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Why Should We Meditate?

Meditation. Despite being an excellent way to reduce the stress of everyday life, many people negatively associate it with metaphysical beliefs and "out-there" spiritual practices.

Meditation is a wonderful way to put our minds in neutral and bring our focus to the moment at hand. It's been used to treat PTSD, anxiety, and depression, among others. MRIs done of the brains of people meditating have shown new neural pathways being developed between the amygdala (the part of the brain that decodes emotion) to the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain in which most complex cognitive functions occur).

While meditation plays a part in many religions, it's a tool and not a religion itself. Using prayer beads and rosaries are a form of meditation. Buddhists use meditation as a tool to get closer to enlightenment. Any type of prayer is a form of meditation. Non-religious people use it to achieve a calm mindset. No matter what your belief system is, you can use meditation to reduce the pressures of life.

One doesn't have to meditate for hours on end. 10 minutes a day is all that's needed. Here's a simple, basic guide to get you started:

1. Find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed. You may become so relaxed that you fall asleep, so sitting is preferable to lying down. Make yourself comfortable.

2. Take a few deep breaths - in through the nose, and out through the mouth, filling your belly up first.

3. Slowly close your eyes at the end of a deep breath. Breathing normally, notice the sounds, smells, and physical sensations of your environment.

4. Gently shift your focus to your breathing. Counting the breaths, saying to yourself, "In... Out..." or putting a hand on your abdomen to feel the rise and fall of each breath can help you stay focused.

5. As thoughts or emotions arise, don't fight or suppress them. Notice them and let them pass. Imagine them as clouds drifting by.

6. If you start feeling sleepy, adjust your posture or pay attention to the way a particular body part feels. Consider meditating in the morning when you're fresher.

7. If your mind races, consider using a "mantra." "In... Out...," "Peace," "Relax," or any word or phrase that feels appropriate to you.

8. If external noises are distracting, make them part of the experience. Hear them, notice them, and let them pass.

9. Slowly bring your attention back to your physical environment - smells, sounds, physical sensations.

10. Open your eyes. Instead of jumping up right away, take a minute or two to experience the peace you feel.

Using mini-meditations during the day can instantly bring you back to the moment and diffuse stressful situations. For 30 seconds or so, pay attention to your breathing, focus on the way your hands or feet feel, or simply pick up any object and focus on it - how it looks and how it feels in your hands. Mini-meditations just before a business meeting or a potentially stressful event will calm and prepare you.

Take an inventory of your discomfort level on a scale of 1-10, practice meditation every day for a week, then assess again. How much improvement do you notice? There are many websites dedicated to the practice; do some research and find the techniques that work best for you.


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