September is Self-Care Month and North Hill Fitness Manager Linda Riley has some tips for good self-care!
Anyone can learn to meditate, says Linda Riley, fitness manager at North Hill, but it takes time and practice. Here’s why it’s a good idea develop a practice of meditation with a few suggestions for how to begin.
What is meditation? Meditation is an exercise of the mind that helps to focus and re-direct thoughts toward the goal of inner peace, detached from things and judgment.
There are a few different forms of meditation, but whichever one you choose, practice will result in improvements in emotional and physical health. Lower blood pressure, reduced anxiety, deep relaxation and lower heart rate are just a few of the benefits a meditation practitioner can enjoy. By training our minds the way we train our bodies, we can re-direct activity in our brains with positive results.
How does meditation improve health? “Studies have shown that brain signaling increases in the left side of the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for positive emotions, while activity decreases in the right side, responsible for negative emotions,” says Ronnie Newman, director of research and health promotion for the Art of Living Foundation and meditation expert.
Meditation also triggers the “relaxation response,” a term coined by Harvard researcher Herbert Benson in the 1970’s. It is “an opposite, involuntary response that causes a reduction in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.” Benefits of the relaxation response include:
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved blood circulation
- Lower heart rate
- Less perspiration
- Slower respiratory rate
- Less anxiety
- Lower blood cortisol levels – cortisol is that nasty stress hormone
- Feelings of well-being
- Less Stress
- Deeper relaxation
- Increased ability to concentrate
What are the kinds of meditation I can try? The two most common forms of mediation are Concentration Meditation and Mindfulness Meditation. Concentration Meditation involves focusing the mind on a single point: it could be a sound, a mantra, a burning candle or anything that can re-direct the mind from wandering. Mindfulness Meditation employs a different tactic: noticing, thoughts that wander through the mind, and then dismissing them without involvement or judgment.
Walking, triggers a kind of automatic meditation, while exercise like tai chi helps still the mind
How should I begin?
- Find a comfortable spot where you can sit or lie down
- Close your eyes: use a cool mask if that feels good
- Choose a mantra or a spot to focus; a repetitive sound will work
- Breathe naturally
- Focus on your breath, feel it move through your chest and rib cage, up, down. up down
- If thoughts intrude, notice them and let them go, focus back on your breath
- Keep breathing
Begin for just a few minutes at a time until you’re up to 20 minutes a day. You’ll soon begin to notice the benefits to mind and body and here’s a bonus: some research suggests that meditation even slows aging by preserving cognition!
So, sit down, close your eyes and begin – you’re already breathing in the air of self-care!