A different way to look at meditation

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Have you wanted to meditate but been too scared to try? Do people keep talking about how great it is, and even though you believe them, you just can’t get yourself to do the whole cross-legged, “OM”-ing thing?
Well, you’re not alone. A lot of people feel intimidated by meditation. But they also realize that they need to find some peace in their busy stimulation-filled lives.
So how do you overcome the meditation intimidation hurdle? One way is to change the way you look at it. Instead of meditation, you can call it silence. Or stillness.
You can start by taking a few minutes to sit in silence with no other expectations or pressure for results. Just practice periods of silence or stillness; and see what happens.
You will find that over time, these moments will help you reduce stress, relieve anxiety and feel more energetic.
Studies have shown that many conditions that are caused or worsened by stress can be improved through a practice of silence or stillness. "The relaxation response [from meditation] helps decrease metabolism, lowers blood pressure, and improves heart rate, breathing, and brain waves," says cardiologist Herbert Benson, the founder of the Mind/Body Institute at Harvard Medical School's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
In addition to the physical benefits, practicing moments of silence can also provide mental and emotional benefits.
Clearing your mind each day through a practice of silence can improve the way you see yourself and connect with other people. It can do this by: (1) putting you in a reflective rather than reactive mood; (2) helping you better understand what you want, where you’re going and what’s meaningful to you; and (3) giving you a greater sense of calm, clarity and empathy.
One way you can start practicing these moments of silence, is to follow the simple steps outlined below from Dr. Herbert Benson's book The Relaxation Response:
1. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
2. Close your eyes.
3. Deeply relax all your muscles, beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face. Keep them relaxed.
4. Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, say the word "one"* silently to yourself. For example, breathe in, and then out, and say "one", in and out, and repeat "one." Breathe easily and naturally.
5. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm. When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes opened. Do not stand up for a few minutes.
6. Do not worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of relaxation. Maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace. When distracting thoughts occur, try to ignore them by not dwelling upon them and return to repeating "one."
*Choose any soothing word, preferably with no meaning or association, in order to avoid stimulation of unnecessary thoughts.
If you’ve never tried these steps before, at first it might feel awkward and strained. But don’t give up. Try it for a few minutes at a time and don’t worry about whether you’re doing it right. Just remember, any amount of time spent in stillness or silence each day will positively impact the quality of your life and relationships.

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