As part of our end of the year check in, let’s not forget our mental health. Afterall, our minds are powerful and how we process and react to the thoughts that invade our psyche can affect our mood, our mental and physical health, and our actions whether knowingly or unknowingly. For generations, meditation has been used as a tool to strengthen the mind and achieve useful mindfulness which has roots in ancient Buddhism and Hinduism.
Keep Something in Mind
An article titled “Buddha’s Original Teachings on Mindfulness” published in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review – a magazine published by The Tricycle Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to making Buddhist teachings and practices broadly available – reads, “Mindfulness means the ability to keep something in mind. On the Buddhist path, it functions in three ways: remembering to stay alert on what you’re doing in the present moment; remembering to recognize the skillful and unskillful qualities that arise in the mind; and remembering how to effectively abandon the qualities that get in the way of concentration, then developing the skillful ones that promote it.”
Start with 5 mins intervals.
Sat up straight, legs uncrossed, hands resting lightly on my knees and aimed to focus on my breath and nothing else. While your brain will have lots of thoughts, try to move them away. If your meditation is interrupted, acknowledge the intrusion, and refocus on the air leaving and entering your body.
Health and Wellness
It’s thought that meditation works by quieting the sympathetic nervous system – the fight or flight system responsible for anxiety, tension, fatigue and depression – while activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows heart rate and lowers blood pressure.
Renowned psychologist Dr. Gail Parker says, “A meditative mind is not a quiet mind. It is an observed mind.” Parker shuttered her traditional practice about four years ago and is now a certified yoga therapist and yoga therapy educator with the Beaumont School of Yoga Therapy in Royal Oak. “In meditation, as well as in all forms of yoga – particularly in restorative yoga – you use breath as a focal point. We’re always breathing no matter where we are, no matter what’s going on. And once you learn that your breath is a conduit and a way of supporting health and restoration and growth, and once you learn how to utilize your breath in that way, you can do that anywhere,” she says.
“You can decrease anxiety by using certain breathing techniques. You can elevate a mood by using certain breathing techniques and move beyond depressive states, for example. These are not miraculous cures and they’re not quick fixes, but over time, as you become more involved and engaged in a meditation practice – particularly like in recovery – it teaches self-regulation. It teaches you how to pause before you act on the impulse to do something that may not be in your best interest.”
In 2014, researchers at Johns Hopkins published a study for which they combed through nearly 19,000 meditation program studies, including 47 trials for which self-selection biases were accurately accounted. They concluded that mindfulness meditation programs, in particular, produced small improvements in anxiety, depression and pain, with moderate evidence and small improvements in stress. The evidence gathered was insufficient to indicate a significant improvement in attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep or weight.
Culture Embedded in Trama
Most meditation and yoga instructors are still white. Of African Americans in particular, Parker says, “We live in a culture that is embedded in trauma, unhealed trauma” cause by wars, street violence and centuries of racism, experienced firsthand and indirectly. “When you are chronically stressed, that means you’re not even aware that you’re stressed. You’re just – quote – ‘managing your stress.’” Which she says is not the same as actually dealing with it and working to heal it.