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Reduce Stress and Improve Your Mental Health: Meditate!

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Reduce Stress and Improve Your Mental Health: Meditate!
First in our series on Meditation

I think many of us hear the word "meditation" and think of groovy flower children sitting in a circle kind of spaced out, but actually, I recently tried simple mindfulness mediation and felt the benefits immediately-- no patouille required. 

How I Got Over Myself and Started Loving Meditation

There are so many kinds of mediation -- meditating on sounds, on smells, or on a particular pose -- but I was attracted to "mindfulness of breathing" because I wasn't sleeping well, found it difficult to relax and almost never sat down. Friends would talk about the shows they were streaming and I could only repeat "Oh, I haven't seen that" because I found it so hard to stop doing things and relax enough to watch a television show. When a friend recommended breathing techniques as a way of slowing down and literally, taking a breath, I listened. 

Turns out breathing meditation is an ancient practice, taught by the Buddha and many others from India to China. It's a great starting point for meditation because it's simple and requires no equipment or training. 

You Already Know How to Breathe

There's nothing to it-- you've been breathing your whole life! -- so just create a little space for yourself to get going. 

  1. Get comfortable: It doesn't matter if you choose to sit or stand, the only requirement is that you're comfortable so you won't be distracted. 
  2. Start by counting: close your eyes and inhale and exhale, counting each one until you reach six. Then start again. So, inhale 1, exhale 2, inhale 3, etc. 
  3. After a few counts of 6, you can try other counting methods. I prefer a 4-4-4 count breathing exercise where I inhale for a count of 4, hold it for a count of 4 and then exhale for a count of 4. There are also options that don't involve counting like alternate nostril breathing (breath through one nostril and then the other) or just focussing on your breathing and being aware of the breath entering your body and then leaving your body. 

It's OK if It's Not Perfect

Even simple breathing takes practice. I use a counting method because I find the counting helps me from being distracted, but the truth is, your mind will wonder. There's always a lawn mower or the sound of a train passing. It's OK-- the experts say when your mind wanders, you should acknowledge that you're no longer focussed on your breathing and then, slowly, bring your attention back to your breath. 

Feel Better / Live Better with Meditation

So why bother? Well, for me, it trained my mind to find and maintain calm without feeling restless or worry that I wasn't getting things done. Meditation of any kind can reduce your blood pressure and help relieve stress, reducing anxiety and possibly even minimizing inflammation. Studies show it can also improve memory loss and will help prevent "aging brain," or the natural loss of gray matter. Mostly, meditation increases your ability to concentrate and for me, it improved my sleeping and helped me find compassion and peace of mind. No small feat!

Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; hate less, love more; and all good things are yours.

--a Swedish proverb 

Breathing is Just the Beginning

Breathing is the basis of most types of meditation, so if you find yourself wondering about other forms such as walking meditation, sound or object meditation, etc., you've already mastered the first step: Breathe. 

We'll explore other types of meditation in future posts.  For now, what have you got to lose? Breathe in. . .  

Source: Just Breathe: Meditation Made Simple, Publications International, Ltd., 2021.