TO YOUR HEALTH

Breathe in … Breathe out

Bonita & Estero Magazine - - DEPARTMENTS - BY GINA BIR CH Gina Birch is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor and a well­known South­west Florida me­dia per­son­al­ity.

Stress. Every­one suf­fers from it at some point in life. Pro­longed stress takes a toll on the body, caus­ing emo­tional and phys­i­cal dis­or­ders that can lead to anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion, heart at­tacks and au­toim­mune dis­ease, to name a few.

When physi­cians of­fer up their menu of ser vices to re­duce stress and im­prove well­ness, med­i­ta­tion is al­most al­ways listed. Spir­i­tual lead­ers and coun­selors also pre­scribe med­i­ta­tion as a method of seek­ing clar­ity, find­ing an­swers within and let­ting go of things you can’t con­trol or that don’t serve your needs.

The pro­fes­sion­als make it sound so easy, like fill­ing a pre­scrip­tion: “one dose of med­i­ta­tion daily.” But learn­ing to quiet the mind doesn’t come easy for most peo­ple liv­ing in a world full of ex­ter­nal stim­u­la­tion, and nei­ther does know­ing where to start.

Med­i­ta­tion can be ac­tive or pas­sive, ac­cord­ing to Dr. Me­linea Hol­man, owner of the Cen­ter for Health and Heal­ing in Fort My­ers. “Pas­sive can be when you are driv­ing home and don’t re­mem­ber get­ting there. You’re just go­ing through the mo­tions, your mind is slow­ing down.” Ac­tive med­i­ta­tion “is when you sit, cen­ter and be­come ac­tively aware that you are slow­ing ev­ery­thing down.”

Yoga is a type of med­i­ta­tion. It re­quires you to be aware of your body and breath­ing, let­ting go of other thoughts so you can prop­erly ex­e­cute poses.

Med­i­ta­tion starts with be­ing mind­ful, ac­cord­ing to Mary Robin­son, a psy­chother­a­pist and found­ing board mem­ber of the Caloosa­hatchee Mind­ful­ness Cen­ter in Fort My­ers. “Mind­ful­ness is be­ing aware and present in our mo­ment-to-mo­ment ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Robin­son. “We have a mind that chat­ters all of the time,” she con­tin­ues. “If some­one was be­side us talk­ing to us all the time like our mind, we would call the po­lice to lock them up.”

So­cial worker Anne Louise Kracmer is a mind­ful­ness fa­cil­i­ta­tor. She ad­vises, “If you think you are not good at med­i­ta­tion, well, who is? Just start where you are. It helps us to get out of our sto­ries, the drama we cre­ate.”

Dur­ing the ses­sions she leads, par­tic­i­pants may sit in si­lence, or they may do walk­ing med­i­ta­tion, con­cen­trat­ing on their steps and feel­ing the foot as it hits the ground from heel to toe. This sim­ple ex­er­cise clears thoughts. Self-help au­thor Wayne Dyer’s book, Get­ting

in the Gap, of­fers easy-to-fol­low guid­ance for find­ing the gap or space be­tween thoughts, where your mind is quiet and void of chat­ter. The book comes with an in­struc­tional CD, but you can also find the au­dio on­line. In fact, the In­ter­net is full of guided med­i­ta­tions.

While some skew to­ward spe­cific spir­i­tual or re­li­gious philoso­phies, the foun­da­tion is the same—slow­ing down and qui­et­ing your mind. Bud­dhists are renowned for us­ing med­i­ta­tion to seek en­light­en­ment. They use a num­ber of tech­niques that are widely em­braced by non-Bud­dhists as well.

“There are all kinds of tra­di­tions that you can bring your own roots to,” Robin­son says. “You

Learn­ing to quiet the mind doesn’t come easy for most peo­ple liv­ing in a world full of ex­ter­nal stim­u­la­tion, and nei­ther does know­ing where to start.

don’t have to give up or change any be­liefs be­cause you are adding med­i­ta­tion.”

While guided med­i­ta­tions can of­fer a jump-start to the dis­ci­pline, some peo­ple are dis­tracted by the nar­ra­tion. If you pre­fer to go it alone, med­i­ta­tion can be as sim­ple as sit­ting still and lis­ten­ing to your breath­ing, re­gard­less of where you are. Robin­son says, “Find even five min­utes and just pay at­ten­tion to your breath be­cause it’s some­thing that is al­ways with you.”

Hol­man ad­vises in the Bud­dhist tra­di­tion, “Take a deep breath and fo­cus on the nose open­ing up, the breath com­ing down the throat, open­ing up the chest, into the belly and then there is a hook at the end that is a quiet zone where you can med­i­tate in. Or you can just con­cen­trate on let­ting the breath out.”

Med­i­ta­tion can also help with suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of tasks, and the prac­tice is used by many ath­letes be­fore com­pet­ing. Take a few deep, re­lax­ing breaths to clear your mind and then fo­cus on one thing, such as see­ing the golf ball go into the cup dur­ing a putt, hit­ting the high note in your solo or any num­ber of other goals.

Re­search shows the ben­e­fits of med­i­ta­tion to be vast, in­clud­ing im­prove­ments in brain func­tion, im­mune sys­tem, blood pres­sure, de­ci­sion-mak­ing, fo­cus and over­all well-be­ing. While it won’t solve all of your prob­lems, reg­u­lar prac­tice can help you deal with them more ef­fec­tively.

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