Meditation. True, the word sounds lofty, enigmatic, and perhaps even esoteric. However, the ideas behind meditation don’t need to be ambiguous nor are they all that mysterious. At it’s core, meditation is a way to deepen your breathing, clear your mind and reinvigorate your mood. It is a very practical, worthwhile exercise with a variety of proven health benefits.
Think about it this way, among the fuel our bodies need to operate at their most efficient, oxygen is chief among them. You can function for days without food and water – but without breathing, not so much. Every single cell in your body takes in fresh oxygen as a way to rejuvenate itself upon each breath you take. When we’re stressed, overworked and fatigued we take shallow, quick breaths and our adrenaline rushes to supply as much oxygen as our bodies can gather. In addition to wearing us out faster, our oxygen supply runs shorter and our stress grows higher, our muscles grow tense and our minds function less and less effectively. Taking long, deliberate breaths creates better oxygenated blood and, in turn, reduces that stress and clears our minds and gives our body a great advantage over its previous state. This is simple biochemistry. At it’s simplest, this is what the practice of meditation does for us.
While there are many ways to meditate, centering oneself can take on a variety of forms that spring from a number of different religious or philosophical systems. However, meditation can be as simple as setting aside time to measure your breathing, to pay attention to your body, to slowly inhale and focus you mind and exhale as you let go of stress and weariness.
Try this simple exercise to start your meditation experiments and see how they work for you. It takes only five minutes and it can drastically change your physical and mental well-being immediately.
- Sit comfortably but attentively. Find a place where you can sit comfortably, with back straight and spine aligned but where you can also be aware of yourself enough that you can stay focused. This can be in a chair, on the floor, at your desk, in your car, wherever is best at the moment.
- Bring attention to your body. Spend a minute noticing the tension in your neck, shoulders, arms, chest, and legs. Imagine, for a moment, each muscle loosening and letting go of all the pent up energy and worry and allow your body to relax.
- Count your breathing. A simple breathing exercise to begin with is known as Triangular Breathing. Inhale deeply for a count of 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds, then exhale for 4 seconds. When first beginning, try sustaining this practice for no more than 2 or 3 minutes. Try to focus your mind on nothing more than the literal counting of those seconds of breathing, thinking to yourself, “Inhale….2….3….4….hold….2…3…4….exhale…2..3…4”. Naming your breathing in this way helps to keep your mind focused and from wandering on the stressful things going on around you.
- Bring attention to your surroundings. Once your breathing exercises are complete, after 3 or so minutes, then slowly bring your breathing back to normal. You may notice that you don’t return to your previous shallow breathing but you, in fact, settle in to a new, deeper pattern that shows your body to be more relaxed and focused. Slowly bring your awareness back to your surroundings and then you’re ready to go.
This simple breathing technique is one of the most basic forms of meditation and it is a wonderful way to begin letting go of the stress and tension in your life. Experiment. See how well it works for you. The health benefits are indisputable and what better way to help your mind and your body by giving it what it needs most!
Mayo Clinic article on meditation