If you’re not enjoying winter and its multiple visits from the polar vortex, or you’re feeling stressed or depressed because spring seems far away, how about taking a trip into the calming world of meditation?
Perhaps you’re already rolling your eyes at the thought of meditation. You may be accustomed to more mainstream types of health- and fitness-oriented activities. Perhaps you’ve shied away from meditation because of its association with different religions, or because, well, it just seems airy fairy. I consider myself to be a rather pragmatic person, yet I find meditation beneficial.
Meditation has a long history that dates back thousands of years. Originally a spiritual or religious practice, it also evolved into a proven technique for calming the mind and body. When we meditate, our breathing slows down, as does our heart rate. Our blood pressure can go down too.
A popular position for meditation is to sit on a mat on the floor with your legs crossed. You can simply relax your hands on your knees with your palms up, or touch your thumbs to your middle fingers. If you have difficulty sitting on the floor, you can sit in a chair. There’s no right or wrong method as far as I’m concerned. Essentially, you want to be comfortable, so wear loose or stretchy clothing and remove your shoes.
It’s important to meditate in a quiet room with minimal distractions. During meditation, you may close your eyes and try to empty your mind of all thoughts – this takes lots of practice so don’t be surprised if you suddenly start thinking about what you have to cook for dinner or the deadline on your next work project. Another way to meditate is to keep your eyes open and focus on an object such as a lit candle. Either way, breathe deeply. The aim is to relax and eventually, to enter a different level of consciousness.
Start with just five minutes. It may seem like the longest five minutes of your life if you’re very anxious or fidgety and aren’t accustomed to relaxing in this manner. Build up to longer periods. There’s no magic number of minutes or frequency.
My first encounter with meditation was in the early-1980s, when I was a CEGEP student in Montreal and took meditation as an elective. The teacher was a monk from a nearby monastery and many of the students, like me, were Jewish. We learned about the roots of meditation during the lecture portion of class time and went into another room for meditation practice. Unfortunately, some of us 17- and 18-year-olds were immature. While the teacher meditated, we threw paper airplanes around the room. We giggled, thinking he was oblivious to our silliness. In hindsight, I bet he knew exactly what we were doing.
Three decades later, I began incorporating meditation into my life. I do it from time to time at home. I prefer to lie on my back on a mat so I’m totally physically relaxed. I have several CDs of meditation music to choose from. One is purely instrumental, another is chanting in a language I don’t understand – an intentional choice so the words can’t distract me. I dim the lights, play some music, burn incense and close my eyes. After a few minutes of deep breathing, I find I am able to clear my mind of the worries or business of the day. When I’m done, I feel calm and refreshed.
Some people like to repeat a mantra while they meditate. This helps them clear their mind of distracting thoughts. A mantra can be a word or phrase in any language. “Om” is a common mantra originating from Hinduism, Buddhism and several other religions, although in modern times it’s commonly used by people from all walks of life. When I took that college class long ago, the monk suggested “maranatha” as our mantra. He said it meant “Come Lord,” so I adopted it. I recently Googled the term and learned it is of Christian origin. Oops! Well, I still find myself using that mantra at times. Whatever mantra you choose, say it over and over in your mind as your breath deeply.
Don’t worry about the details. Just get comfortable and give meditation a try. After a few times, you’ll get used to the feeling of being calm in mind, body, and spirit.
Gloria Schwartz is a personal trainer at the Soloway JCC.