Ahhhhhh. Summer rolls around again. The days are longer and the weather more inviting. With a renewed sense of energy and excitement in our lives perhaps we can bring our attention toward a new habit of well being. I invite you to take a deeper look into the world of mindfulness and meditation.
You might ask, what is this “mindfulness” I hear so much about? Or, why should I try meditation? Meditation and mindfulness is about relaxation and presence with our felt experience, and while it can also be a religious/spiritual practice it doesn’t have to be. Recently a client of mine asked, “How often do I have to practice mindfulness and meditation for it to have a positive impact on my life?” In reflecting on an answer, it came to me how well our bodies respond to habitual practice. I told them that like exercise, doing it once is beneficial, but making it a regular habit produces even more positive results.
Humans are very habit oriented beings. However, our mind doesn’t discriminate when “choosing” a habit. Habits can be good or bad, beneficial or detrimental to our well being. We only need to do something again and again for it to become habit. I work with a lot of people living with high levels of stress and anxiety in their lives. In many ways they have become habitualized to living this way. When they come to me, I encourage them to interrupt their destructive habits of doing too much, working overly long hours, never taking a break and even to stop over-scheduling their children, perpetuating the next cycle of stressed out humans. What I tell them instead is to find time during the day to sit quietly and reflect. This is the beginning of a practice of mindfulness. I also encourage a practice of meditation and deep breath work that will help them to calm their minds. Many of us have an endless amount of mental chatter going on in our minds. We create multitudes of lists or mental exercises for how to get things done. We mentally overload ourselves with this running dialogue. Instead, we need to make a habit of taking a break from this mental noise in order to restore our sanity. It has been well studied and widely recognized that mindfulness and meditation can ease suffering, bring us peace and serenity, decrease stress and anxiety and even improve our relationships and physical health.
So, I encourage you to make a new habit. Take time out each day, even if only for a few beneficial moments to sit in quiet reflection. Close your eyes, sit comfortably and bring your attention to any places of stress or tension in your body. Allow those places to relax. Start by taking some long, deep breaths, and then focus your attention on the gentle rhythm of your breathing. Before too long you will most likely notice that your mind wants to distract you from this practice and send you some seemingly urgent message about what you could be doing instead, or what you need to do next. Stop! Don’t be fooled. That is the old habit trying to break through. Instead remind yourself that this is the new habit you are trying to establish. Gently but firmly return your attention to your breath. Tell the part of your brain that wants to interrupt you to be quiet for a time. Now continue to notice the sensations in your body, the air around you, the sounds, your breath, how it feels to sit; send a gentle message to any remaining tension to relax. Continue your rhythmic breathing. Guess what? You are meditating! This is what is means to sit in mindful meditation and its good for you. If you are like most, with time you will notice that you look forward to this time when you can sit in quiet meditation. Your body, mind and soul will thank you and you will be on your way to developing a new healthy habit. If you want more help in practicing meditation try Tara Brach’s website at www.tarabrach.com and check out her free guided meditations. Good luck and have fun with this new habit!
Heidi B. Roeder, MS, LPC, LMFT was a former therapist at Franco Psychological Associates, P.C.