Om, Sweet Om
How to harness the soothing power of meditation
MY MIND IS CONSTANTLY RACING. From the moment I
wake up in the morning until my head hits the pillow at night, I'm
thinking, planning, strategizing and, unfortunately, stressing over
the many aspects of life I want to control to perfection.
Recently a perceptive friend suggested I try meditating. "It'll
help you let go," she said.
I laughed. Out loud. Me? Carve out time each day to clear my
mind … to think about nothing? Now there's a
Meditate Not Medicate
Admittedly, I've been curious about meditation and its reported
power to heal ever since my cardiologist recommended it as one of
several lifestyle behaviors that could help manage my high blood
pressure. (A National Institutes of Health study showed that the
age-old practice reduces blockage in blood vessels, significantly
lowering the risk of heart attack or stroke.) What's more, a simple
Google search turned up articles crediting meditation with
everything from improved intelligence and work performance to
decreased medical costs and reversal of the aging process.
According to the National Center for Complementary and
Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), numerous studies are under way to
determine whether meditation affords meaningful health benefits.
But in truth, humans have been meditating for thousands of years as
a way to improve well-being. Some say it got its start with
primitive hunter-gatherers who calmed themselves while staring into
crackling fires, but the earliest records of meditative techniques
date to Hindu scriptures written 5,000 years ago.
Pick Your Practice
People talk about many different forms of meditation, but NCCAM
singles out two types: concentrative and mindfulness.
In its simplest form, concentrative meditation
centers on rhythmic breathing-slow, deep and even. In and out. As
you absorb yourself in the repetition of inhaling and exhaling, you
clear your mind of all thoughts, reaching a point of calm and
enhanced clarity. Those who practice this Hinduism-based type of
meditation also "concentrate" on sounds ("om") or objects such as a
flickering candle flame. The highly practiced and studied
Transcendental Meditation falls into this category.
Mindfulness meditation, rooted in Buddhism,
involves focusing your mind on the thoughts and actions you're
experiencing-without judgment. You're taught to be in the moment,
to listen to the chatter in your mind, the sound of your footsteps.
But it teaches you not to be critical. Mindfulness meditation can
be done anywhere, while doing anything.
Practicing and benefiting from meditation shouldn't be
complicated and don't require a commitment to a certain approach or
technique. Just keep a few things in mind, recommends NCCAM:
Choose a quiet spot. You don't need a room with
statues and incense. But attempting to meditate in the family room
while the kids are playing their video games probably won't work if
you're a beginner. Look for a place with minimal distractions where
you can concentrate.
Pick your posture. You don't have to twist yourself
into a lotus pretzel. Sit comfortably, stand or lie down if you'd
like. Just don't get so comfortable that you fall asleep. As you
perfect your practice, you may even be able to meditate while
Find your focus. Breathing is a good place to
start. Inhale deeply and slowly from the abdomen rather than your
chest. Some meditators choose a word or phrase (known as a mantra)
as their focal point. Others choose an object. This helps bring
your mind back to a single point when it starts drift off.
Be positive. Don't let distractions or wandering
thoughts get in your way. You'll have them. Just let them pass and
Practice Makes Perfect
Experts recommend devoting 20 minutes a day to your practice.
I've taken baby steps in that direction, spending 10 minutes each
evening before bed in my quiet space. There, I keep a tiny ceramic
ladybug given to me by my daughter. It's my focal point and a
reminder of why it's good to quiet the mind. During those 10
minutes, I let go. And though I haven't slowed down by day or
totally eliminated stress, I do seem to sleep easier and wake up in
the morning feeling more refreshed. Try it. -By Beth