Fresh ideas: Meditation can improve mental, physical health
Years ago friends and colleagues began to meditate. At the same time, in my professional journals and at conferences, I learned how psychologists were teaching meditation and mindfulness to their clients to help treat depression, anxiety and self-destructiveness.
I thought I should learn: seminars, retreats and several books later I declared myself a meditation-flunky. Nonetheless, I persevered for my clients, regularly suggesting they meditate and diligently teaching them mindfulness skills. It wasn’t until I found myself in a long stretch of painful emotions that I finally realized I needed to practice what I preach.
Meditation has its origins in Eastern religions; it has been practiced for thousands of years. There are different forms, but, basically meditation involves sitting quietly, with your eyes closed, slowly repeating a phrase or prayer over and over. Or, simply focusing on your breath as it flows in and out.
Typically, people begin practicing meditation much like I did: Looking for more emotional balance, to cope with illness, or to enhance overall health and well-being. Some people are searching for how to feel “more present” or “awakened” in life.
While it may sound too simple to be true, just 20 minutes of meditation a day is linked to dramatic improvements in emotional and physical health. With time, people who meditate daily report their senses becoming more aware, such as hearing birds singing in their backyard they had never noticed before or feeling more present when spending time with their spouse or children.
Brain scans are beginning to show that meditation improves brain functioning. Research indicates that those who practice meditation regularly heal quicker from illnesses and surgeries, improve concentration, and feel calmer and happier.
When our mind wanders during meditation (and, trust me, it will) we are instructed to merely notice the distraction, gently refocusing our attention back to our breath.
Judgmental thoughts such as “I suck at meditation!” are to be avoided because critical thoughts toward us and others lead to negative emotional states such as sadness and stress.
Simply noticing our thoughts, feelings and behaviors (and those of others), without judging, makes us more accepting. This non-judging stance leads to a peaceful mind, and, consequently, to positive emotions and a healthier body.
I read many articles like this before really giving meditation a chance. What I found is that much of what you read about meditation is true: it can become the calm in the storm of everyday life. To get started, check out http://www.dharma
zephyr.org for information about classes and groups in Carson City. There are books and videos widely available at bookstores and at our library.
• Lisa Keating, Ph.D., is a Carson City clinical psychologist.