In recognition of May as National Meditation Month, what could be better than adding a simple practice of meditation to the other things you do to improve your physical and mental health?
Meditation has both physical and mental benefits that have been clearly documented by medical research. Lower blood pressure, better sleep, reductions in headache frequency and severity, decreased anxiety, improved digestion and an increase in a sense of general well-being, among other things, are all outcomes of a regular practice of mediation.
One of the best features of mediation is its efficiency. You will not need equipment or reading material. You will not be required to take out a monthly or annual membership. You will not have to travel anywhere. In fact, you will not have to leave the house. What else can promise such excellent benefits at no cost to you at all?
Meditation is essentially a process of being quiet and still. A common approach to it involves paying relaxed attention to something that you are doing every second of every day anyway – breathing. Here’s how to start:
Sit on a comfortable cushion or chair in a favored place in your home. Place your hands on your abdomen just below your rib cage. When you inhale, make sure that your abdomen expands against your hands. Do this again and again, and each time you exhale, let your whole body go limp like a rag doll. Over time, begin to slow the process down.
Meditation is best learned by taking time each day to be quiet and still so that the breathing technique can be practiced in a deliberate way. Easy music can be part of the mix. And you do not have to invest a lot of time to benefit significantly. Ten or fifteen minutes is all that is needed to begin. No need for any other major changes at all.
Meditation is also a relative act, meaning that you can be “quieter and stiller” if being truly settled does not come easily. The main idea is just to slow things down. So, while some might sit in a comfortable chair in a favored room, others may do better strolling around the neighborhood or the park.
With practice, the quieter mental states set the tone for the rest of the day, promoting beneficial effects without our even being aware of it.
To increase your peace, add the following:
Get active. Being shut in leads to feeling shut down, and even minor depression makes everything look gray. An easy walk in the park or just around the neighborhood gets blood flowing to the brain and burns off stress. It is usually brighter outside than in, and light has a stimulating effect on brain functioning. A regular practice of walking can also provide something to look forward to.
Turn off the news. It is abundantly clear that bad news sells, and it is addictive. Our imaginative brains respond to things happening to others as if those things are happening to us, with unhappy results. There is nothing to be done about most of what is broadcast anyway, leading to feelings of alienation and helplessness about the world. Why borrow additional trouble?
Be positive. Before getting out of bed in the morning, affirm the day with statements such as, “This is going to be a good day and I am looking forward to what it will bring,” and then smile. Our brains respond to these with the release of chemicals associated with feeling good. We may not be able to control the world, but we can manipulate our brains.
Count your blessings. There are often more than we think. Stress naturally causes the brain to focus on potential threats and to expect the worst. It becomes easy, then, to lose sight of what is good. The list should include all assets, tangible resources that can be counted on in the short run to help get by until circumstances improve, and the intangibles, such as friends and loved ones who share the journey and make it worthwhile.
Start your peacefulness practice this month and reap the benefits for many months to come. There is no easier way to improve your life.
Mark C. Brown, Ph.D. is a psychologist and author of Live Like A Window, Work Like A Mirror: Enlightenment and the Practice of Eternity Consciousness.