Remember gazing at the clouds when you were a child? Meditation is a seated form of daydreaming. Do it daily to reduce stress.
Sitting still for an hour. Humming strange noises. Changing your religion. Ask most people what’s involved in meditation and the answer is likely to be any or all of these things. Actually, meditation is a simple way to quiet the mind and calm the body. Should be easy, right? Well, in our busy Western world, taking the time to sit quietly and breathe deeply seems to be an almost impossible task. Yet, study after study is proving that a meditation practice can help us to be less stressed, more focused and much healthier.
Consider the facts: Chronic stress is at the core of many of our modern ills. We’re working more, exercising less and not always making healthy food choices. Genetically, we have the bodies of our ancestors — built to deal with the occasional threat of a wild animal attack but not the ongoing, daily stress of deadlines and overdue bills. Unchecked, this chronic stress leads to a whole host of physical problems, such as muscle tension, elevated blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, blood sugar swings, lowered immunity, increased pain and more. Our minds are affected as well. Chronic stress makes it harder to concentrate or to remember, disturbs our sleep, increases our anxiety and self-doubt, and gets in the way of our enjoyment of life. A regular meditation practice can help by focusing the mind, quieting that mental “chatter,” reducing tension in the body and calming the breath.
Do you remember lying on the grass and gazing up at the clouds when you were a child? You just watched the world go by without judging whether your experience or thoughts were good or bad. Meditation is a seated form of daydreaming (or you could lie down). To begin, take a few moments to move and stretch your body, loosening up tight areas like the shoulders and lower back. Next, find a quiet area and a supportive chair. Sit with your feet planted firmly on the floor, hip-width apart, with the knees directly over the ankles. Sit up tall and let your hands lie gently in your lap. Close your eyes and start paying attention to your breath. Try saying to yourself, “I am breathing in” on the inhale and “I am breathing out” on the exhale. As thoughts come up (and they will), just notice them like the clouds passing by and return to your breathing. At first, try this for about five minutes. Remind yourself that this is a practice, and with practice comes progress. It won’t take long to notice that your breathing is deeper and more even, your heart rate has slowed and you feel calmer. You may not know it, but you have reduced your blood pressure and your body is no longer pumping out the same quantity of stress hormones. This practice is so simple you can do it almost anywhere and at almost any time.
— from the Cleveland Clinic’s yoga program manager, Judi Bar, and certified yoga instructor Sally Sherwin