Would you like to feel calmer and more focused? Do you feel too much stress during a busy day?
Research shows that meditation can help. A basic technique is mindful breathing, according to Laurie Seidel, M.S.N., a nurse educator in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Carilion Clinic.
“Take three to four slow deep breaths, feeling the air as it enters your nostrils, fills your chest and abdomen and flows out again," she explained. "Then breathe normally, aware that you are breathing in and out.”
But there are many types of meditation, and mindfulness meditation has become especially popular in recent years. Studies have shown its benefits to the brain and body, and it’s now being practiced in many settings, including business, education, health care and sports.
“It is definitely my favorite topic,” said Seidel.
She has done two research studies on the subject involving nurses and other health care professionals and has taught a mindfulness meditation course at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. Seidel is also an instructor at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and an adjunct faculty member of Jefferson College of Health Sciences.
What is mindfulness meditation?
“Using our natural breathing as an anchor, it’s about cultivating awareness of our thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations in the present moment with acceptance and curiosity and in a nonjudgmental way,” said Seidel. “Rather than being lost in rehashing a past event or worrying about the future, we can learn to gently let go and return to the breath and the present moment. As we develop our awareness, an inner stillness naturally grows, lowering our fear and calming anxiety.”
It’s also something we can all do.
“We spend so much time rushing and doing, and little time being in the present moment," Seidel noted. "With mindfulness meditation, over time you develop an inner calmness and are better able to handle everyday stresses. Practicing helps you be in control of the quality of your day and aware of these precious moments to be alive.”
New research has also shed more light on how our brains work.
“There is now robust science behind meditation,” Seidel said. “It’s great news that the research on neuroplasticity is showing that well-being is not a static thing, but a set of skills that can be learned and cultivated over time. This has broad implications for health care, education and beyond.”
If you are not sure how to get started, Seidel suggested trying these simple steps:
1. Choose an activity you perform every day and do this mindfully.
2. Imagine you’re doing it for the very first time.
3. Notice this activity through all of your senses as you do it, focusing your attention on just this task.
"If you are drinking a cup of tea, smell the tea, feel the warmth of the cup, and taste the tea as you sip it slowly,” Seidel explained.
If you find yourself in a stressful situation and need to center yourself, Seidel suggested trying this quick body check:
1. Pause and notice how it feels in your body.
2. Take a breath and acknowledge what you’re feeling.
"Perhaps say to yourself, ‘This is a difficult moment for me. I’m not alone; other people feel this way, too. May we all be at ease'," said Seidel. "This will cultivate self-compassion and helps us realize we are not alone in our difficulties."
Or you could practice mindfulness while walking.
“Notice the sensations of walking and be aware as you feel your foot touch the earth with each step,” she said. “Appreciate your legs and ability to walk. Think ‘present moment, calm moment,’ as you walk.”
Seidel also recommended seeking out books on meditation or one of the many meditation apps now available or joining a local meditation group.
“Start slowly and don’t overreach at first,” she advised. “Maybe start with five minutes every morning or 10 minutes a day. And remember that regular, consistent practice makes mindfulness a part of us and is more likely to form a healthy habit. It’s something we can practice throughout the day as well as in a more formal way.”
So if you’ve been thinking about trying meditation, you have a lot of company. In our ultra-busy world, it is helping many to find more peace and happiness in their lives.