creep up, in a non-judgmental way. Dr. Wallace argues that “Just as many of us try to follow a healthy diet and a regular exercise regimen, not to mention keeping a high degree of physical hygiene, it is beneficial to maintain a regular meditative practice. This can help us maintain and even enhance our mental health and balance, and gain deeper insight into the nature and potentials of our own minds.”
Where to Begin
Meditation is not as scary as it may seem. Dr. Wallace suggests beginning with the basic practices, such as conscious breathing for developing mindfulness, calmness, and attention. Breathing and relaxation of the muscles are core elements of mindful meditation. When your thoughts start to run away from you, take a deep breath, and let the frustration go. If you’re not ready to give it a try in public, try downloading a meditation instruction through itunes podcast. For those who need more personal guidance, the SB Institute for Consciousness Studies offers practical instruction beginning with guidance in the cultivation of mindfulness and attention, which are then used for developing other potentials of the heart and mind.
When it comes to health and fitness, don’t forget that your mind deserves attention too. If you find yourself getting caught up in the bustle of life, Dr. Wallace would ask, “What is so important to you that you have so little time to restore your own mental balance through meditation and to cultivate inner qualities that can bring you greater joy and meaning in life?” Even in the midst of a chaotic day, try meditating for few moments in the car or at your desk, or before you lie down in bed, and meditate on the stars. Relatively short but habitual moments like these can create awareness, reduce stress, and increase empathy throughout your day. For the record, Dr. Wallace also says that a relaxing, hot bubble bath with soothing musiccanalso be a place for meditation. So break out the bubbles and an Enya CD and set your mind free!
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