Often when we hear the word “meditation,” we may envision monks in robes, or the daunting silence of temples. We are intrigued, but assume meditating is too difficult to learn.
The reality is, meditation is accessible to anyone and everyone, while it can be a challenge to discipline our racing minds, meditation itself is a surprisingly simple practice. It is an incredible tool that can be used to train our minds to be more relaxed, but also more aware, leading to self-discipline, a sense of presence, and a more positive mood.
More commonly seen today due to the increased popularity of yoga, millions meditate every day, regardless of religion or background. Breathing is the link between yoga and meditation. Meditation is a process of training awareness, which results in a feeling of attentive calm. Meditation allows you to simply watch your thoughts, be present, and be aware in the moment. Rather than emptying your mind, meditation teaches you to fill your mind with the right kind of things.
You may be aware of meditation’s ability to provide a greater sense of calm, a reduction in anxiety, and an overall feeling of being more aware and in the moment. Harvard Health Publishing states, “Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange.” Deep breathing is known to slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize your blood pressure. According to the Mayo Clinic, meditation can also help in the management of the following conditions:
- Chronic pain
- Heart disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Tension headaches
For beginners, a basic practice is usually best.
- Take a comfortable seat.
- Make sure you are sitting straight. The spine is in alignment, with the top of the head pressing to the sky. Ears over shoulders. Chin parallel to the floor, slightly tucked in. (If this is not comfortable, simply lie down. Remember: anyone can have a meditation practice, so modify your position as much as you need to.)
- Pick a time. Start with 10 minutes. You can always increase your time if you desire. (Have a timer set so you aren’t concerned with checking the time.)
- For your allotted time, try to remain as still as possible. Ideally, your position will remain the same throughout your practice.
- Focus your awareness on your breath. Take full inhalations and full exhalations. Let your breath come in and go out naturally. Notice with a natural curiosity how this feels.
- Don’t get discouraged if the mind wanders. Because it will! As it does, and you find yourself tempted to follow a train of thought or to fidget, just bring your attention back to your breath.
You may need something a little different than the traditional sitting while focusing on your breathing, particularly if your mind is very active or stressed. There are many different styles, including but not limited to the following styles of meditation:
- Walking meditation. Being fully present while you are walking and letting any thoughts that arise (whether that be worries and concerns or distractions during the walk) simply pass, bringing your attention back to the walk itself – the feel and weight of each step and your breath as you move.
- Guided meditation. Typically led by a teacher via audio/video or in person, this is a method where a calm environment is described, and you are led through a series of experiences. This is a great style to begin with to learn to calm the mind and can be complemented by entering a period of silence after.
- Body scan meditation. A scan is done of your body by moving your awareness from toes to head, or vice versa, and focusing on and taking note of how each part feels. This fosters a sense of presence and a greater connection to your body.
- Metta meditation. Also called Loving Kindness meditation, this is the practice of sending well-wishes towards other people. It also allows us to cultivate love for ourselves.
The benefits of meditation are carried with you beyond just the time when you are seated in silence. The sense of calm doesn’t end when your timer goes off. You are building skills to manage your stress and increase your patience. In stressful situations, you are more likely to pause before reacting. You are also more likely to focus on the present, rather than worry about the past or project into the future, or at least be quicker to catch yourself when you find yourself doing so.
At the University Medical Center campus we have four beautiful meditation rooms located next to the Chapel, by Patient Registration. All rooms have velvet-lined benches and warm, low light. The rooms are quiet and serene and allow you to take a break in comfort.
Amanda Mitzel is an RN Performance Improvement Analyst at University Medical Center New Orleans. Amanda has been a regular meditator for three years. Please contact Amanda at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like any assistance in finding a meditation class or group.