By Megan Sutsko, Psy.D. Licensed Psychologist
Close your eyes. Focus your attention on your breath. Follow your breath in. Notice the tiny pause between inhale and exhale. Follow your breath out. Try to clear your mind of thoughts and tune in only to the sensation of your breath flowing in and out. Stay in the moment…
Meditation, the act of quieting the mind, can be an invaluable tool for mental and physical health.
It is taught by yoga instructors, Buddhist zen masters, and even psychologists. This ancient Eastern technique is finding increasing acceptance in the Western world. According to Swami Rama “Meditation is a precise technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is totally different from the normal waking state. It is the means for fathoming all the levels of ourselves and finally experiencing the center of consciousness within.”
There is a growing body of science backing the idea that the practice of meditation can positively impact one’s mental health.
A University of Wisconsin study saw increased electrical activity in regions of the left frontal lobe, an area that tends to be more active in optimistic people, after eight weeks of training in meditation. Johns Hopkins researchers sifted through nearly 19,000 meditation studies, finding 47 trials that met their criteria for well-designed studies. Their summary, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that mindfulness meditation can reduce psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.
Within the context of individual therapy, the idea of meditation (and the larger concept of mindfulness) is truly empowering to clients. According to John Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” I offer this practice as a coping skill that clients can use when managing a mood disorder or just managing stress. We usually practice in session a few times (either traditional meditation, or a guided imagery in which I ask them to clear their mind while I walk them through an image or story meant to relax them or help them resolve an internal conflict). I then ask them to practice at home between sessions, a little at first and then working up to several minutes a day. For teenagers and young adults I direct them to their iPhones or tablets where they can access an endless supply of relaxing music and guided meditations. I explain that, like any new skill, this takes practice and that the effects are more potent when you incorporate time for meditation moments every day.
So do I practice what I preach?
Hmm… I’m a work in progress. I am relatively new on my journey of trying to incorporate moments of quiet meditation and mindful awareness into my day. I have followed Oprah and Deepak Chopra (holistic health guru) on a few 21-day meditation challenges and have found myself making the usual excuses (no time for this)! Every night my children and I play one track from “Sitting Still Like a Frog” before bed. It is a book and CD combo designed to introduce children to the idea of meditation and mindfulness. I also recently attended a conference by Hay House publishing with many leaders in the field of psychology in order to further my education. The experience was truly inspiring and renewed my enthusiasm. I see very clearly the benefit that embracing and teaching these skills will have on myself and my clients.
Though I have much to learn, I endeavor, alongside my clients, to quiet my thoughts and just be. Even for just a few minutes. The potential health benefits of centering ourselves, and observing ourselves with kindness, patience, and non-judgment can be life changing.
While I have referenced to some great resources in this article, I want to share a few more of my favorite with you here:
- Davidji.com – This website coordinates with a book that is all about “destressifying” your life.
- Mindful.org – Mindful compiles blogs on several topics related to living a more aware life.
- Chopra.com – For practical mediation resources and information, this is the site to check out.
- Wherever You Go, There You Are – This book brings meditation into mainstream medicine.
- The Power of Now – A great guide to spiritual enlightenment.
All of the psychologists at Rice Psychology Group work to incorporate meditation and mindfulness with our clients. If you are interested in learning more about how these strategies can help you to manage stress and obtain optimum health, please contact us today.
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