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In an increasingly anxiety-provoking world, with accelerated technological change, a pandemic that sparked fears, losses, and isolation, a war in Ukraine, a volatile stock market, and horrific news of mass shootings and climate-related catastrophes, it is more important than ever to cultivate tools that allay tension and create calm.
I recommend to my patients that they include meditation as part of their lifestyle, and advise my family and friends to do the same. Devoting five minutes every day to mindfulness meditation can be a game-changer. There are lots of books and apps you can research for guidance. But the following are the bare-bone basics. Mindfulness meditation consists of four primary elements.
Find a comfortable chair in a quiet space. Sit upright, feel the floor beneath your feet, and lay your hands on your lap.
Begin to breathe. Air should fill your abdomen so that your belly begins to protude. As you take the air in, feel it rise up into your chest and broaden your ribs. Hold the breath for a second and exhale in reverse fashion, with your chest and then your abdomen releasing air. Wait a few seconds and then repeat. Try this a few times, breathing slowly and consciously.
Start at the top of your head. Relax your forehead around your eyes, face, and mouth. Roll your neck gently, relax your shoulders, and release the tension in your arms. Stretch your fingers and relax. Come back to your back and chest. Move your focus down to your stomach, buttocks, hips, thighs, knees, and feet. Stretch and flex your ankles and toes. Survey your whole body to see if any tense spots remain. Breathe into those spots. Your breath has become a tool of relaxation.
Focus on your nose and breath as the air comes in and out at a typical pace. Don’t worry if your concentration wanders. Just keep bringing your mind back to your breathing. You will notice that you will continue to get more and more relaxed. At first, try this for one minute. Gradually, with practice, work up to three and then five minutes. When you are finished, gently roll your neck and stretch your hands and the muscles of your face by making funny faces. Wait a moment, breathe deeply, and you’re done.
After following these steps, you are likely to feel very relaxed, with your mind cleared, an effect that can last from a few minutes to much longer. If you do this brief exercise regularly, the relaxation effects will stay with you for longer periods. You will have trained your mind and body to live in a mindful and relaxed state. Your understanding of how to use your breath to achieve a sense of relief will empower you to stay calm, keep a positive perspective, and be more resilient.
If you practice meditation regularly, you may achieve a moment when your attention is totally absorbed by breathing. Your breathing will become very slow and deep. A soft smile might break across your lips. You’ll enter a very peaceful state known as a “meditative moment.” This may only last a few moments but can be quite profound. You won’t forget it. I point this out so that you’ll know when you’ve entered a moment of “transcendental meditation.” If you frequently meditate or join a group, you will probably enter this state more frequently, or for longer. But, for now, the basic steps above are an excellent beginning.
As someone who has meditated for decades, studied with renowned teachers, and seen patients incorporate meditation into treatment for anxiety, depression, ADD, and other behavioral health challenges, I firmly believe that anyone will benefit from practicing mindfulness meditation. While we can’t always prevent stressful situations, we can affect how we respond to them. Taking the time to stop and focus on our breath quiets our minds and connects us to our inner selves. It allows us to see ourselves, others, and, very often, the beauty of the world with clearer, more appreciative eyes.