By Kelsey Casselbury 2017-12-30 11:45:26
»»» Mindful meditation can relieve your stress, calm your worries and maybe even lower your blood pressure—so why haven’t you tried it yet? When you head to the gym or lace up your sneakers to go for a jog, you’re training your body to become stronger and healthier—but what about your mind? It needs training, too, and that’s what meditation is meant to do. It coaches your brain to shake off the cobwebs, clear out extraneous worries and think more clearly. Meditation isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. There isn’t one right way to meditate. There aren’t any rules that say you must meditate in a certain place at a certain time for a certain reason. The most important facet of meditation is that you’re doing it on your terms and that you feel comfortable with the practice. As easy as meditation sounds—after all, you’re just sitting quietly, for heaven’s sake—the practice can be particularly challenging. In a go-go-go society, it’s hard to slow down for even a few minutes to simply sit, breathe and focus. You’ll be rewarded if you stick with it and learn to make it a recurring activity—just check out some of the many benefits that meditating provides listed on page 54. All you need to do is start slow and release your expectations of what meditation should be—all that matters is what it is to you. FOCUS ON THE FUNDAMENTALS One of the most common questions about meditation is how to start. It’s surprisingly simple. Let’s focus right now on mindful meditation, a type that doesn’t require going to a specific place or being with a particular person. (See more types of meditation on page 55.) Here’s how to begin: Start your day with meditation Think you’ll schedule this on a break or sometime after work? It’s more likely that the afternoon and evening will get away from you. Before you know it, it’s 10 p.m., you’re exhausted and ready to go right to bed. You resolve to do better tomorrow. Don’t trust your good intentions alone. Post a note somewhere that you will see first thing in the morning, such as on the bathroom mirror or the closet door. When you see that reminder, it’s time to take a just a few moments to sit and be still. Power off the electronics. Turn off or at least mute the morning news shows on the television—do the same with the radio. Silence your phone and remove your Apple Watch or Fitbit so you aren’t distracted by the vibration or ping of an incoming notification. Sit for two minutes. That’s it. Just sit. It can be on a chair, on a cushion or just on the floor. Your legs can be crossed, straight or bowed. Your eyes can be closed or open (provided you’re not sneaking peeks at the news scroll on the muted television). All you need to do is sit for two minutes. Do this for just two minutes a day for one full week. If you can manage that, add another two minutes for the next seven days. After a few weeks, you’ll have worked your way up to 10 minutes of meditation every day—but don’t focus on that right now. Just sit. Set a timer. Eventually, you won’t need it. But during those first few days or weeks, when two minutes feels like an eternity, there may be a temptation to keep checking how much time has elapsed. Knowing that a timer will sound at the conclusion of your meditation time allows you to rid your mind of that particular consuming thought. Don’t get hung up on “clearing your mind.” Too many people start to meditate and give up because their minds keep wandering—but that’s normal! It will take practice to stay focused. When your mind strays, simply readjust and try again. (It doesn’t mean you have to start the timer again—it’s okay to have to refocus a dozen times in 120 seconds when you’re a meditation newbie.) FIND YOUR FOCUS Try to tether your thoughts to one thing—this is how you will calm the monkey mind. Maybe it’s a concept that you will either expand on (“I am going to have a good day. I’m not going to be rattled by the unexpected. I’m going to roll with the punches. I’m going to focus on the kids we serve. I’m grateful for this job, my family, my home.”) or simply repeat as a mantra (“It’s going to be a good day. Life is good. It’s going to be a good day. Life is good.”). Maybe it’s a verse or chant from a religious text that resonates with you. Keep it simple. While you’re supposed to be using meditation to take a short break from electronic devices, there are some highly rated, free smartphone apps that can help guide you through short meditations. You might want to adopt one that provides nature sounds or opt for music. Count your breaths. It’s time to turn your attention to the air flowing in and out of your body. Count “one” mentally as you inhale through your nose and focus on the air traveling down your body into your lungs, filling them and your abdomen. Count “two” as you push the air back out. Repeat counting your breaths until your reach “10,” and then start back at one. Notice what’s around you. After about a week or so of focusing on counting your breath, you’re ready to refocus your attention. On the first day, focus on the light surrounding you. Don’t look at it, necessarily, just stare at one spot and recognize where the light is coming from. The next day, concentrate on hearing the sounds of what’s around you. On another day, direct your attention to the energy in the room, including both light and sound. Combine meditation with yoga. Doing yoga asanas (i.e. poses) just before or after you meditate can add another layer of relaxation to the experience. It might be just a few simple poses, such as Child’s Pose or a full flowing Sun Salutation, or it might be a full session that gets your body and mind primed for a closing meditation. Attention to the breath is at the heart of both meditation and yoga. You can assign a series of poses to the concept or words that you choose to meditate upon. For example, perhaps you have a flow of yoga poses synced to the Lord’s Prayer or a favorite poem or song lyric. Staying focused on those words, with movement timed to the rhythm of the verse and coordinating your breath is a highly meditative practice! Find a community. At some point, you might feel the need to share your experience with someone. Perhaps you will benefit from a guided meditation from a leader and the soothing energy of a roomful of people all following that person’s instruction. To identify the right group for you, check local Meetup opportunities online, as well as classes at a local community center or church. Even in certain suburban and rural areas, you might be able to find a Zen or Tibetan community near you. You can even sign up for a meditation retreat! If nothing else, you can find meditation support through online communities. FIND YOUR ZEN Here’s the thing about meditating—there really aren’t any rules (well, unless, you’re into transcendental meditation—see the description on page 55). To reap the benefits of meditation, whether it’s calming your mind, taking a few moments to zone out or trying to relieve symptoms of anxiety, it’s important to do what you find most soothing. That might be sitting for just those two minutes a day, or it might be traveling to another continent for a blissful meditation retreat. It’s your Zen—live it how you choose. DID YOU KNOW? The word “meditate,” comes from the Latin meditari, which means to think about or consider. The root of the word, med, means “to take appropriate measures.” BACKED BY SCIENCE Meditation benefits your physical health, as well as your mental health. Research suggests that it can reduce blood pressure, lessen the symptoms of anxiety and depression and help with insomnia. Studies have also shown that it improves your concentration and focus. A 2015 study even found that the brains of long-term meditators remain better preserved than non-meditators—that is, they had more grey matter as they aged, meaning their cognitive skills held up better through the years. TYPES OF MEDITATION Think of meditation as yoga for the mind—and just as there are so many types of yoga (Kripalu, Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga and Iyengar to name a few), there are multiple forms of meditation that can accomplish different goals. The precise number of meditation types varies, depending on whom you ask—some say there are up to 23 types! Those that you might see more often follow: FOCUSED MEDITATION The gist: You concentrate on one thing, using any one of the five senses—for example, staring at a candle flame, listening to the often-overlooked sounds around you or focusing on the feel of beads between your fingers. The goal: Stop your mind from wandering and focus on just one sensation. Who should try it: Those who need to improve focus and concentration in their daily life. MANTRA MEDITATION The gist: Originating from Hindu and Buddhist traditions, mantra meditation uses a repetitive sound to clear the mind. Think: “Ohm.” The mantra can be whatever you desire, however, such as an inspirational phrase. The goal: To focus on the mantra and experience a deeper level of awareness of your environment. Who should try it: People who are uncomfortable with silence and find solace in repetition. MINDFULNESS MEDITATION The gist: In this form of meditation, you just pay attention to your thoughts as they come to mind, without any judgment or action. Take notice if there are any patterns. Don’t try to “solve” problems, plan or engage in self-debate. Just take note. During the act of meditation, focus on an object or your breath. The goal: To become aware of what is going on in your mind and body, moment by moment. Who should try it: Those who don’t have a teacher guiding them through meditation. This form is easily practiced alone. MOVEMENT MEDITATION The gist: An active form of meditation, in which the movement guides your body and your thoughts. It could be yoga, or it could be walking, gardening, kayaking or qigong, a series of gentle movements. The goal: To release the body’s physical tension and improve blood circulation while using the mind for spiritual exploration. Who should try it: Those who find peace in movement. SPIRITUAL MEDITATION The gist: Similar to praying, spiritual meditation asks that you reflect on the silence around you. Essentials oils, such as myrrh, sandalwood, sage and cedar, are often used in conjunction with the meditation practice. The goal: Finding a deeper connect with your God or the universe. Who should try it: Those seeking spiritual growth. TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION The gist: Similar to mantra meditation, this variety uses a series of Sanskrit words—which are assigned to the individual practitioner, based on a number of factors, such as birth date—that helps the person focus. The goal: Allowing meditation to become an effortless procedure and achieving a sense of relaxed awareness. Who should try it: Those who like structure and rules. THE MEDITATION POSTURE Experts recommend sitting during meditation, whether in a chair, on a bench or perched on a cushion. If you lie down, you might get a little too drowsy to concentrate on your practice. Stand up, and the activity might distract you (that is, unless you’re mindfully practicing active meditation, such as a yoga flow). No matter where you sit, position yourself like this: Keep your back straight and your chest and shoulders high and back. Try to elongate your spine. Not only does this keep you alert during your meditation, but it allows your breath to flow in and out of your body without obstacles. Place your hands where they feel most comfortable. A good option is resting them on your legs, palm down. Position your legs how you want—the typical meditation posture is illustrated with crossed legs, but it’s not necessary if that’s uncomfortable. (That pretzel twist pose is known as the Full Lotus in yoga—but don’t feel pressured to contort yourself into that position.) Sitting in a chair is perfectly acceptable. Tuck in your chin ever so slightly, and let your jaw go a little slack—there shouldn’t be any tension there. Press your tongue to the top of your mouth, which not only opens up your breathing, but slows down the distracting habit of swallowing. If you want to keep your eyes open, relax your gaze somewhere about 2 to 4 feet ahead of you. If you don’t want to keep your eyes open, by all means, close them. Kelsey Casselbury is a contributing editor for School Nutrition. She is based in Odenton, Md.
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