Monday, November 20, 2017
Health

A little clarity on getting started with meditation

RECOMMENDED READING


Hugh Jackman, Katy Perry, Oprah Winfrey, Rep. Tim Ryan and many other celebrities swear by it.

We're talking meditation, a practice that's usually done daily and involves sitting quietly for 20 to 30 minutes to calm and observe the mind.

But for what purpose?

"To intentionally cultivate mindfulness — to approach life with nonjudgment and compassion, to improve concentration, openheartedness and clarity," says Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance and co-founder of Insight Meditation Community of Washington, D.C.

In other words, there is a whole lot to like.

Brach continues: "It's the answer not just to stress and emotional issues but also helps improve self-esteem and address depression."

But how and where do you get started? What are the different types of meditation? And how do you know what type will suit you best?

• • •

One popular way to get started is to use online resources for "guided meditation," in which a meditation teacher will give you cues on everything you need to know, whether it be observing your breath or visualizing your ideal future, says Tris Thorp, a life coach and meditation teacher who trained under Deepak Chopra and teaches at the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, Calif.

But don't expect improvement overnight, Thorp says.

"Give it time. I would say a minimum of 30 days and at least 20 minutes per meditation. It usually takes at least 10 minutes to get out of your day and get settled to where you can stop swearing at yourself for not being able to focus."

Part of getting settled is to find a comfortable seated position.

Danuta Otfinowski, a Washington, D.C., photographer and daily meditator for the past eight years, says it took her a year to figure out how to sit.

"You want to find a position where you're comfortable, where your legs don't fall asleep and you're not fidgeting," says Otfinowski, who now has a dedicated meditation space in her rowhouse. The space, on her sleeping porch, consists of the cushions she comfortably sits on, Buddhist prayer flags and the ashes of her parents.

She usually sits in meditation, which she says helps reduce stress and increase self-compassion and inner confidence, for about 20 minutes every afternoon.

Which raises the question: Is there an ideal time of day for meditation?

Early morning, Thorp says.

"Do it right away. Get up, pee and then sit down to practice. You're getting your day started with silence and peace."

This silence and peace can help create a buffer against small and big irritations and challenges that face you later in the day, she says.

"It's an awareness that allows you to choose how to respond and not fall into reactivity."

• • •

What if just sitting there makes you feel restless, and all you can think of is a thousand reasons meditating is a waste of time?

Otfinowski says joining a meditation group in 2008 was key for her sticking to the practice.

"You have a community, and you feel more accountable," she says.

It also made it feel more manageable: Other people with busy lives took time out of their day to practice, which encouraged her to do the same.

Brach agrees that joining a group can be a good way to start. Sometimes having a peer meditation circle is enough. She compares it to having a running partner.

"Especially in the beginning, it can be very beneficial to put together a group, and then you can use a guided meditation recording by a trained teacher," says Brach, whose website has dozens of audio recordings of meditations.

Thorp says that meditation circles are trending right now. "I think people are joining meditation groups to be part of a like-minded community, for the accountability of it and for the hugs and fresh-pressed juices afterward," she says.

• • •

Getting started, though, also means figuring out what type of meditation might suit you best. How to approach that one?

"I suggest experimenting with different classes online to see what resonates with you," Brach says.

There are two basic categories of meditation, and to perhaps muddy the waters a bit, many meditation teachers use a combination of the two. One is mindfulness meditation, and the other is various forms of concentration (Thorp calls it "intention") practices.

Mindfulness meditation focuses on being present and observing the mind and body without judgment, Brach says. It's a shift from thinking to being in the body, she says.

Mindfulness meditations often revolve around breath awareness. This is simple and accessible, Thorp says, but sometimes not engaging enough.

Concentration practices center on directing your attention toward something, maybe by visualizing goals that you want to attain (visualization), focusing on showing and feeling kindness to others and yourself (loving-kindness meditation) or repeating phrases (mantras).

Thorp says you have to try the various types to know what fits you best, but if you know yourself to be restless, then maybe a guided meditation is preferable to, say, a mantra meditation.

A loving-kindness meditation might fit someone religious, Thorp says, "since it's kind of like a prayer."

• • •

In the end, one of the main goals of meditation is learning how to pause and observe the mind to the point of controlling or channeling the fight-or-flight reaction into a more thoughtful, mindful and compassionate response toward others and ourselves.

"Meditation helps me disengage from the story line of me: my defaults, like negative self-talk," says Otfinowski, who has brought her practice to the Washington, D.C., jail, where she guides inmates in meditation.

"When you can disengage from the thoughts of the mind and instead observe the mind, there is an element of freedom."

Gabriella Boston is a fitness trainer and freelance writer. Contact her at gabriellaboston.com.

Comments

Owning dogs may be great for your heart and lower risk of death, study finds

Dog ownership correlates with lower rates of mortality and some fatal diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease, a study published this past week concluded.The study in the journal Scientific Reports found that canine ownership was associated wit...
Published: 11/19/17
New shingles vaccine touted as a breakthrough for older adults

New shingles vaccine touted as a breakthrough for older adults

Medical researchers and government health policymakers, a cautious lot, normally take pains to keep expectations modest when they’re discussing some new finding or treatment.They warn about studies’ limitations. They point out what isn’t known. They ...
Published: 11/17/17
BayCare’s HealthHub breaks ground behind Valrico shopping center

BayCare’s HealthHub breaks ground behind Valrico shopping center

VALRICO — Health care officials broke ground Thursday on the long anticipated HealthHub at Bloomingdale, which will bring about 150 jobs to an area that’s experiencing tremendous growth and provide patients with the latest in technological care.A pro...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/19/17
In Tampa Bay and elsewhere, early numbers show record sign-ups for Obamacare

In Tampa Bay and elsewhere, early numbers show record sign-ups for Obamacare

Despite the budget cuts, the attempts to repeal and replace, and reports of sharp rises in premiums, Floridians and other Americans are signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act at record rates this year.Enrollment has surged 47 p...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Study: Mental quickness exercises can lower risk of dementia

Study: Mental quickness exercises can lower risk of dementia

Where did I leave my keys?As we age, it can take longer to answer a question like that.Humans begin to lose cognitive ability at age 25. Dementia, or the decline of memory most commonly seen in aging adults, takes hold early on and is gradual, but ac...
Published: 11/16/17
Blood pressure of 130 is the new ‘high,’ according to update of guidelines

Blood pressure of 130 is the new ‘high,’ according to update of guidelines

The nation’s heart experts tightened the guidelines for high blood pressure Monday, a change that will sharply increase the number of U.S. adults considered hypertensive in the hope that they, and their doctors, will address the deadly condition earl...
Published: 11/13/17
Are Honey Nut Cheerios healthy? A look inside the box

Are Honey Nut Cheerios healthy? A look inside the box

I had a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios recently. It had been awhile. Regular Cheerios are more my thing. But sometimes I finish my box faster than my kids do and find myself straying to their side of the cupboard.Honey Nut is America’s best-selling break...
Published: 11/11/17
Owner of Bayfront Health St. Petersburg faces federal inquiry over funds for low-income patients

Owner of Bayfront Health St. Petersburg faces federal inquiry over funds for low-income patients

The corporate owner of Bayfront Health St. Petersburg could be facing a serious federal investigation related to its commitment to take care of St. Petersburg’s poorest residents.In its most recent filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commiss...
Published: 11/09/17
Updated: 11/14/17
Father in New Tampa uses monkey Kookabuk to help young autism patients

Father in New Tampa uses monkey Kookabuk to help young autism patients

As a 7-year-old boy, Kevin Howard spent months in the hospital with a bone infection in his leg.A stuffed monkey named Kookabuk helped him make it through the scary experience."I was told he had magical powers," Howard said of the monkey, a gift from...
Published: 11/07/17
Updated: 11/19/17
Learn to practice gratitude year-round, not just on Thanksgiving

Learn to practice gratitude year-round, not just on Thanksgiving

Is it part of your Thanksgiving tradition to go around the dinner table and have everyone share one thing they are thankful for? The exercise reminds us that the day is about more than just turkey and pie. And, for those who take it seriously, it for...
Published: 11/07/17
Updated: 11/10/17