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The reaction to this topic is pretty varied- some love it and are already doing it, some view it as an off-shoot of complementary medicine and don’t think it has much serious application. But make no mistake, meditation and mindfulness have become part of mainstream medicine and have gained a lot of ground in recent years.
Along with other practices like massage, aromatherapy, and acupuncture, meditation and mindfulness are gaining rapid traction and for good reason: it is safe, easy to do, portable, and showing benefits in managing depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and several other conditions. So, what is meditation anyway? Well, I couldn’t say it better than Headspace: “It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgment.”
And Mindfulness? Well, it’s a form of meditation. The Mayo Clinic has a great and concise definition: “Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment.” It’s one of the more common approaches to meditation and entails using your senses to focus on the environment and let the internal chatter quiet.
Through touch and breath and choosing to be still, we can train our brains to take in the world around us and to refocus, especially from anxieties and worry, which are often a low-level (or sometimes not so low-level) fight-or-flight mechanism. It’s geared to make us survive, not make us happy or at peace. Once it’s activated, it fights to stay that way, and taking time to breathe and focus on our senses is how we roll the dimmer switch down. Through awareness, progressive muscle relaxation, and feeling the incredible machinery of your own body at work, we begin to relax and allow that fight-or-flight response to ebb.
Below is a list of resources to expand your understanding of this vital practice.
- For a brief discussion of the benefits of meditation and a link for exercises:
- One of the best sites that is free, comprehensive, comes in several languages, and has a free app for download is from UCLA.
- Here’s a wonderful TED Talk from Dr. Shauna Shapiro that speaks to the power of mindfulness and self-compassion:
- Headspace is a very popular app. Here is a link to their site, though they do charge for the app beyond the introductory segments.
And what about Gratitude? There are many types of meditation including sitting, walking, and guided. Another form is more focused, more active. There is a growing consensus that a positive outlook and being grateful for things, even when life is hard, primes our minds to focus on the good, weigh the bad, and interpret the ambiguous in a much more compassionate and self-affirming light.
It has become a cornerstone of the Positive Psychology movement and is becoming part of the mainstream conversation. How does it work? Well, no one is expecting you to show blinding appreciation when others treat you badly or smiling in the face of a tough situation. No toxic positivity here, just an embracing of the feeling that life is good, difficult times pass, and that we have a choice when challenges happen to us.
We have a choice in how we process events. When the hurt dulls and the work of meaning begins, going back to a place of warmth, comfort, and wonder about ourselves and the world around us sustains us. It’s taking a moment to reflect on the good things, the moments big and small that make us content and grateful to be alive. Our minds can’t hold two extreme feelings at once, like happiness and anger, fear and calm. It’s not in our physiology.
Practicing, and make no mistake it is practice, daily, gratitude inoculates us to stress, focuses us on what’s important, and reshapes our feelings and automatic thoughts to connection, awe, and wonder, which can’t coexist with worry, anxiety, or fearfulness. It shines a spotlight on our resilience and reminds us that good times are ahead as they have been in the past. All we have to do is choose to embrace them.
Author Dr. Jon Doctor, Entrepreneur, Founder of Dr. Jon Deam