Being a creative, high-strung sort, meditation is something that I have always thought was for others. I have set up little alters with flowers and feathers and incense and a pretty pillow to sit on, purple or deep red being preferable, and tried to call forth a still mind. If anyone was watching I probably looked serene enough while I was planning dinner or wondering if the cost of this little scene could be tax-deductible as a medical expense.
Really, for those who actually know how to do this it should be. As a nutritionist and health educator, I know the benefits of meditation. Research on meditation and stress have shown that meditation can counter the effects of stress and offers many positive results such as:
- Enhances the body’s immune system
- Helps reduce the risk of heart disease
- Offers an increased ability to relax
- Reduction in pain levels and an enhanced ability to cope with pain
- Greater energy and enthusiasm
- Improved self-esteem
- An ability to cope more effectively with both short (acute) and long-term (chronic) stress
In a recent Harvard study, a meditation group spent an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, a large part of that being meditation. The analysis of magnetic resonance (MR) images that focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased brain gray-matter density in the hippocampus, part of the limbic system and known to be vital for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, introspection and compassion. With the graying of America and the increasing risk of Alzheimer’s disease, this memory-enhancing fact becomes increasingly important.
As the senior author of this study, Sara Lazar, summed up: “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”
Now that you understand the benefits and want to give it a go, where to begin? There are many variations in meditation practices and you could certainly take a class or do your own research. Personally, now that I just completed another trip around the sun, all those studies and books I have read have finally kicked in or more likely than not, I was just simply ready. For classically trained, my reductionist form of meditation may seem like cheating. All I know is that when I stopped paying attention to how I’m supposed to meditate and figured out what works for me, it all came together. I can now find that gap between thoughts where I wish I could stay longer and as time goes by, I probably will. It’s the nothingness that everyone’s been talking about that calms and soothes.
As a very visual person, I lie in bed in the morning or before bed at night or both (alters didn’t work for me and neither did sitting straight) and imagine a light breeze around me that gently moves all thoughts away. I hear and almost feel this imaginary breeze and no longer hear my own thoughts. The breeze moves all thoughts away and leaves me in the center, this very peaceful place. I can now even do this while walking my dog by the creek. As I walk, my thoughts are moved away. I feel a little like the Red Sea, but whatever, it works for me.
If you are not currently meditating I encourage you to begin. Find what works for you. Once you find the gap, you’ll be thankful you didn’t give up. Your body and mind will thank you.