Why Should I Meditate – and What the Heck Does that Mean?

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(Editor’s note: Even though meditation has been shown to boost immunity, lower blood pressure, boost creativity, decrease anxiety, help with depression and boost productivity, the idea of sitting still to achieve it seemed pointless to this editor. Not so, according to fitness expert Alison Burmeister, who gave some easy tips for beginners.)

 

Alison Burmeister practices meditation to calm the mind.

BY ALISON BURMEISTER

Meditation is meant to bring peace to our minds and bodies. According to the Dalai Lama (“The Book of Joy”), meditation brings joy by “extending the pause between stimulus and response.”

When we are encountered with something that would stress or annoy us, a regular practice of meditation teaches us to be more mindful and pause before we react. The more mindful we are, the less likely we are to create negative responses in our life. The less negative response we have in our life, the happier we are.

While meditation has been proven to increase happiness, it’s not just about focusing on the positive. Meditation is the practice of “noticing” or “awareness”. If you have ever tried to meditate, you know the mind wanders. Noticing where the mind goes when we sit quietly in meditation is as much a part of the practice as trying to focus on one thing. As we grow more conscious of our thoughts, we trade negative external thoughts that do not serve us for more internal positive thoughts that do.

Ready to get happy? Try these techniques.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness Meditation brings us back to the original concept of meditation – simply being one hundred percent aware of what you are doing in the present moment.

One of the most accessible ways to practice mindful meditation is to notice your breath. To get started, (for as little as five minutes each day and I highly recommend setting a timer) either lie down or sit quietly in a space with little or no outside distractions.

Then just close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Take an inhale through the nose and let it out the mouth. As you inhale fill the belly with air. Make sure the breath begins down in your abdomen, not in your throat. Feel the breath rise. Up into your chest and fill your lungs with air.

Hold it for a moment.

See how it feels and then when you are ready, release the breath from the chest, down the belly and draw the navel high and tight.

Repeat this a few times until you can feel the rhythm of the breath in and out-like waves of the ocean flowing in and out. Do not hold judgement for what you think should happen, just observe. If your mind wanders, just bring it back to the breath.

Mindful Meditation is about being able to redirect your thoughts when you get sidetracked and come back to your breath rather than be carried away by distractions.

Body Scan Meditation

Body Scan Meditations focus on consciously relaxing different parts of the body –when I do this, I’m often amazed at the amount of tension I hold without even realizing it.

This body scan meditation is best done lying down:

  1. Focus on your feet and how they feel on the floor. Breathe in, and then as you exhale, allow them open like pages of an old book.
  2. Next, the focus goes to your legs. Notice how they feel as part of your body – notice the space between your ankles to your knees to your hips. Breathe in, and then as you exhale, try to relax your legs.
  3. You repeat this process as you move up the body, focusing on adding space between each vertebra, to your shoulders, down your arms and back up to your head. Notice any tension in your jaw, your tongue and the space between your brows.

In addition, body scan meditations are a great way to relieve tight shoulders or a tense neck, which often builds up as a result of stress or anxiety.

 Walking Meditation

Meditation, contrary to popular belief does not have to be still. Instead of using the breath as the object of awareness, walking meditation encourages you to focus on each footstep to be fully present.

To begin, find a space where you can walk 10-15 minutes without interruption. As you walk, become aware of the movement of your steps as you lift and lower each foot to and from the ground.

Bring your attention to one or more sensations that you would normally take for granted, such as your breath coming in and out of your body; sounds of nature nearby or those caused by the movement of your body; or whatever your eyes take in as they observe the world in front of you.

Like body scan meditation, walking meditation allows you to cultivate a sense of mind-body connection by focusing on your body’s physical sensations as it moves. Walking meditation is a great alternative when you might find it difficult to sit still, because it allows you to get moving while still focusing on an object of awareness.

Starting can be hard:

Usually, meditation is not something you just start on your own. Sometimes you need guidance. Luckily, there are options to access meditation, from YouTube videos to apps and instructors. Find one that feels right for you, keep an open mind, and give it a try. Remember life is not so much about the action, but our reaction to it that determines the outcome.

The Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine on Sunset provides lots of places to mediate.

 

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