Work. Children. Bills. Junk email. Appointments. The list could go on and one, but it all boils down to the same thing: stress. I never thought I would have to deal with stress. When I was younger, I assumed that stress was something that happened to stockbrokers, lawyers and other professional people. No one ever told me that I would experience stress just being an average Jane. I mean, I knew I would have some frustrations, but actual stress? (Like there is a difference between the two.) I have discovered an old technique to manage my stress: meditation.
I know that meditation is not a new concept, but it is to me. I have read several articles and books that tout the physiological and psychological benefits of meditation in its many forms. When I first began to explore this art form, I had images of monks sitting in lotus position with their eyes closed, oblivious to their surroundings while they reached nirvana (not the rock band, mind you). The grace and discipline the displayed is astounding. While I am not trying to reach nirvana, I am, however, trying to reduce my stress.
I have discovered that like the many flavors of ice cream, there are many flavors of meditation from which to choose. Considering the fact that I am a working single mother of a rambunctious 5 year old and a curious 1 year old, I searched for a flavor that would be the easiest for me to incorporate into my life. I needed a flavor that was smooth (easy), rich (a program which I could build upon), comforting (effective in reducing stress), fun (interesting enough to continue) and would not take a lot of time out of my hectic daily life.
The flavor I found that encompasses all of these things for me is commonly known as breath meditation. The main thing I like about this form is that it doesn’t require me to visualize anything or form any kind of picture in my head. All I need is 20 minutes of quiet time (preferably when my kids are napping). I sit in an upright position, close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. I will spend 5 of the 20 minutes just listening to the sounds of the house and even of my own body. I don’t try to name them or make them happen or time them, I only listen to them. For the next ten minutes, I focus my attention to my breath. I make a mental note of “in” for each inhalation and “out” for each exhalation. If I find that focusing on my breath is becoming a struggle, I will just listen to the sounds again until I can get my mind back on my breath. Then, for the last 5 minutes, I listen to sound and slowly open my eyes and come back to the real world.
I have discovered that not only did meditation relieve stress; it also opened my eyes to things about myself that I didn’t know. For instance, for the first few times I tried it, I discovered how undisciplined my mind was. I noticed that my mind kept wandering while I was trying to focus on my breath. I doubt that I maintained continuous mental focus on my breath for more than a minute at a time. Practicing daily allowed me to train my mind to become more focused.
Adding meditation to my lifestyle has required me to make some adjustments to my daily schedule. Of course, I’m not always successful in maintaining a regularly scheduled time for meditation, but I do try to work it in daily. Having a to-do list does help with time management, but a 6 year old with a high energy level and penchant for building sophisticated ladders to overturn the dish tray and anything else that catches his eye and a 12 month old who just realized his feet are actually for walking will alter that list in no time. Therefore, I try to be careful about the time that I allot for meditation and I try to schedule it during nap times.
One of the greatest things about meditation that I have discovered is that it allows for me to receive wonderful insights during my quiet time. When my mind is clear, I will sometimes get a revelation to a problem that may have been vexing me, or an idea for decorating the bathroom or even what to buy a hard-to-shop-for relative for Christmas. Other times I get new insight to a situation that may not be a problem per se, but just something that has been on my mind.
Just as the list of benefits can go on and on, the list of possibilities to build upon the breath meditation can also go on. I can use color visualization with the breath meditation to energize chakras or to clear negative energy. With each inhalation, I can visualize the chakra, or energy vortex, becoming brighter with its corresponding color until it becomes and stays bright upon exhalation, or I can visualize breathing in white (positive) energy and breathing out black (negative) energy until the positive energy has replaced the negative energy. I can even take it a step further and transform the glowing colors into brilliant fountains. I can go even further with a technique called Kundalini meditation where I’m moving energy through my body. Oh, the possibilities!
With all of the physiological and psychological benefits of meditation, I will recommend it to everyone. It is more than just stress relief and it’s not just a bunch of breathing. It is a technique that can help the body and the mind and it can be expanded so that it need not become a boring chore. If you decide to try meditation, don’t forget to take into consideration the lifestyle that you have now and find a flavor that is most complementary to it and your personality.