AN ANCIENT PRACTICE KNOWN AS… MEDITATION.
The efforts to nurture optimal health through plant-based nutrition, exercise, and the avoidance of toxins are indeed essential but incomplete without the practice of calming the mind. This ancient practice is commonly known as meditation. However, it is uncommonly practiced here as it is not required by Western institutions. So as improbable as my chances were to discover it, I consider it a great fortune that I did 5 years ago. The timing was crucial as I was suffering from anxiety and depression following my divorce. Presently, I am forever changed as I discovered that it is a vehicle to access the cause of happiness which is inner peace. Although I am not fully immune to stress, I undoubtedly achieved the highest levels of happiness as a direct result of it. Meditation has given me the key to unlock the prison of my thoughts and empowered me to release unnecessary stress. My self-examinations in meditative states led to higher self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-responsibility. I do not consider these realizations to be esoteric or exclusive because of my unique set of circumstances that led me to them. Rather, these realizations are accessible and achievable by all human beings who are simply interested to be happier. Anyone can practice meditation at any time, at any length, and at any place which makes it incredibly convenient for a busy lifestyle.
WHAT EXACTLY IS MEDITATION?
I have come to understand through various methodologies that meditation is an exercise of breathing and focus whose function is to cultivate inner peace. A breathing concept may sound simple but it can be challenging as our minds tend to become restless by distractions, and erratic thoughts. Nonetheless, this challenge can be overcome by a gentle determination leading to a mental and emotional state of calmness. No excess energy is unnecessarily expended on attachments to thoughts about the past or future. Instead, the focus is on accepting the present moment. A deep feeling of inner peace is accessed occupying a space in the mind which can later influence behavior and interactions with others. By gently holding this state in our mind, we are re-wiring it to be familiar with contentment and happiness. Letting go or clearing out fear, worries, and thoughts reduces or eliminates the stress caused by them in the first place.
There is a plethora of possible physical benefits one can reap as well. The controlled breathing techniques contribute to decreased blood pressure, reduction in age-related memory loss, improved ability to manage pain, slower heart rate, telomere elongation, and boosted immunity. So if you have a condition that is worsened by stress, meditation is a supplemental and practical option to alleviate it. An online search will yield numerous scientific evidence-based studies that support these claims.
A variety of meditation techniques exist to achieve a relaxed state of being. The first one I learned was a guided meditation in a group setting which incorporated imagery and visualization. A guide led me through the process and redirected my focus as needed as I became distracted by thoughts. Using imagery requires the senses to be recalled as you recreate a mental setting with sight, sound, smell, and feel. The associations of a peaceful place such as a clear sky or still lake can represent conditions that you are directing your mind to emulate. Various Eastern traditions, Yoga Studios, and Meditation Centers are great places to start inquiring for guided meditations.
If you prefer to be guided but are unable to attend a session, you can search for guided ones on YouTube that suit your preferences or you can download a free application to your smart phone such as Headspace. Make sure that you pick a clean area of your home that you feel most comfortable to meditate in.
Another kind that I find very effective is focused breathing meditation. As the name suggests, the focus is placed on the inhalation and exhalation of the breath. If thoughts arise during the session, you simply let them go without judgement, and bring your attention back to the breath. Eventually, you will start to feel a sense of peaceful stillness. This technique utilizes mindfulness by increasing your awareness of the present moment.
Combining physical postures with controlled breathing is known as Yoga. This union promotes flexibility and strength while incorporating meditation. The physical strength required will build stamina while the breathing techniques and poses will produce a calm state of mind. The goal of this union is to attain harmony in the body, mind, and spirit. This is a great way to exercise combining the mental and physical aspects that it requires. Because there are different levels that test physical endurance and flexibility, I would consult with a physician if you have an existing health condition. There are gentler programs that may suit you if you prefer.
If you are interested to give meditation a try, I can’t stress enough (no pun intended) to be patient with yourself. Don’t feel that there is a particular wrong or right way to do it. Eventually, it will be become easier and you may be honed in with a particular kind that suits you. It is counterproductive to deem a session”bad” because it indicates that the session was necessary. On the other hand, it would still be just as necessary if a positive impression occurred. The controlled breathing aspect in and of itself is beneficial so every attempt to meditate is never wasted.
Think of your mind like that of a car.
Meditation is the necessary maintenance required to keep the mind operating optimally. If we redline the RPM and neglect the maintenance, the car will eventually break down. The same holds true for our mind because if we keep it racing with stressful thoughts about issues pertaining to our relationships, careers, belongings, distractions, etc., it will wear out and even take a toll on our body. To prevent this, we can devote a few minutes a day to practice mindfulness tune-ups and meditation maintenance. With consistency, stress and negativity will decrease making more room for increased contentment and inner peace.
Thank you for your interest and may meditation serve you well.
– Fitz Lauder
Plant Based Nutritionist & Consultant