In last month’s blog, we learned all about aromatherapy and Ayurvedic massage, two complementary therapies that use healing essential oils for relaxation and rejuvenation. This month, I will de-mystify meditation, another holistic practice that quickly leads to a relaxed body and a calm mind: the two essential ingredients for a restful night’s sleep.
What is meditation?
Meditation is often thought of as a practice where one sits down with the eyes closed for the purpose of focusing and calming the mind, for attaining inner peace and equanimity. It is that…and much more.
Meditation today has become a mainstream practice widely used in complementary medicine to reduce the effects of stress in the modern day lifestyle. Though meditation is an essential part of many religions, such as Buddhism, the practice itself is not religion. It does not require a belief in any higher power or specific doctrine. It simply requires observing your thoughts.
According to Sarah McLean, former education director for Deepak Chopra, all meditation starts with mindfulness: giving your full attention, your concentration, to any one object. That object could be anything detected by the five senses: the sight of a candle flame, the sound of a flute, the feel of a warm touch, the smell of a cinnamon roll, or the taste of chocolate. Anything you do with full awareness could be called a meditation, as long as that activity is free from other distractions to the mind. For some, playing a musical instrument, gardening, or taking an introspective walk in the mountains is a meditative experience.
Meditation refers to a number of practices, both modern and ancient, which calm the body-mind and train the brain to become more focused and less susceptible to emotional upset. When the mind is fully absorbed in meditation, worries and hurries disappear. Some of the most common types of meditation include breath awareness, guided visualization, mindfulness, chanting (mantra), musical meditation, and moving meditations such as yoga and tai chi.
Breath awareness: the easiest meditation
Perhaps the easiest way to meditate is to focus the attention on the breath; simply watching the breath rise and fall like the ocean waves.
Try this calming breath meditation now, in 3 easy steps:
1. Find a quiet space, place one hand over the heart and take three long deep breaths, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth.
2. Feel the coolness of the in-breath as you listen to the sound of the air rushing in.
3. Feel the warmth of the out-breath as you listen to the sound of the air going out.
Repeat 9 times.
Optional Affirmation: With every inhale, repeat to yourself mentally, “I am breathing in peacefulness,” and with every exhale, “I am breathing out calm.”
Meditation Tips: Set a sacred space if possible, free of distractions. This time is for peacefulness. This time is for you. Remember to sit up straight, whether in a chair or on the floor, maintain alertness, and enhance the flow of energy (prana) in the body.
Thoughts will inevitably drift in and out of the mind, but that’s normal. If you find yourself thinking about the future or the past, just return to focusing your awareness on the breath.
Meditation increases awareness (consciousness). It allows us to observe where our minds go when they’re free from distractions. Some of us tend to dwell in the past, some of us prefer to worry about the future, and others can’t stop themselves from having imaginary conversations or arguments that will likely never happen.
Observing these thoughts, watching them come and go like clouds in the sky, is the first step to releasing them.
Meditation Q & A
When is the best time to meditate?
Morning and evening coincide with the body’s natural rhythms and are the best times for meditation.
Start with at least 10 minutes twice a day (15-30 minutes is ideal). For beginners, I recommend the breath awareness meditation outlined in this blog. It is a powerful tool that combines conscious breathing with positive affirmation.
The beneficial effects of meditation accumulate with time. It’s better to spend 10 minutes meditating every day, than for an hour once a week.
People are drawn to meditation for many different reasons. Some begin meditating because of a doctor’s recommendation to lower stress and anxiety. Others use meditation to seek relief from fearful, angry, or painful thoughts that constantly flood their minds. Still others come to it as a spiritual path, using prayerful meditation as a tool for greater self-understanding and a deeper connection with spirit.
The physical benefits of meditation include lower blood pressure, lower stress hormone levels, a boost in the immune system, and relief from anxiety. Meditation can also be an essential tool for a better night’s sleep. When the mind is quiet, sleep comes naturally at its own time. In a 1996 study reported in The American Journal of Medicine, 91% of chronic insomnia patients were able to reduce or eliminate their sleeping pill use by turning to meditation instead of medication.
Recommended by celebrities from Oprah Winfrey to Ellen DeGeneres to Deepak Chopra, meditation helps us break through harmful old thought patterns so we can live in the present, free from anxiety about the past or concerns about the future. Start meditating today and get a more restful night’s sleep. Feel more peaceful, calm, creative and connected.
Dr. Harrison Graves, M.D., FACEP is our expert in holistic medicine, specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, or insomnia. He is heavily influenced by Ayurveda, the holistic medicine of India, and believes that many illnesses, especially those that are anxiety related, can be prevented with Ayurveda, lifestyle changes, and yoga. In his articles for the BoomSpot, the blog of the online store theBoomShop.com, Dr. Graves provides insight on alternative methods of maintaining physical and mental wellbeing. You can learn more by visiting his website, asktheholisticmd.com.