Slowing your body down and quieting your mind with meditation or prayer time has many healthy benefits for you, only one of them being stress reduction.
When you hear the word “meditation”, what do you think of?
Ha, that is a trick question…you are not supposed to be thinking about anything when you are meditating, right?
Well, if you are like most people that are unfamiliar with meditation, the word might conjure up images of monks in far away monasteries, sitting cross-legged for hours and chanting “ohm” over and over again. And maybe none of this appeals to you.
But let me share with you just some of the benefits of meditation and tell me if any of these appeal to you:
Benefits of Meditation
- More Relaxation and Calming of the entire Nervous System
- Production of endorphins and other beneficial brain chemicals
- Accelerated brain function
- Increased memory, comprehension, and learning capability
- Increased energy, power, focus, and clarity
- Enhanced creativity and greater intuition
- Increased productivity, discipline, and willpower
- Reduced feelings of anxiety, fear, sadness, and depression
- Lowered stress levels and feeling more effective when dealing with stressful situations
- Improved self-image
- Greater sense of well-being
- Decreased resting heart rate and lowered blood pressure
- Deeper, fuller breathing and more efficient oxygen utilization
- Better sleep and resting, and less need for sleep
- Slowing of the aging process
- Improved function of the immune system
Do any of these benefits sound like something you would like more of in your life?
All of these benefits from sitting and seemingly doing nothing. Well, of course it is not nothing. You are actually doing something when you are meditating. You are simply giving yourself time to slow down, to calm down. You are shifting your brain wave patterns from Beta, which is your alert, waking state to Alpha, which is a state of more focused relaxation. Alpha brain waves are associated with recharging and rejuvenating the mind and body so you feel more alert, more clear and more rested. There are deeper meditation practices that can bring you into the Theta and even Delta brain wave states, but these are more advanced techniques and ones that require much more time and effort than what we are going to discuss here.
If you are new to meditation, this process is the perfect place to start. Even if you are an experienced meditator, this process will help you focus your mind on relaxation and healing even more. All you have to do is invest 5-10 minutes of your day to bring you more peace and calm, more mental clarity, more physical health and more emotional flexibility.
First you must start by calming and relaxing yourself with some focused breathing. The breath is an easy access point for changing your mental and physical state. Shallow breathing is associated with a higher stress state, also called the Fight-or-Flight state, which we have discussed before.
This chronic stress response leaves you breathing quickly and shallowly, which decreases your oxygen intake, elevates your heart rate and increases your blood pressure. It also tightens your muscles, impairs your digestion and interferes with your sleep patterns.
But there are no Saber toothed tigers around you now so you will use this Diaphragmatic Breathing Technique to relax your mind and your body.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a technique that can be done anywhere at anytime to calm and relax yourself. Your diaphragm is the muscle that is found along the bottom of your rib cage and it forms the bottom floor that your lungs rest upon. When your diaphragm contracts, it helps to expand your lungs, bringing more oxygen into your system – you breathe in. When it relaxes, your lungs collapse and it pushes the air out of your lungs – you breathe out. Breathing diaphragmatically brings more air in and forces more air out than when you are breathing normally. Using this breathing method will help generate more feelings of calm, relaxed energy.
Some helpful tips for you to follow when beginning this process are:
- Find a space where you can be alone for this time, where you won’t be interrupted.
- Turn off all phones and anything else that might interrupt you – this is your time to relax and slow down.
- Find a comfortable chair to sit in. There is no hard and fast rule that says you have to be sitting cross-legged in the lotus position to meditate effectively. Sitting cross-legged often becomes painful for some people and then the meditation time becomes an exercise in overcoming pain rather than a practice in relaxing your mind and body. You can lie down, but not if you just fall asleep.
Begin by placing your feet flat on the ground and your hands resting comfortably in your lap.
Gently close your eyes and bring yourself into a nice, erect posture. It doesn’t have to be ram-rod straight. Just gently lift your chest upward, roll your shoulders slightly down and back so your lungs are open and free.
Feel your body as it is supported in the chair.
Feel your feet on the ground.
Feel the back of your legs being supported by the seat of your chair.
Feel your spine being supported by the back of your chair.
And feel your hands resting in your lap.
Now place your hands on your belly and feel your belly move in and out.
If you don’t feel it moving in and out it means you are breathing too shallowly.
Take a deep breath in through your nose and allow your belly to move out. (Breathe in)
Blow all that air out and feel your belly moving inward towards your spine. (Breathe out)
You don’t have to force the breath here. Just focus on taking deep breaths that move your belly and get your diaphragm engaged.
Take a deep inhale, slowly and smoothly all the way to the top of your inhale.
Bring as much air as you can in through your nose. Keep going. You can probably go a lot further than you think.
Hold your breath gently on the top of the inhale. (Hold)
Now let all that air out through your mouth and use your diaphragm to let as much of the air out as you can.
You don’t have to force anything. Just follow all of your breath out. It too can go a lot further than you think.
Hold your breath gently at the end of the exhale. (Hold)
To summarize, a full cycle of a diaphragmatic breath includes:
- a full inhale, deep through your nose to the count of 4
- holding it at the top of the inhale for the count of 4
- a full exhale through your mouth to the count of 4
- holding the exhale at the bottom for the count of 4
Then you simply repeat this 4-step process as often as necessary to feel calm and relaxed. Start your diaphragmatic breathing practice with 10 breaths at a time and see how you feel. This will only take you a few minutes but it will allow you to feel more peaceful and more energized in this short time.
Once you have calmed and relaxed your mind and your body with this Diaphragmatic Breathing Technique, then you can do some guided visualization to continue your meditation practice for a few more minutes. Guided visualizations are best to start with because it gives your mind something to focus on, something “to do” while meditating. This is much, much easier for beginners than going right into advanced practices of following the breath with your mind or actually stopping thought altogether. Just like anything else in life, going right into more advanced techniques often leaves you feeling unsuccessful, like it is too difficult for you so you stop doing anything at all. Start with small steps and the more you strengthen your meditation muscle, the more advanced you can get later on.
There are many guided visualization recordings available to you. Find one that has music you like and a voice that you enjoy listening to. I have written and produced guided visualizations that lead you through progressive body relaxation and other healing processes. Explore what suits your needs and likes.
When you have finished your meditation or when your guided visualization recording is over, it is always a good practice to ease yourself back into reality. Jumping right out the chair to get your errands done or to get on the road somewhere can be unsettling and will undo the effects you just created in this meditation time. Slowly open your eyes, take a few more deep breaths, gently move and stretch your body to get your circulation going again. Then you can go about your day. You will notice your day going much more smoothly and you will enjoy it even more.
*Exerpted from the Being Well Lifestyles Home Study Course by Dr. Jay Warren.
Drawing on over two decades of experience as a hands-on holistic practitioner, Dr. Jay Warren is a primary healthcare provider and licensed chiropractor in the San Diego area. He has spent tens of thousands of clinical hours helping his patients achieve their optimal health potential through holistic approaches bolstered by years of personal experimentation, education and research. Dr. Jay creates customized plans integrating exercise, nutrition and stress management strategies to overcome a myriad of health challenges. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.DrJayWarren.com.