Find Inner Calm Through Meditation
It may seem new-agey, yes, but the hard science behind mindfulness and other forms of meditation is building, and it points to some pretty remarkable results. The meditative practice has been linked to improvements in widely varied conditions, from fibromyalgia to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but it has shown particular effectiveness in treating mental illness.
The best news?
You can do it yourself; no prescriptions are needed.
Find a quiet place
We’ve all experienced what Buddhists call the “monkey mind”: racing thoughts, the inability to focus or confusion. Meditation claims to quiet the monkey mind by putting us in touch with our breathing, and mindfulness meditation teaches us to recognize all the thoughts and simply allow them to float away. Using a mantra can help improve concentration. It could be the popular Om or a short phrase you repeat at frequent intervals.
Devotees of a practice called spiritual meditation, which is not unlike prayer, seek a deeper connection to God or the universe. To heighten the experience, practitioners often use essential oils such as frankincense, myrrh, sage, cedar or sandalwood.
Focused meditation requires you to concentrate on one of the five senses. You might count mala beads or listen to a gong in order to keep your mind from wandering.
If you can’t sit still, movement meditation may be right for you. It’s an active form of meditation that can be practiced by walking through the woods or working in your garden. Or you might want to practice qigong, which integrates posture, movement, meditation and deep, rhythmic breathing.
Create a sacred space
Zazen is a form of seated meditation at the heart of Zen practice.
Meditation coach Jill Brenek of The Still Hummingbird in Los Angeles has said you want to set aside a space where you can meditate each day and make it accessible, so you don’t find excuses to put it off. Creating an altar is one way to start, but keep it simple with just two or three items that have personal significance to you.
“It could be a scented candle or a small statue of the Buddha,” said Brenek, whose altar includes a smooth stone and a pine cone from the grounds of the place where she learned to meditate. Adorn your space with a soft throw or a yoga mat to sit on and a few pillows. If it’s difficult to sit on the ground, feel free to use a chair. The important thing is that you’re comfortable.
“You want meditation to become a habit,” said Brenek, who encourages her clients to leave these items in the same place so they don’t have to search for them every morning.
Hug a tree
The Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” proposes that spending mindful, intentional time in the forest surrounded by trees can heal mind, body and spirit. With more than half of the world’s population living in urban areas, there’s a very real concern about the mental health of so many people removed from our ancestral natural habitats. Not surprisingly, forest bathing reached mainstream status during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The good news is that if you don’t live close to an actual forest, you can reap the healing benefits of shinrin-yoku simply by taking long walks in a local park, bringing plants into your living space or inhaling essential oils such as cypress, cedarwood, Douglas fir, eucalyptus or tea tree.
At the very least, meditation can provide a respite from the stress and anxiety of modern life, and who doesn’t need that?