Thursday, June 25, 2015

Can Meditation Help You Leave Stress Behind?

At some point in your life, you may have asked yourself the question “Should I take up meditation?” There really is no right or wrong answer. For many people, meditation is an effective stress reliever and aid to productivity, concentration, and personal contentment. Others, having attempted meditation, still fail to see what all the hype is about. The only way to find out which camp you fall into is to give it a try.

Meditation is a skill.

Like all skills, it can be acquired, cultivated, and eventually more-or-less mastered. But you won’t become an expert overnight. Finally, as with all other skills, consistency and discipline are key: your progress is more likely to be noticeable and beneficial if you practice diligently.

The goal is to release tension, and quiet your mind.

If you’ve seen the second film in the Star Wars series, The Empire Strikes Back, you will recall the Millennium Falcon’s perilous voyage through an asteroid field, with Imperial fighters hot on its tail. Commander Han Solo and his passengers manage to evade their pursuers and navigate a slew of hurtling boulders suspended in the vacuum of space, only to find themselves engulfed inside a giant carnivorous worm disguised as a cave.

The asteroid field is analogous to an overloaded mind, deluged with thoughts, distractions, and stressors, and generally unable to function at its full capacity. Busy people are often haunted by the spectre of opportunity costs—the notion that they could or should be doing something more productive at this very moment, and the irritation of knowing that, try as they might, they simply can’t perform five complex tasks at once. If you’ve experienced these feelings, you know how challenging it can be to escape the mental asteroid field, and regain your focus and composure. An effective round of meditation can help to quiet your mind by redirecting your attention toward a single objective.

Start with a simple breathing meditation.

Begin by finding a relatively quiet space, and seat yourself comfortably in a balanced position, with your back straight but not rigid. A straight spine, with your chin facing forward rather than drooping down, is important in order to avoiding lethargy or sluggishness during and after a meditation session.

Next, close your eyes. Search out tense areas of your body with your mind, and give them permission to relax. Direct your focus toward your breathing. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale fully, imagining all the while that the air entering your respiratory tract is cool, pure, relaxing fuel, while the air that exits your body is hot, tension-filled exhaust. I find it helpful to pretend that oxygen is filling my body all the way up to the peak of my forehead. I then release 100% of the breath stored within me, all the way down to the pit of my stomach.

 Feel the sensation in your nostrils as air flows in and out. Concentrate on this as you relax, and gradually settle into a natural, comfortable respiratory pattern. An array of thoughts will probably enter your mind at this stage; this is perfectly normal. Gently direct your attention back toward your lungs and nostrils, and resist the temptation of allowing your mind to wander far off course. Continue this exercise for about 10 minutes, or until your focus settles singularly on your breathing, your brain quietens, and you feel ready to resume your day.

Potential benefits.

Meditation yields different results for different people. If you commit to a 10- to 15-minute session daily, you may find that your overall stress level declines, your concentration improves, and your relations with others become smoother and more amicable. Over the long term, diminished stress and strife and greater personal contentment can promote improved physical health and career longevity too. In any event, there is no harm in trying.