enjoy the silence THOUGHTS ON MEDITATION FOR THE NEW YEAR By Karen Gilchrist As the holiday season descends upon us in full force, and as we approach the new year with excitement and perhaps some trepidation and uncertainty, we might find ourselves wanting to escape to a quiet place, away from what we may feel is too much commercialization of the season, relatives that get on our last nerve, unpleasant and baiting news reports – real and fake – work deadlines, social media. The list of stressful influences goes on and on, draining us emotionally, and affecting us physically. Yet life is full of stressful moments or extended periods – and not just at the holidays. And while we cannot always control what happens around us and to us, fortunately, with a little practice, we can control how we respond to events and situations, and in ways that do not involve running away or “un-friending.” A meditation practice can provide that escape we desire – or need – and one can pretty much do it anywhere.
and stress; increase social connection and emotional intelligence; make one more compassionate and feel less lonely; improve one’s ability to regulate emotions and ability to introspect; increase grey matter in the brain; increase volume in areas related to emotion regulation, positive emotions and self-control; increase cortical thickness in areas related to paying attention; increase one’s focus and attention and ability to multitask; improve memory; improve one’s ability to be creative and think outside the box – and it gives you perspective.1 Recently, meditation has made the headlines in schools where meditation, mindfulness and yoga have replaced detention, with very positive results.2
But what is meditation? Better, perhaps, is to explain what it is not. Mark Hunsicker, yoga instructor at Southern Pines Yoga Co., leads weekly meditation classes and offers yoga nidra options throughout the year at the studio. He notes that a common misconception is that during meditation, one is supposed to focus on thinking about nothing. “There’s no such thing as clearing the mind and thinking about nothing. It’s actually sitting there, being yourself with yourself and allowing whatever experience is in that moment. If they’re thoughts, they’re thoughts. If they’re feelings, they’re feelings. And you accept that.” “By definition, meditation is an action or practice of thought, contemplation, consideration and concentration,” says Kelsy Timas, a board-certified holistic health practitioner, life coach and wellness educator and CEO/Founding Director of Guiding Wellness Institute in Fayetteville. “It is a focused state of awareness that allows the witnessing part of the mind to be more active than the thinking mind. A common misconception is that meditation is part of a religion or that one must sit perfectly still with absolutely “no thought” and attempt to levitate over a pillow. That is simply what I call a Disney definition. Meditation is for some part of a spiritual practice; however, it is so much more than that. In addition to being very simple, accessible and affordable, it also has many positive health benefits. “The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) reported that 8.0% of U.S. adults or 18 million people used meditation in a 2012 study,” Timas says. “Extensive research shows that meditation is effective in treating high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and pain. Most people begin practicing as part of a mindfulness lifestyle, yoga practice or simply to manage stress. The overall sense of calm and balance achieved creates other social and emotional benefits that support our work/life balance.” Indeed, scientific studies continue to support the power of meditation to increase immune function; decrease pain; decrease inflammation; increase positive emotion; decrease depression, anxiety
Hunsicker notes that meditation can help interrelate us to life on a deeper level, which could mean anything, like less frustration, more interconnection with life, deeper conversations and deeper connections with friends and family, being more honest with ourselves and those around us, seeing things for what they are instead of what we believe them to be. “And then there’s the whole physiological benefits, where it brings a little more clarity in our thought processes. It’s not something we’re aware that is possible to us; it’s just something that shows up,” Hunsicker says. Hunsicker breaks down the practice into two main types of meditation: silent meditation or natural meditation or resting meditation as awareness, just observing whatever comes up and literally not doing, and concentrated effort, which pulls attention to one fixated object or point, like a mantra (a saying repeated to one’s self that is soothing and rhythmic in nature), the breath or an activity like walking. “The opposite of that is the wide, open expansiveness where we don’t focus as much as we allow awareness to be open and vast like the sky and notice whatever shifts through awareness. Both serve different purposes, and both can be beneficial.”
Dec. 2016 • Jan. 2017
Published on Dec 13, 2016
Sandhills Naturally is a free, monthly, natural health & wellness publication for the Sandhills area of North Carolina.