Self Care for Mom

Meditation goes mainstream

Meditation goes mainstream

With doctors prescribing it and scientists swearing by it, you clearly don’t need to be a monk to meditate. Enthusiasts have even given it a new name:”mindfulness.”

Article by: Jeff Strickler , Star Tribune

Updated: May 29, 2013 – 6:08 PM

When the Rev. Ron Moor began meditating 30 years ago, he did so in secret.

“When I started, meditation was a dirty word,” said Moor, pastor of Spirit United Church in Minneapolis. “[Evangelist] Jimmy Swaggart called it ‘the work of the devil.’ Because of its basis in Eastern religions, fundamentalists considered it satanic. Now those same fundamentalists are embracing it. And every class I teach includes at least a brief meditation.”

The faith community isn’t alone in changing its attitude. Businesses, schools and hospitals not only have become more accepting of meditation, but many offer classes on it. Meditating has gone mainstream.

Why? “Because it works,” Moor said.

Adherents have been saying that for centuries, of course, but now there’s a difference: Scientists can prove it.

Propelled by technological breakthroughs in neuroscience enabling researchers to monitor brain activity, the medical community is awash in studies showing that meditating has beneficial physical effects on the brain. Those studies are being joined by others demonstrating that advantages include everything from raising the effectiveness of flu vaccines to lowering rejection rates for organ transplants.

“Meditation has become a huge topic” in medical circles, said Dr. Selma Sroka, medical director of the Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) Alternative Medicine Clinic. “The health benefits are so strong that if nothing else, people should learn the relaxation techniques.”

The practice is being embraced by an audience that isn’t interested in its religious contexts, typically Buddhist or Hindu, but is fascinated by its mechanics and techniques. Sroka compared the West’s co-opting of meditation to what happened to yoga, which came to this country as a spiritual discipline and has morphed into a form of physical fitness.

Some would-be meditators opt simply to ignore the religious element, said Mark Nunberg, co-founder of Common Ground Meditation Center in Minneapolis. Although his center is a Buddhist organization, at least half the people who enroll in classes are there just for instruction in meditation, he said.

“It’s the same practice” whether it involves religion or not, he said. “It’s training the mind to be in the present moment in a relaxed way. It’s the most practical thing in the world; some might even say it’s just common sense.”

What’s in a name?

You don’t have to call it meditation. In fact, Sroka said, a lot of people would prefer that you don’t.

Terms such as “mindfulness stress reduction” and “relaxation response” are less threatening to some folks. They also make it easier to introduce the practice in offices and schools, where even a tangential reference to religion can raise red flags.

Since 2001, doctors doing their residencies in HCMC’s family medicine program have been required to take a class in meditation, not necessarily to pass on the information to their patients — although they are encouraged to do so, Sroka said — so much as to help them deal with the stress of their jobs. At first, the program ran into resistance. Then the hospital quit calling it meditation.

“I think a lot of it is in the language,” she said. Because of meditation’s association with Eastern religions, “members of other religions often are uncomfortable with the term. People want to know that I’m not selling them a religion.”

The scientific community’s interest in meditation springs from tests in which electrodes attached to subjects’ heads show their brains calming down during meditation, lowering stress levels and increasing the ability to focus.

The tests are generating so much interest that leading experts have almost become rock stars. In October, 1,200 people turned out for a lecture by Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. Davidson is a professor at the University of Wisconsin who has been on the cutting edge of using neuroscience to monitor meditation-induced changes in the brain.

He is convinced that the brain can be trained to deal with stress the same way a muscle can be conditioned to lift a heavy weight.

“Training the mind can lead to changes in the brain,” he said.

Flexing your mind muscle

On the Minneapolis campus of the University of Minnesota, the Mindfulness for Students club meets every Friday for a 90-minute meditation. Attendance tends to surge right before finals.

“It’s a great way to deal with stress,” said Stefan Brancel, a junior who is president of the club. Meditation “makes you capable of stepping back and taking a bigger perspective instead of getting lost in the stress. Once you step back and see the situation for what it is, you can react to it.”

The surge in scientific research focuses on brain imaging. The best known device is functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which produces color-coded cross-section diagrams showing how the neurons in the brain are firing.

Davidson has used this imaging with Tibetan monks. While his findings have been stunning, questions arise over their applicability to the general public. Studying the brain waves of people who meditate for several hours a day is comparable to measuring physical fitness in Olympic athletes, critics say. The results might be impressive, but what do they mean for the average person?

That’s why Mary Jo Kreitzer, founder and director of the Center for Spirituality and Healing, is excited about studies of meditation newcomers. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts have documented changes in the brains of novice practitioners who took an introductory eight-week class and meditated as little as 15 minutes a day.

Sroka said that the techniques can become second nature. In times of stress, “you slow down and breathe slowly,” she said. “You get to the point where you do it routinely without even being aware of it.”

Kreitzer agrees. “Mindfulness is an attitude that you carry with you,” she said. “I think mindfulness really helps us move through life with ease.”

She also challenges the notion that meditating requires a special room filled with incense, soothing music and floor mats on which practitioners twist themselves into the lotus position.

“You can sit, you can stand, you can walk,” Kreitzer said. “I wouldn’t advise doing it while you’re driving, but other than that, meditation can be done anywhere.”

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392

Proper Breathing

An Exercise in Proper Breathing

Take a Good Breather

— By Mike Kramer, Staff Writer

Proper breathing is an underestimated, but critical building block of good health. Slow, deep breathing gets rid of carbon dioxide waste and takes plenty of clean, fresh oxygen to your brain and muscles. More blood cells get the new, oxygen-rich air instead of the same old stale stuff. Experts estimate that proper breathing helps your body eliminate toxins 15 times faster than poor, shallow breathing. You’ll not only be healthier, but you’ll be able to perform better (mentally and physically) and, of course, be less stressed and more relaxed.

Here’s an exercise that will help you get the full benefits of good breathing. The techniques in this exercise are ones you should try to develop in your normal breathing, and that could take practice. Try to take about 10 minutes, but it can happen in five by cutting the time for each step in half. Most of it can be done anywhere you need to relax or clear your head:

  1. Get Ready (2 minutes) Make the room dark, or at least darker. Lie down flat on your back, or sit against a wall. Use a pillow for comfort. Make sure no part of your body is strained or supporting weight. Close your eyes. Just pay attention to your breathing for a minute or two. Don’t try to change it, just notice how it feels. Imagine the fresh blood flowing through your body. Listen to your surroundings.
  2. Stage I (2 minutes) Practice breathing in and out of your nose. Exhaling through the mouth is okay for quick relaxation, but for normal breathing, in and out the nose is best. Take long breaths, not deep breaths. Try not to force it, you shouldn’t hear your breath coming in or out. You’re drawing slow breaths, not gulping it or blowing it out. Feel the rhythm of your breathing.
  3. Stage II (3 minutes) Good breathing is done through the lower torso, rather than the upper torso. Each breath should expand your belly, your lower back and ribs. Relax your shoulders and try not to breathe with your chest. Put your hands on your stomach and feel them rise and fall. If it’s not working, push down gently with your hands for a few breaths and let go. Your stomach should start to move more freely. Relax your face, your neck, your cheeks, your jaw, your temples, even your tongue.
  4. Stage III (3 minutes) Feel the good air entering your lungs and feel the stale air leaving your body. “In with the good, out with the bad” is definitely true here. Make your exhale as long as your inhale to make sure all the bad air is gone. Remember, long slow breaths. Most people take 12-16 breaths per minute. Ideally, it should be 8-10. Now try to make your exhale a little longer than your inhale for a while. Pause after your exhale without taking a breath. Focus on the stillness and on not forcing an inhale. Your body will breathe when it needs to.
  5. Wake Up!!

Article created on:  4/13/2004


Meditation For Winter Blues

February 21, 2012

Meditation has transformed my life, especially during the winter with its long and dark days, when most of my time is spent indoors. During the winter months, the absence of light and fresh air can impact a busy mom’s mood, making her more prone to feeling tired, irritable, and mentally checked out. Rather than turning to sweets, carbs, and caffeine to counter the effects of the winter blues, why not try meditation? Mediation is a great way to bring more energy, joy, calm, and mental vitality into these long, dark days. And, making an investment in a regular mediation practice will benefit you long after winter has passed.

To reap the physical benefits of meditation you need only invest 20 minutes a day, three times a week, which has been shown to help to fight disease, ward off hypertension, and resolve digestive imbalances, not to mention stress and anxiety. And there are profound effects beyond the physical. The presence, peace of mind, and the ability to not get caught up are major assets for moms. Words alone cannot capture meditation in its entirety; one must experience all of the benefits that a regular practice brings to day-to-day life, especially the personal transformation. The impacts are subtle, yet profound. So I invite you to try it and here are some helpful tips to get you started and keep you going.

You CAN meditate.
If you can breath, you can meditate. Don’t worry about getting it right. Just do it. I can’t begin to tell you the number of people that have told me they can’t meditate. They think they aren’t doing it right. The thoughts just keep coming and cannot be stilled. That’s okay. Actually, that’s the point. In the same way the lungs must breath, the brain must think. That is simply what the brain does. If your lungs aren’t breathing, and your brain isn’t thinking, you probably aren’t alive. Both are vital functions. The real opportunity lies not in stopping thought, but rather in observing it, getting to know it a little better. Becoming aware of its nature and befriending it. That way you don’t have to be so swept away or caught up by whatever random thought happens to pop into your head in a given moment. You gain awareness, that this is just what the mind does. And with awareness comes choice. You always have a choice. You don’t have to become carried away with negative thoughts and excessive rumination. You can choose to let them go, in a friendly, gentle, and loving way. Meditation practice trains you to be able to let them go.

Make the time.
I often hear people say they can’t find the time. Well, there’s no such thing as finding time. Time cannot be found. We all get 24 hours in a day, for however many days we get. Time is spent. It’s a really valuable resource. If you ask me, it’s the most valuable. Because it’s finite and none of us really knows how much time we have. What we do know is that once time is gone, we can never get it back. The time we’ve got is all that we have. We SPEND time for that which we value. Or we don’t. Some of us choose to squander our time away with distractions and in many other ways that don’t support us in having a more fulfilling life. But again, we always have a choice. To get started all you need is five minutes, three times a week. That’s 15 minutes a week. Commit to that and work your way up from there. If 15 minutes a week feels like too much, then your life has become really squeezed. You would greatly benefit from meditation.

Keep it simple.
I am going to share a really simple practice to get you started. But do what works for you. This is simply a recommendation. Keep in mind that whenever you start something new, complexity is the enemy. Complexity just creates more opportunity for resistance to creep on in. With meditation, as with anything in life, when creating change, keep it simple. Make it workable. Set yourself up for success. So, here we go.

1. Start small. If you are brand new to regular meditation start with five minutes three times a week. That is because this is manageable. As you begin to reap the benefits you will want to do more and you will be motivated to find ways to spend more time.

2. Pick a time. Think about your life and your normal routines. Think of activities you do every day, or almost ever day – like wake up, go to sleep, eat lunch, take a shower, brush your teeth, take your kids to school, go to work, etc. Think about before or after which of those activities you can spend an extra five minutes, three times a week. Make that your standard meditation time. Pick the activity and pick the days. Create a basic structure and adapt on an as needed basis.

3. Pick a place. Based on your standard meditation time, pick a place that is easy and makes sense. Don’t think you can only meditate on your special cushion, next to your personal shrine. You can meditate practically anywhere. In your car (not while driving, though), in your bed, at your kitchen table, or on a park bench. Make it workable. If your time is after dropping the kids from school, then do it right in your car. The less opportunity to get sidetracked, the better.

4. Sit or lie down. It is best to sit or lie down. The key is to keep your spine as straight as possible and to be comfortable. A straight spine allows energy to easily flow between the energy centers along your spine.

5. Breathe. That’s right. All you have to do is breath and focus on your breath. You will experience thoughts. That is unavoidable. Once you notice a thought, or that you are caught up in thought, simply acknowledge the thought, let it go, and return to your breath. Do this with gentleness, compassion, and loving kindness. Meditation trains us to be kind and accepting of our humanity, our perfect imperfection, and ourselves. To remain focused on the breath I find it helpful to say IN during inhalation, and OUT during exhalation. But do what works for you.

6. Consider using a timer. But don’t let this be a complexity that gets in the way of meditating. If you want to keep time, there are creative ways to do so. You can use an alarm on your phone, your watch, or the digital clock in your car. I used my iPhone to record five minutes of silence and at the end of five minutes I use my own voice to bring myself back. You can even call a friend and ask them to phone you in five minutes.

Consider guided meditation.
For some people, when first starting out, focus can be a really challenge. Especially for those with a quick mind, who are often caught up in thought (and these are often the people that are most in need of meditation and receive the most benefit). I was one of those people and I found it really helpful to work with guided meditation and brain wave sound technology. You can find all sorts of guided meditations on audio. There are even audio meditation apps for your phone or other device. I also love some of the new brain wave technology products, which are special music/sounds that bring your brain waves into an ideal state for deep meditation.

Seek support and fellowship.
For those that don’t want to go at it alone, there are many meditation groups. Some are associated with a Buddhist or Tibetan tradition, and there are non-affiliated groups as well. The Internet is a great resource to find a meditation group in your area. If you can’t find one, consider starting your own. And if a group seems to daunting, partner with a friend that is also interested in meditation. Along with joining a group or partnering with a friend, comes the benefit of accountability. This can help foster commitment to a regular practice.

Start now and stick with it.
Waiting for the perfect time to get started often results in nothing happening. Don’t fall victim to that mindset. Start now. There will never be a perfect time. Life is always happening, and with it comes all sorts of unexpected surprises, which can sweep away the best of intentions if you let it. And once you do get started, stick with it. Although meditation is magical, it doesn’t have instant results in the same way a magic spell might. It takes time and commitment. It is a practice. And I promise, practice won’t make perfect, but it will make for an experience of personal growth, transformation, and a happier and more fulfilling life.

That’s all it takes, so enjoy!

Tara Harkins is The Busy Mom’s Energy Coach and a certified meditation instructor. Tara combines coaching with various energy techniques to help moms stay balanced and energized. For a FREE report on The Best Kept Secret to Balance for Busy Moms go to Working Mother Coaching.