It is known that stress can come from all aspects of life can affect us in many ways. In keeping up with day to day life it is important that we are refreshed physically as well as mentally. Some of the following factors that can contribute to stress are diet, exercise (or lack there of), and external stressors (like family, career/job, friends, expectations, school, children, life circumstances). There are positive stressors and negative stressors that affect a person’s life. An example of positive stress would be something like, buying a new house or getting married. They are referred to as positive stressors because they are situations in life that result in positive changes that people are usually happy about. Examples of negative stressors can include things like the loss of a job, miscarriages, being late to work or school, heavy traffic, a death in the family, and the list goes on. Negative stressors tend to take a greater toll on a person’s emotional well-being and in turn take a toll on physical well-being. One way to reduce stress is to begin an active meditation practice, similar to an exercise routine, but definitely not as strenuous.
I’ve utilized meditation professionally for use with my clients and personally in my own life. Meditation has been shown to lower levels of stress over time and has shown to reduce blood pressure. So why don’t more people practice meditation? There are several reasons for this. First of all, the most common question I’ve been asked regarding meditation among clients and students is “isn’t meditation a religious thing?” or “if I meditate, does that mean I’m Buddhist?” and the answer is a resounding NO. Although it can be a spiritual or religious experience for people wanting to connect to their higher power through meditation, this is not the case for everyone and does not need to be a religious practice. For others it may be a religious practice and this depends on the person and how they wish to utilized meditation. Overall the goal of meditation is to quiet one’s mind and get in tune with the inner self. Moreover, as stated earlier, meditation is mostly designed to quiet the mind and refresh the spirit. Once again, the “spirit” in this sense is used to define the whole person, inside and out incorporating the mind, body, will, and consciousness. Secondly, people tend to think they need to take a class, or some kind of professional guidance, in order to harness the practice of meditation. While in reality there are only a few things needed to get started. Meditation is a process of letting go and is an extended experience of mindfulness.
Basic Steps to Meditation:
1. Create a peaceful atmosphere
- For parents of young children this might be difficult, so finding a time and place when you can shut the door to sit comfortably and quiet your mind, is imperative. Maybe taking turns with your spouse, friend or after your children are asleep, this might prove to be a good time for you to work on your meditative skills.
- Some people like candles and music which can be used as an accessory, however, the goal is to create a peaceful, quiet atmosphere, so candles and music are not necessary for practicing meditation.
- Turn off the cell phone and shut the door. Set a timer if you absolutely need to, but most people will know when they’ve reached a point of relaxation and meditation.
2. Wear comfortable clothing
- If you are uncomfortable in your attire or are sitting uncomfortably, it will be difficult to concentrate and focus. Therefore, when meditating comfortable clothes should be worn.
- Sit comfortably (or lay down – no special posture is necessary)
3. Close your Eyes and Focus
- You can focus on a mantra or you can choose to focus on nothing. A mantra is a word or phrase to focus on during the meditative process usually thought or said over and over in a person’s mind or out loud. Truthfully, thoughts will come to you and then leave and the process is about just allowing whatever comes to you to be there, not forcing the experience toward any particular direction. Some clients have told me that they have a hard time in stopping their thoughts but meditation is not a process of trying to stop or start your mind to do anything. It is a process of letting go and quieting the mind. Our minds have a natural process. This process is thinking, so it is only natural that thoughts come and go, but when using a focus – mantra or otherwise, it helps to quiet those thoughts but by forcing thoughts to disappear can be frustrating so just go with it and with practice, the mind will eventually quiet down and over time meditation will be more of a flow, a dynamic and moving yet peaceful experience.
- Some people like the idea of focusing on certain things to help them gain rhythm in meditation. One technique would be counting in your mind – slowly, while visualizing the numbers. This will keep you focused yet loose. The point is to get your mind focused while relaxing, but not to the point of sleeping.
- Additionally, being mindful of what is going on in your mind during meditation will also help you gain insight into your thought patterns. What continues to pop-up during your meditation sessions? Is it the kids? The dog? Your job? Your spouse? Chores that need to be accomplished? Is it something stressful? Or is it that vacation to Tahiti that you’ve always wanted to take? It is important to be mindful of what you are thinking about so you can evaluate it later, but don’t dwell on it. Take note of the thoughts and move on. Additionally, if you catch yourself “worrying” during a meditation session, it is easy to just “set it free”, and let that “worry thought” sail away and drift off into an imaginary yacht or sailboat that you’ve created. This also helps free your mind from worry as you watch the anxious thought slip away.
- Remember to breathe.
- Take slow, deep, long breaths. This will help the meditation process as it will help your body and mind to relax more thoroughly. In some cases, (and as an added bonus) focusing on your breathing will help you get into a deeper meditative state without using a specific mantra.
This is not the be-all end-all of mediation and honestly, it barely even touches the surface relating to all the information and resources out there on “how to meditate” as well as the physical and psychological benefits that can be achieved through an active meditation practice.
If you are interested in meditation or utilizing stress reduction techniques, try making meditation a practice for you this month as April is Stress Awareness Month; or give it 30 days and keep a journal of any lasting changes in mood, behavior, or overall attitude. You may be surprised at the results.
D.K. Riebel, J.M. Greeson, G.C. Brainard, et al., Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health-related quality of life in a heterogeneous patient population. Jefferson Myrna Brind Center of IntegrationMedicine Faculty Papers (2001), pp. 1-19.P. Grossman, L. Niemann, S. Schmidt, et al., Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 57 (2004), pp. 35–43.J.A. Astin, Stress reduction through mindfulness meditation. Psychother Psychosom66 (1997), pp. 97–106.J. Kabat-Zinn, E. Wheeler, T. Light et al., Influence of a mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention on rates of skin clearing in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis undergoing phototherapy (UVB) and photochemotherapy (PUVB).Psychosom Med 60 (1998), pp. 625–632.S.L. Shapiro, G.E. Schwartz and G. Bonner, Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on medical and premedical students. J Behav Med 21 (1998), pp. 581–599. (1998), pp. 581–599.
In love and light,