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Meditation 101


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To Americans, meditation can seem like a religious practice that started in ancient India and takes years to perfect. In reality, meditation is merely the practice of concentrating the mind for a period of time on one object or thing.  It is not about religion, or incense, or even a particular way of meditating.

Meditation is easy to learn and simple to do.

There are no barriers to starting.

It has been found that people who meditate regularly have the following benefits:

  • Decreased anxiety and depression. 
  • Lower levels of chronic pain and sleeplessness.
  • Benefits in the body such as a boost to the disease fighting immune system, lower blood pressure and a lower heart rate. 
  • A decrease in the part of the brain that evidences stress.
  • An NIH group found that regular meditation can also help regulate cholesterol levels in the body, reduce substance abuse, increase longevity, and enhance quality of life.
  • People who meditate also report that they experience more enjoyment and appreciation of life.

There are a variety of ways to meditate.

  • You can meditate on your own or with the use of an app or under the guidance of a trained therapist or other qualified health professional.
  • The basic practice of meditation is to sit quietly while focusing the mind on a single object such as a word or an event such as breathing. Meditation can also be active. For instance, meditation includes "walking meditation" as well as an exercise such as Yoga.The Zen masters say the key to meditation is to just do it. Do not worry about the result or whether you are doing it "right". To start:
    • Decide whether to start with sitting meditation or a walking meditation.
    • Follow the guidelines to the best of your ability. 
    • Consider starting just a few minutes at a time - say five or ten minutes. Then build up the amount of time you meditate to 20 or 30 minutes a day.
    • Try meditating several times a day, even if only for 5 or 10 minutes 
    • Don't let mind chatter, restlessness or noise keep you from meditating. There are ways to overcome these and other barriers. Experience shows that it gets easier is you meditate regularly.

Alternatively, consider guided meditation - a person guides you through the meditation. Popular apps include the following (in alphabetical order)::

  • Buddhify offsite link: brings meditation to your daily activities (for a fee)
  • Calm offsite link: free to start, then pay. Calm has a guided meditation program that tracks your progress.  There are also unguided sessions that combine scenes of nature with restful music.
  • Headspace offsite link: free to start, then, pay Headspace bills itself as a personal trainer for your mind.
  • Insight Timer offsite link  has more than 3,000 guided meditations, music tracks, talks and courses. A community function allows you to see who else is meditating when you are. There is also a way to log the sime you spend meditating.
  • Kara offsite link for people with cancer. Free. A collaboration of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Cancer Center Integrative Oncology Department and Mindfulness Everwhere, the U.K. based company that created buddhify.
  • Mindfulness Daily offsite link
  • Omvana offsite link  - a clearinghouse for meditations (some are free, some are pay)

Free meditation podcasts include:

Meditation classes are also available throughout the country. So are meditation retreats that can last from a weekend to up to two weeks. Search on "meditation retreat" plus the name of your local area.

To learn more, see:

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