The Basics of Meditation for Health
Because our family practice doctors in Delray Beach so often recommend meditation for stress relief, we thought those of you who aren’t familiar with the practice might appreciate a brief explanation of what it is and what it entails.
What is meditation?
Although various meditation traditions date back thousands of years and have been associated in one form or another with all the major religious and philosophical disciplines, these days in America it has come to mean any type of regimen that briefly redirects the mind from everyday concerns, thereby lowering stress levels.
There are many different ways to meditate (which we’ll discuss below), which means you should be able to find a type that is particularly suited to your needs and preferences.
What are the health benefits?
The health benefits are myriad, and they all stem from the stress relief produced by daily meditation.
- reduced stress
- lower blood pressure
- stronger immune system
- improved metabolic rate
- lower anxiety
- improved concentration and creativity
- decreased heart and respiration rates
- increased pain tolerance
- better sleep
It’s important to note that, even if your meditation periods are brief, they will provide sustained benefits throughout the day, as well as overtime.
As we’ve discussed here many times, chronic stress is a killer because over time it can damage every part of the body. And of course, we’ve all been experiencing higher-than-normal levels of anxiety due to the coronavirus.
So here is a brief introduction to meditation to get you started. If you want more information, thousands of books have been written on the subject, or you can easily find instruction and guidance online.
Types of meditation practices
There are almost as many types of meditation practices as there are stars in the sky. The most common types in this country are derived from various Asian disciplines, including yoga, tai chi, and Buddhism.
Some involve counting and/or watching the breath, others focus on a seed word or mantra that is repeated over and over. Some practitioners meditate on a flower, a candle flame, or a sound.
Those who have trouble sitting still for long periods of time may prefer a walking meditation, in which you concentrate intently on the slow movement of each foot along a path.
Mindfulness meditation is probably the most popular type. Similar to a walking meditation, you pay careful attention to any activity you’re doing, from washing your hands to eating, focusing fully on the feel of the water and the soap, or the taste and texture of your food.
If meditation seems right for you, you can explore these different types further. In the meantime, here is a simple method that you can try.
A basic meditation
First some tips:
- If you’re new to meditation, start slowly. Try it for two or three minutes, then build up to longer periods, between 20 minutes to an hour a day.
- Depending on your schedule, it’s perfectly fine to break up your meditation into several short segments throughout the day.
- Try to do it every day, and at the same time and place every day. This trains your mind and body to expect it, and allows you to more easily make the transition from daily life to a meditative state.
- The most important tip: Don’t judge yourself! Doing so will only add stress, and pull you out of your meditation. You’re not in competition either with your previous day’s meditation or with anyone else. As long as you’re making the effort, you are “doing it right.”
Sit comfortably, either cross-legged on the floor or in a chair. Do not lie down, because you’ll fall asleep. Keep your spine as straight as possible to allow for easy flow of the breath. Close your eyes.
Focus on your breath as it goes in and out of your body. If you want to count each breath, don’t go any higher than two, otherwise you’ll begin to focus on the number, bringing competitiveness into it (“yesterday was only 360; today I got all the way to 789!”).
Notice when your mind has wandered from the breath (because it will—known by practitioners as the “monkey mind”), and calmly return to your breathing. Don’t become angry or frustrated, just go back to watching your breath.
When the time you’ve allotted is up (yes, it’s fine to peek occasionally, or you can set an alarm), slowly open your eyes and notice how you feel. Stretch a bit and return to your day.
One final thought: The coronavirus pandemic has created abnormal stress for everyone. If you’re having trouble coping, please don’t hesitate to call our office to schedule a Telehealth visit with one of our doctors.