Everyone has stress in his or her lives and there are many ways to deal with stress. There are two different ideas to combat stress, inward activity and action oriented activity. Today, I’m focusing on the inward activity, meditation.
Meditation was once thought of as a practice associated with yogis or hippies. Not so much today. Today meditation is becoming mainstream. It is being used in the military to address combat fatigue and PTSD, in the NFL to help players enhance their focus and concentration, and in corporate America to increase collaboration, communications and productivity.
There are science-based reasons to start meditating today as synthesized in the work of Emma Seppala Ph.D. Here are a few she mentions:
- It can increase health and happiness by increasing positive emotions and life satisfaction, boosting the immune system, and decreasing pain and inflammation.
- It can boost social connections by improving empathy and compassion and increasing resilience in hard times.
- It can enhance brain function by increasing cortical thickness, especially in the areas related to introspection and attention; increasing grey matter in the areas that effect memory and thought, and brain volume that effects positive emotions, emotional regulation and self-control.
- It can beat the blues by reducing anxiety, stress and depression.
So now you’re thinking, “Okay, I’m interested! But, I’m not sure I have the time or even know how to start.” If this is true for you, I’ve included some easy steps to help you get started.
Steps to Starting a Meditation Practice
Step 1: Start slow. Take 5 minutes to just sit and check in with your body. For example, start by focusing on your breath.
Step 2: Close your eyes. BTW, you do not have to sit on the floor with your legs crossed. You can sit in a chair. Be sure your feet are comfortably flat on the floor, your back is straight and relaxed, your shoulder dropped down (not tight to your ears and head), and your head aligned with your spine and resting easily. Your arms can be resting on the arms of a chair, in your lap or on your thighs.
Step 3: With your eyes still closed, notice if any part of your body is tense. If it is, inhale slowly and deeply. On your exhale, imagine that you are sending your breath to the tight area with the intention of letting go of the tightness and any thoughts that are distracting you. If you have more than one area that feels tense, focus on each area one at a time until you start to feel your tightness dissolving.
TIP: Be sure to expand your breath down into your abdomen. This might take practice if you automatically breathe only in your chest. If you do, on your inhalation practice expanding your breath down from chest into your abdomen to facilitate taking a deeper fuller breathe. It may help to put one hand on your abdomen to feel your abdomen expand and contract as you breath in and out.
Step 4: Once you start feeling relaxed, on your next breath inhale to the count of 7, hold your breath for a count 7, and exhale to a count 7. Continue focusing on your breath and this pace for the rest of your meditation practice.
TIP: If your mind wonders and you start focusing on your thoughts, do not attach yourself to your thoughts or judge your behavior. Just notice the chatter as thoughts and bring your focus back to your breath. Stay in the moment of just being aware of your breath and let your thoughts pass through your mind. Overtime, this practice will help you replace your excessive thinking, worrying, recapping, etc. with a more relaxed state of being.
The best times to meditate are upon rising to set your day in a more relaxed state, in the evening to unwind from a busy day, or any time you feel stressed. By taking a few minutes to check in with your body and breathing, you are resetting your stress level and training your body to have a healthier relationship to stress provoking situations.
I hope you will start your meditation practice today and set aside a few minutes and give yourself a gift. Your body, mind and spirit will all thank you, not to mention, your family, friends, and co-workers.
Dr. Steven Trauben is the founder of King Street Chiropractic Wellness Center, a pain relief and wellness center located in Alexandria, Virginia. He has been practicing just outside Washington DC for over twenty years now. The nationally known and well sought-out 8 Weeks to Wellness® program allows you to experience optimal wellness through chiropractic care, exercise, massage, nutrition & meditation. If you’re interested in speaking with Dr. Trauben, you can call (703) 578-1900 to schedule an appointment or you can go online www.kingstreetwellness.com.