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Categories: Advice, Happiness, Health, How to Be Happy
Are you feeling tense, overwhelmed and even a little miserable thanks to a variety of daily stresses? Consider trying meditation. According to Leonor Mowry, owner of Village Yoga in Toronto, even five minutes a day of meditation can improve your quality of life by allowing you to feel both calmer and more joyful. Keep reading for an introduction to meditation and an easy exercise for beginners.
Q: What is meditation?
A: It's really, really simple. It's a practice to cultivate inner stillness - and that's it. Physically, more often than not, most types of meditation suggest that you have a nice, long, elongated fully or unsupported spine with shoulders relaxed. So you're often cross-legged or in a lotus or half-lotus position. You're usually sitting, but there's also standing meditation and walking meditation and meditation in motion (yoga).
Q: How can practicing meditation improve someone's life?
A: If you think about the component of a human being, you've got mind, body and spirit - and meditation affects all of them. With the mind, it makes it calmer and relieves stress. With the body, it makes it healthier because the calmer you are, the less likely you are to overwork the adrenal glands and have high blood pressure, be susceptible to headaches and other pain. It just makes you overall healthier and makes your body function more effectively. And if you're looking at the spiritual side, meditating gives us a sense of connection with ourselves and the world around us. As such, we feel more joyful and like there's more purpose.
Q: I tend to think of meditation as being both clearing and calming. How and why does meditation relieve stress?
A: For many people, the mind is a busy, frenetic place. I hear people say all of the time that they can't get out of their heads, and that meditation wouldn't possibly work for them because they can't possibly slow their thoughts. But the reality is that the more frenetic your thoughts, the more you should try to slow them down. When the mind is really frenetic, more often than not it's occupied with the past or the future. To become truly calm and joyful, we need to be in the present moment - and that includes our thoughts. Meditation gets us out of this frenetic mental activity. Ideally, we go to a place beyond thoughts and are able to create more space in our heads and therefore our bodies. It gets us out of the negative habits of mind, like worrying, rushing, wanting and wondering, and puts us in the moment. And most of the time, there are no threats in the immediate moment. When we have the space that allows us to see that everything is OK right now, then we're calmer. But if the mind is constantly racing with worry, we can't gain a more clear perspective. Being in the present moment is the number one goal - if there is a goal - of every eastern philosophy; it's just pure present-moment awareness.
Q: Can you offer a simple meditation exercise for beginners?
A: I think the simplest thing with meditation is breath awareness - simply becoming aware of how the breath is moving in and out is a huge deal because it takes us out of worries about the past or future and brings us into the present moment. It's so simple and easy, and you can do it every time. For some people, it can be challenging and they need a bit more of a focal point to keep them in the present moment. If you need that, you can add a count - maybe inhaling to a count of four and exhaling to a count of four, and then gradually over time lengthening that count to see how full and deep the breath can become. You don't want to be observing shallow breaths, but deep and even breaths. Not only is this great for meditation, but it also enhances the capacity of our lungs to bring in oxygen, which gives us more energy.
You don't have to meditate for 30 minutes a day to reap the benefits. So often the people that achieve their goals are the ones who set smaller goals. Even five minutes a day of meditation is going to have an impact. Any meditation is better than no meditation. The more you do it, the easier it will become, the less stressed you'll be, and the more joyful you'll feel.