Meditating for Better Health (by an Unlikely Meditator)

Carie ShermanBy Carie Sherman

My best girlfriends like to play a little game with me. Well, more like “at” me.

“We” first played a few years ago, while everyone was visiting me for a long weekend.

Here’s how they play: They decide it’s time to play (without informing me, of course). Whenever there’s a lull in the conversation, they purposely stop talking. They exchange glances, then sit, wait, and count.

Why? Because they know I’ll break the silence. I find it impossible to sit in quiet. I compulsively seek chatter.

Many laughs have ensued at my expense. They’re well-deserved.

So, no one will be more surprised than them to find that I have a new habit. And it’s all about me…being quiet.

And I think you should adopt this habit, too.

Finding Better Health through Meditation

As humans, we’re conditioned to experience stress. Evolutionarily speaking, it’s what kept us from getting eaten by saber-tooth tigers. Those days may be long gone, but our bodies are still wired for stress.

Most of us begin our days like this: We burst into action as soon as we hear the starting gun (aka, the alarm). We race and race and race until our day is done, and we collapse into bed wondering where the hell the day went and why our bodies hurt.

Most of us are chronically stressed. It makes our stomach hurt, our blood pressure sky-rocket, and our energy tumble. (And that’s how stress impacts “healthy” people.)

The Basics of Meditation
Meditation is an ancient practice that can positively impact health. There are many types, like mantra meditation, relaxation response, mindfulness meditation, and Zen Buddhist meditation. Most types involve four elements: A quiet place, a comfortable posture, a focus of attention, and an open attitude.

Meditation and Chronic Pain
One of my biggest fears in life is that my health issues are “all in my head.” So my worst fears have been realized, as research has shown that pain originates in our brains. It’s not a condition; it’s a perception. But it doesn’t make pain less real. Psychotherapist Eric Garland was quoted in the May/June issue of Spirituality and Health magazine as saying, “The whole idea of pain being in your head is ridiculous, because anything that’s in your mind is in your brain, and anything that’s in your brain is in your body.”

Garland goes on to say that patients need to think of the mind as a powerful tool in controlling chronic pain, citing meditation as a component of treatment.

What Meditation Can Do For You

So What’s Your Excuse?
You don’t have time. BS. Unless you’re an ER nurse on an 18-hour shift who literally can’t find time to use the restroom, you can find a few minutes in your day that are just for you. Try this: Set the timer on your phone for 45 seconds, then close your eyes. Breathe in for 7 seconds, breathe out for 7 seconds. Congrats–you just meditated.

I can’t stop my mind from racing. This is correct! But it’s not an excuse. In fact, it’s exactly why you should practice meditation. First, note I said “practice.” It’s a skill that you develop over time. Second, your mind will be filled with thoughts. All you’re trying to do through meditation is let those thoughts flow without getting caught up in them. You don’t need to follow every thought down the rabbit hole.

It’s not for everyone. Do you breathe? Yes? Then it’s for you. Breathing is both voluntary and involuntary. Mostly, we breathe without thinking. When we consciously breathe, we can improve our immediate situation (there’s a reason we say “take a deep breath” before you face a challenge) as well as long-term situations.

I’m not a stinky hippie. Of course you’re not and neither am I. You don’t have to follow Phish or wear Birkenstocks or smell like patchouli to reap the benefits of meditation. It’s a practice that executives, celebrities and professional athletes also embrace.

I can’t sit like that (in reference to the position my daughter calls “criss cross applesauce”). Then don’t. You can still get the benefits of meditation sitting in a chair or lying down. Sometimes, I go for a “mindful” walk, where I focus my energy on the present moment (i.e., what I’m hearing, what I’m seeing, what emotions I’m experiencing, where I feel my emotions in my body, etc.).

Try It, You’ll Like It
Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Try a quick 3-step brain hack for happiness, specially designed for the skeptic.
  • Visit meditationoasis.com. Check out the free podcasts for guided meditations on a variety of topics ranging from “work breaks” and “creativity” to “pain” and “grief.” I use their app daily, and it’s helped me realize this: I spent 36 years desperately trying to NOT feel any emotion other than happiness. Humans are meant to experience our emotions.
  • Download an app. I’ve tried Headspace, which is narrated by a fabulous Brit who walks you through the process.

Chronic pain is no joke. I started meditating daily about six months ago–and I can vouch for its positive effects. I don’t have a special routine and I try different methods. But I am consistently quiet a few times a day. If I can do it, anyone can (just ask my dang friends!).

The evidence is there. Isn’t it worth a shot?

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