Mental Health and Meditation
My favorite quote about meditation comes from Dan Harris author of Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: "What we do hope to provide is a well-seasoned route toward increased sanity through mindfulness.".
I grew up, like many Americans, with a deep misconception about meditation. I can specifically remember being told by someone at the church I grew up in that meditation was dangerous because if you empty your mind, you make room for the devil to come in. Looking back now on that statement I realize how irrational that sounds. So it took me a good deal of time in my adult life before I was ready to even consider meditation. Luckily the impact of that early mis-education did not keep me from being open-minded and exploring the benefits of meditation. Scientific studies on regular meditators has proven that meditation:
- Reduces blood pressure
- Boosts recovery after the release of the stress hormone cortisol
- Improves immune system functioning and response
- Slows age-related atrophy of the brain
- Mitigates the symptoms of depression and anxiety
I did not initially come to meditation as a way of dealing with my anxiety and depression. After my diagnosis, I decided to take a deeper exploration into yoga. (Mental Health and Yoga). It was there that I was first introduced to meditation by a yoga teacher who just encouraged me to sit quietly and observe my breath. Simple as that. I was meditating. While I did find the practice challenging - sitting still can be very difficult, I could also see quite quickly how meditating really helped me quiet my mind. I recently read a metaphor that succinctly sums up what meditation does for me: If thoughts were cars, meditation helps us stand on the side of the road rather than getting stuck in traffic.
During my studies to become a yoga instructor, I was introduced to many different schools of meditation with each having a unique benefit. What I have found through my own experimentation and practice is that it does not seem to matter what specific style of meditation you choose. The much more important thing is that you actually take the time to do it. I am far from an expert meditator. Unfortunately even with knowledge and experience, sometimes life gets in the way. But each time I come back around to carving out time to meditate things always seem a little smoother, easier, lighter. My mental health is decidedly in a better place when I incorporate meditation into my days.
So if you feel the weight of the world or just want to still the roller coaster of thoughts in your mind consider meditation. If the word scares you, call it breath-work, time out, self-reflection or even prayer, just begin. Sit still someplace comfortable and just notice your breath. Even a few moments each day can change your perspective. Take it from there to whatever you would like a meditation practice to look and feel like for you. Feel free to reach out to me anytime if you are stuck and just need a cheerleader or tips for the journey. If you already have a practice of meditation and I would love hear from you.
Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. This article is simply my account of my personal experiences. If you are struggling with mental help, please seek out the assistance of a qualified professional. If you are at the brink of your own life, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255