Meditation for Beginners

Five years ago, the word meditation would not have crossed my lips, not because I thought negatively of it, more that I felt it had nothing to do with me.  Meditation to me was a silent monk, sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop...surely he and I had nothing in common.  Certainly, he felt wonderful and contemplated great things - but I imagine he didn't have to make sure the dog was walked and the dishes cleaned before he raced out the door for work.  It wasn't until I began taking yoga that I was introduced to a much more approachable side of meditation, and felt the physical benefits that I now crave.  

One significant effect I have experienced both professionally and personally is in managing anxiety - a very common issue among anyone breathing today. So common, in fact, many would not even recognize that their level of anxiety might not be healthy. A racing heartbeat, muscle tension, excessive worry, and difficulty sleeping are all possible symptoms of anxiety (there are many, many more).  In therapy, a client and therapist can discuss a multitude of topics concerning anxiety, often getting to the root of the problem and, hopefully, coming to a resolution of the excessive worry.  But what many clients are looking for is help for the everyday symptoms in the meantime.  

The idea of meditation can be daunting.  Sitting perfectly still and clearing the mind for an extended period of time isn't exactly a natural state for people today.  Even I believed that meditating on my own was too difficult.  But then, I had an "a-ha" moment,  my very wise yoga teacher at Black Swan Yoga here in Austin said, "The simplest form of meditation is conscious breathing." Breathing!  Even I can do that!

But "conscious breathing" is very different from the mindless in-and-out breathing we do all day, so the question becomes how to "consciously breathe", really?  A very straightforward way to conscious breathing is through counting. This is something that can be done in 2 minutes, while sitting at your desk, riding the elevator, or walking to your car.  Take an inhale as you slowly count, 1-2-3-4, pause, then exhale as you count 1-2-3-4.  Repeat this pattern for several breaths.  Even better is to inhale to such an extent that you feel your lungs stretch - bet you don't inhale like that all day long!  Slowing and deepening your breath helps to relieve anxiety, making you feel more grounded and calm.  Focusing on your inhale and exhale also distracts your mind, if you are counting, then you aren't worrying.

Another excellent way to try out meditation is through the guided meditation apps that are available for download, (search in your App store for "guided meditation"). These apps offer short (ranging from about 5 to 20 minutes) guided meditations that walk you through relaxing your body and focusing on your breathing, all you have to do is listen.  You also have the options of music or nature sounds to accompany the voice that guides you.  After only a few minutes, you will feel calmer and more focused, and much more able to continue with whatever it is you have to do that day.

The reason I talk about these simple forms of meditation here, and why I encourage my clients to use them in my therapy practice, is because in our anxiety and stress filled lives, taking a moment to calm ourselves is more important than you may think.  When you are stressed, your brain releases a hormone called cortisol into your body.  Chronic stress, and subsequent prolonged cortisol in the body, has been shown to cause high blood pressure, trouble with concentration, suppressed immunity, and many other physiological changes.  Chronic stress has even been attributed to a shortened life span.  So while we can't avoid worry entirely, managing anxiety and stress is an important aspect of everyday health.  How's that "I don't have time" excuse sounding now??

I hope this information proves useful, and also, I am curious as to what other paths to simple meditation are out there?  What works for you??

Take care of your selves, and happy meditating!