Many of us have experienced a wide range of emotions during these last few weeks as we continue to cope with the effects of COVID-19. At times, you might have felt worried, anxious and sad, while other times might have brought unexpected joy and gratitude. While it can be difficult to notice in the moment, our bodies are highly sensitive to our surroundings. In fact, stress and anxiety have the potential to increase our risk of certain illnesses and diseases. That’s why it’s so important to learn how to manage our emotions, especially in trying times such as these.
Many people turn to mindfulness as a way to take control of our feelings and reduce the effects of stress, anxiety and worry. According to The Chopra Center, “Mindfulness is all about being aware, which of course includes the practice of meditation. When you are being actively mindful, you are noticing and paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, behaviors and movements and also to the affects you have on those around you. Meditation is an intentional practice, where you focus inward to increase calmness, concentration and emotional balance.” While individuals choose to practice mindfulness for many different reasons, its benefits are apparent in all of its forms. In fact, clinical trials have shown that those who practice mindful meditation regularly can reduce chronic pain and other illnesses by 57%.”For some, mindfulness can be a hard concept to understand, especially for those who are unfamiliar with its origin.
According to the EOC Institute, mindfulness meditation has a long history that stretches back thousands of years. While its exact start date is unknown, most scholars agree that meditation and the practice of mindfulness can be traced back 5,000 years to the time of hunter-gatherers, who practiced meditation and passed it on to future generations.
Mindfulness is most historically tied to the Buddha, whose teachings go back to 500BC. Essentially, the Buddha’s teachings and practice formed what we now understand as meditation. Traveling during these times was limited so meditation widely remained in Asia. Meditation practice finally reached Western history by 1960 and was widely adopted by a group we now refer to as hippies. Since then, those throughout the world have adopted the values of meditation and continue to practice it today, reaping its many benefits.
While there are many ways to practice mindfulness, all forms allow a person to calm both their bodies and minds. According to an article published by U.S. News, “Meditation requires you sit or lie down and let your thoughts drift out of your mind. When you meditate, in general, the breath slows down, heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases, stress decreases, digestive function improves and the sense of tension in the body decreases.” Many researchers have found that a consistent daily mindfulness practice can provide a wide variety of health benefits:
Protects Against Cognitive Decline-While mindfulness requires a certain extent of “letting go” of thoughts and worries, it also requires you to practice control, which can help maintain and improve cognitive function and increase memory and processing speed.
Aids Digestion– The practice of meditation can actually help improve digestion by increasing blood flow and the amount of oxygen in your blood.
Reduces Stress– A study led by Carnegie Mellon found that meditation has the ability to reduce feelings and symptoms of stress, especially for those who practice consistently. The practice of organizing our thoughts and regulating our emotions can help improve our focus and give us a clear perspective.
Combats Loneliness– A study published by UCLA found that participants who meditated often focused more on the present moment than dwelling in the past or worrying about the future. This allowed participants to focus on what was around them, resulting in a decreased feeling of loneliness.
Promotes Communication and Healthy Relationships– Mindfulness allows us to sit and acknowledge our feelings without judgment. The more we practice mindfulness, the more we will be able to move this practice over in our relationships with others. As we come to understand ourselves more clearly, communicating our needs and wants with others begins to get easier.
Like with most new things, getting started is the hardest part when it comes to setting up your mindfulness practice. At first, meditation will feel clumsy and uncomfortable. However, like any exercise, practice makes perfect. Don’t be discouraged if you find cultivating your practice difficult. To make things a bit easier, here are some few tips to follow:
Setting Up Your Practice
The best way to stay consistent with your practice is to make it part of your routine, just like eating dinner or going to an exercise class. The most consistent meditators choose the same time of day to begin their practice. You should aim for about 20 minutes at least 5 times a week. However, this will take time! First, start with 5 minutes and build on your time by a few minutes each day.
Okay, you’ve made your mindfulness commitment, now what?
• Get Comfortable– Find a place that feels comfortable to begin your practice. You might choose a bedroom, dining room or even your kitchen. Try to sit with your back straight, but the most important element is that you are comfortable.
• Close Your Eyes– As you close your eyes, your other senses should become sharper. Focus on the sensation of breathing—how does it feel to take a breath? Gently pull yourself back to focusing on your breath whenever thoughts enter your mind.
• Focus on Breath– Choosing to let go of your thoughts and refocusing on the sensation of breathing helps you to control where you put your attention. This will ultimately help you with decision-making and concentration outside of your practice when dealing with daily difficulties.
Dealing with Challenges
When we try something for the first time, there will obviously be challenges. This is completely normal. Feeling distracted is a common experience for beginners, however all you can do is gently pull yourself back into the moment. If you feel discouraged often, it’s okay to pause your meditation, write down your thoughts and get back into the moment. This will allow you to let go of what you’re worrying about and get back into your practice.
At Maplewood Senior Living, we know these times away from family and friends are difficult. Many of our residents are exploring new hobbies, exercises and activities that give them peace and relieve stress, leaving them feeling happier and healthier. To learn more about our offerings, please contact us.
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