Meditation To Calm The Mind

According to the Mayo Clinic, less than 3% of Americans meet the qualifications of living a “healthy lifestyle.” For many, stress is a key factor in derailing the best intentions to live healthily. Our nation is stressed due to violence in schools, the workplace, and houses of worship. Escalating rates of depression and suicide, uncertainty about healthcare, catastrophic weather, work burnout and discrimination are also key factors of our stressed population.

Stress is certainly an epidemic, particularly for 25-35 year olds, according to Nan-Kirsten Forte, MS, Chief of The Well at Everyday Health. Americans reported feeling stress, anger and worry at the highest levels in a decade, according to the survey, part of an annual Gallup poll of more than 150,000 people around the world. About 55 percent of American adults said they had experienced stress during “a lot of the day” prior, compared with just 35 percent globally. Americans are the most stressed people in the world.

I’ve long asked, “why manage something when you can prevent it?” How? The link is what you think! As William James observed, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” Let’s face it, a wandering, stressed out, anxious, sleep-deprived mind is not a happy, healthy mind.

Enter meditation.

A percentage of people practice meditation while many others are still unsure how to begin a mindful practice.

Many people use meditation for:

o Anxiety reduction
o Stress management
o Adding fule to their fitness regimens
o Adding to the quality and health of their lives
o Improving their mental health

There’s just nothing like untying those knotted rubber bands in your brain and feeling the “Ahhhhh” that enables clearer living.

Paul Dolan observed, “Your happiness is determined by how you allocate your attention. What you attend to drives your behavior and it determines your happiness. Attention is the glue that holds your life together. The scarcity of attentional resources means that you must consider how you can make and facilitate better decisions about what to pay attention to and in what ways.

When we become aware of our thoughts (“I’m so stupid”),feelings (“I’m so sad, anxious, scared, angry”), behaviors (“Why am I always so aggressive, withdrawn?”), and physiological changes (“I feel like I’m breathing way too fast), we benefit mightily, internally and externally, in our health and daily lives.

When we practice meditation we:

o Gain stability in our thinking
o Have the ability to control what we focus on
o Have greater self-awareness
o Respond instead of reacting to everyday situations – choosing thoughtfully.

From “mindfulness” to “Vispassana” to Transcendental Meditation to Kundalini, Guided Visualization, Qi Gong and Zazen, the key is self-care, lovingly feeding the spirit, the mind and the body.

Dr. Sara Lazar, Neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, noted, “We found long-term meditators have an increased amount of gray matter in the insular and sensory regions, the auditory and sensory cortex. Which makes sense. When you’re mindful, you’re paying attention to your breathing, to sounds, to the present moment experience, and shutting cognition down.”

So how can we begin a practice of meditating, not medicating? Forget the robes, incense and Buddha statue. Just find a quiet and comfortable spot where you can relax. Relax while sitting, standing, even walking or exercising, it doesn’t matter.

We start with a STOP. Meditation is “not doing,” unlike most of our activities that are “doing.” We all need time to stop, breathe, gain some perspective on ourselves and on our lives, but especially on our thoughts.

Steps to begin mediation:

• Step back for five to ten minutes of from the whirlwind around us and be as present focused as possible. Be restful and quietly observe your mind in the present, free of judgment and any criticism.

• Take a breath, in fact, be aware during your meditative moments of your breaths by thinking “in” as your breath goes in and “out” as your breath goes out. It’ll help keep you focused on the present. Some suggest “imbalanced breathing” in which we evenly and deeply breath into a count of, let’s say 3 or 4 and then exhale to a count of 6 or 8.

• Observe your thoughts, what words are going through your mind and ask yourself if what you are thinking is true and helpful to you. See yourself in your most comfortable, relaxing place. Enjoy it fully. See the details, colors, imagine the smells, experience your feelings, and savor the peacefulness that surrounds you.

• Perspective will follow and perhaps propel you to find another, more accurate way, of looking at the situation(s) you were negatively ruminating about. Perhaps you are seeing things as you want them to be, not predicting, but experiencing success in the present.

• Stopping and focusing on blissful quiet and stillness for a while daily, is what meditation is all about. No prescription, no insurance, no visit to your local ER. Just a quiet place.

• Lifting weights? Running? Warming up before a workout? Spinning or working out on a Total Gym? Who says you can’t do some awareness meditation while these activities are going on? You can.

Pay complete attention to your muscular contraction and relaxation. Pay attention to your breathing and bodily sensations. Feel the rhythm of your movement without judging. Tune in to your body fully with a scan from head to toe and recognize that as much as you listen to your body, your body is listening to your mind. Exercise is a perfect time to practice the art and science of mindful meditation.

Dr. Michael Mantell

Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D. has been providing psychological and coaching services for nearly 5 decades and continues to empower positive change among his global clients to enhance life in every way. He is a highly sought-after healthcare professional coach, an executive and team building consultant, and a longtime specialist in cognitive behavioral coaching.

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