Meditation. Many ideas and opinions exist about this ancient, mind altering, self-healing practice. It is often dismissed as that “new age stuff,” or “that mystical stuff from the East (that you read about in Eat Pray Love).”
In common parlance it may also be known as “hocus pocus.” This was the attitude of one our meditation group members, when she first decided to attend a group. She was not going to fall for it, but because she didn’t want to say no to her therapist, she came anyway. Much to her surprise it worked! Much like the 10 million Americans who meditate regularly, she came to recognize and value the benefits of this stress-relieving practice.
One of the things this group member has learned is that meditation can be practiced in a variety of ways. It does not necessarily involve sitting in a cross-legged position for hours on end, observing your breath in hopes of fleetingly experiencing that “aha” moment. Even 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation a day can make a difference. Moreover, there are also other, more active, techniques such as candle concentration, walking meditation, energy work, and guided visualizations.
This year, in our meditation series, we learned and practiced many such techniques. You get a lot of “bang for your buck” (by practicing these techniques) as one group member is fond of saying. While that may sound like crass commercialization of an ancient mystical practice, in my mind it does not reduce the value of meditation at all. All it means is that we can learn to use these techniques in a way that can be incorporated into our daily lives, and by doing so we can gain unique skills that do not require a large amount of time to practice. The regular use of meditation techniques can not only help in reducing anxiety and improving mood, but also reduce the negative effects that stress has on the body. Beyond stress reduction, multiple positive effects have been documented such as enhanced immune functioning, increased alertness, greater creativity, and enhanced empathy.