Learning to Meditate

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology

buddha-918068_640By Barbara Sternberg, Ph.D.

Meditation is a practice that is nearly as old as our oldest ancestors. It has been practiced in cultures around the world and is as popular today as it has ever been. Practiced by holy men and women and by individuals seeking the health benefits meditation can provide, it is a state of relaxed concentration and enhanced awareness. Also, it gives an inward focus that allows you to see and better understand the workings of your own mind.

Simple to learn, meditation is in fact a skill that can take a lifetime to perfect. If you are curious about meditation and would like to sample its benefits, start with one of the meditations outlined here. Remember to give yourself time–the benefits of meditation come with practice and patience. The more you can adopt an openly receptive state of mind, the more successful your meditating experience will be.

Focusing Inward

One of the most popular forms of meditation in the world’s many spiritual traditions involves meditating on one’s breath. Although it may seem mundane, and it certainly is repetitive, the process of focusing on one’s breathing can, over time, lead to all of the physical and mental health benefits meditation promises to provide, including reduced stress, improved mood and improved pain control. It can also provide a deeper pleasure in life and a sense of connection with one’s essential inner core of being.

Most people are caught up in the everyday details of life–our families and jobs, what we need to get done, checking our email and texting our friends, reading the news of the day, and watching our favorite television show. Most of us get so caught up in these details that we fail to pay attention to what is going on inside us–in our own hearts, minds, and bodies. In truth, popular culture is designed to get us to believe that happiness and satisfaction come from outside, in the world of popular culture and advertising messages. Focusing our attention inward can seem like a huge step in a different direction.

Relaxing Your Body

As you gain experience practicing meditation, you will find that the process naturally relaxes your body while at the same time it focuses your mind. As a beginner, however, it may be difficult to experience bodily relaxation in the early days or weeks of meditating. It may be helpful for you to practice a relaxation technique before you meditate, especially if you are aware of feeling tense or stressed.

Meditating on Your Breath

Paying attention to the inhalations and exhalations of our breath certainly isn’t exciting, but it does slow our minds to match the speed and rhythms of our bodies; we breathe an average of 12 to 16 times per minute. There are several different ways to do this, but one to try — in the early stages of meditating — is counting the number of breaths needed to build concentration. The structure of counting provides a structure so that we can quickly notice when our minds are wandering off the task.

Learn more about meditation in our homestudy course, Meditation.


The Link Between Stress and Illness

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Psychology, Seminars

stress and relax

By Dr. Mary O’Brien MD

Medical researchers and physicians are often hesitant to proclaim stress a risk factor for serious illness. The reason is simple. Stress is, at least so far, impossible to quantify. We can attach a number to cholesterol or blood sugar or blood pressure or a host of other parameters of health. But we can’t pin a number on stress. Research into the effects of stress could proceed much faster if we could say, “Aha! A serum stress level of 274 mg per deciliter.” Perhaps someday we’ll learn how to measure things like stress, pain, and anxiety in an objective way. But for now we can only rely on our perceptions.

It’s no surprise that preventing serious stress is preferable to struggling with it after the fact. Unfortunately, stress has a nasty way of sneaking up on its victims. People often have a remarkable ability to cope with a stressful situation that’s isolated and well defined. The adrenal glands kick in, and you do what needs to be done. Then once the problem is resolved, you relax. During the crisis and war in the Persian Gulf, many service members and families found the actual war less stressful than the preceding waiting and uncertainty. Not that any phase of such a crisis is simple or easy, but the human nervous system is geared toward action and resolution. It’s not well equipped for long periods of tense uncertainty.

Prolonged, unresolved stress is incompatible with successful aging. No one can eliminate stress completely, but we can learn to prevent much of it and deal with the rest constructively. The “secrets” that follow can help your patients safeguard themselves against the serious, insidious stress that undermines health and happiness.

“Our minds need relaxation, and give way!
Unless we mix with work a little play.”
— Moliere

Moliere knew what he was talking about. Learning how to relax is essential in the battle against stress. It sounds so easy, and yet millions of people find it nearly impossible to unwind and relax completely. Some people are convinced they simply don’t have the time (which is probably the most important time to relax). But even having abundant leisure time does not guarantee the ability truly to relax. It’s possible to have nothing to do and still be a nervous wreck.

Relaxation is a profoundly personal issue. For one person, jogging five miles may accomplish a degree of relaxation. However, for another person, relaxation may come only through deep meditation.

The key is determining what works best for you and then doing it on a regular basis. It’s difficult to imagine anyone busier than the President of the United States. And yet, he and most of his predecessors have formally incorporated relaxing activities into their hectic schedules. There’s nothing self-indulgent about it. In fact, regular relaxation is an essential part of sustaining first rate performance on the job.

If you’re serious about getting a handle on stress, stop and think of the five most relaxing activities you enjoy. When was the last time you did any of them? If it has been more than a few days, you need to remedy the situation. Walk, swim, golf, sit in the sauna or simply sleep, but do something relaxing every day. It’s the best safety valve for serious stress.