JANUARY

Meditation

School Happenings...

 

Definition

Meditation refers to a practice undertaken in order to create a sense of  calm.  Different types of meditation exist but techniques typically involve a focus on the present moment, breath by breath, toward the ultimate goal of achieving a deep state of relaxation.  

 

Meditation is believed to work by reducing activity in the sympathetic nervous system (which mobilizes the body for action) and increasing activity in the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for slowing heart rate and breathing, increasing digestive juices and improving blood flow).

 

 

Some Facts

  • The practice of meditation is an ancient one.  Archeologists have found evidence of meditation practices in wall art from 5,000 to 3,500 BCE. 
  • A meditation practice might involve repeating a word or phrase (known as a mantra), visualization, mindfulness, movement,  or  loving-kindness, just to name a few popular forms.  There is no right or wrong way to mediate.  
  • Meditation is the second most popular “mind-body” practice in the United States, right after yoga, and it continues to grow in popularity as people discover its many health benefits.  
  • The benefits of a regular meditation practice are thought to include the following: reduced stress and anxiety, decreased blood pressure, improved sleep, better pain management, an increased attention span.
  • A regular meditation practice may also reduce age-related memory loss.  A study from Beth Israel found regular mediation appeared to slow neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. 
  • Other studies point to an increase in gray matter within the brain, and particularly in the areas associated with emotional regulation.
  • Although one does not need to use anything in order to mediate and while there are many free guided meditations available, the meditation market in the United States is currently valued at $1.21 billion.

 

 

Common Misconceptions

It takes a long time to learn to meditate, and years to master it.

Meditation is about freeing one’s mind of internal chatter by gently pushing thoughts away in order to become present.  Do that for five minutes and you are meditating. However, as with most activities, the more you practice, the deeper and longer your meditative state will become (and the more helpful you may find it).

You have to sit in an uncomfortable, difficult yoga position to meditate.

 It’s best to keep your spine straight during meditation to allow for easy natural breathing, but there is no single posture you need to adopt. It can be done seated in a chair or while moving or exercising. 

You have to chant to meditate.

 While different forms of meditation can include chanting, it is not essential. Chanting or repeating an affirmation (such as “I am at peace”) either aloud or silently is just one tool that may help you keep stray thoughts at bay.  If you’re more visual, gazing at an image or candle flame may help you reach a meditative state.  Or you can opt for none of the above and simply breathe.

Some people just can’t meditate.

People who are easily distracted, nervous or simply very busy may not be as naturally inclined toward meditation, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t consider giving it a try. They might find a moving meditation more natural, becoming focused and centered as they hike or swim, for instance. With patience and practice, anyone can meditate.

Meditation is a religious practice.

Although meditation is associated with certain religions and cultures, it is not a religion.  It is simply a set of techniques which are used to help quiet the mind.  Meditation is less about faith and more about achieving a sense of calm and centeredness.

 

Exploring Mediation

If you’re ready to explore meditation, a variety of avenues are available. There are many books,  DVDs, CDs and apps available to help.  Free guided meditations can be found on YouTube, Insight Timer, Calm, and Smiling Mind.   Or just  try the following:

  •  Sit up straight and comfortably in a quiet place. Light a candle or play soft music if you like to enhance the ambiance and deflect distractions.
  •  Begin to become aware of your breathing. Focus on the sensations of your inhalations and exhalations.
  •  If it appeals to you recite a mantra/affirmation, or gaze at the candle or image. Experiment to discover what suits you best.
  • When stray thoughts occur, try to “move” them aside gently, acknowledging that you can come back to them at a later time. Many people find themselves frustrated by such thoughts at first. With that in mind, try to maintain an open attitude towards these distractions—don’t judge or yourself for having them!

Start slow and increase your time.  While five minutes of meditation can bring benefits, try to devote 10 – 15 minutes to your practice.