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Finding Inner Sanctuary, Meditation
These days, it feels like everything is a race: a race to get all the boxes on your to-do list checked off. A race to make it to the next rung of the professional ladder. A race to keep up with and perhaps even beat out "the Joneses." A race to make sure your kids have the perfect academic, extracurricular, and personal qualifications; so, they can get into a good college. A race to make sure all the bills get paid, even though you're on a reduced budget.
However, instead of building the perfect lives we want, what we're really doing is racing each other into the ground and over the edge. If this last description of manic modern life sounds all too familiar, it's high time you stepped off the merry-go-round (for at least five to ten minutes), sat down in a quiet place, and participated in a simple practice that has been around for millennia: meditation.
"When people operate on low margins with time and money (which is everybody I know right now), their stress levels can go through the roof," points out Stephan Bodian, author of Meditation-For-Dummies-3rd Edition. "In many ways, meditation is the perfect antidote to the postmodern predicament because it effectively reduces stress, increases energy, and enables you to enjoy better overall health and much more."
"Since our culture programs us to expect a perfect life that is impossible to achieve, our best efforts only cause us to become overstressed, over-scheduled, overstimulated, and overtired," explains Bodian. "This is all compounded by the fact that your body and mind have been 'programmed' to respond to life's inevitable ups and downs with stress, anxiety, and dissatisfaction. But you have the power to change all of that through meditation. You can program yourself to experience inner peace, harmony, equanimity, and joy."
Before any false assumptions you're harboring cause you to give up on meditation before you even begin, Bodian assures you can keep it simple (you'll see positive results after just five to ten minutes of meditation a day) or explore the practice's subtleties in great depth. It's entirely up to you. If you're intrigued but still not entirely sure meditation is for you, then read on for 9 more reasons why this ancient practice can help you live your best, most healthy and fulfilling life:
Improving mental & physical health
If you're a skeptic at heart, then you'll be reassured to know that studies have proven that meditation offers numerous benefits, including:
• Lower blood pressure
• Quicker recovery from stress
• Fewer heart attacks and strokes
• Reduced cholesterol levels
• Muscle relaxation
• Reduction in the intensity of pain
• More happiness and peace of mind
• More loving, harmonious relationships
• Enhanced creativity and self-actualization
• Reductions in acute and chronic anxiety
“While scientific studies of meditation weren't conducted until the 1930s (and have really taken off in the past 10 to 15 years), practitioners have been experiencing these significant benefits for centuries upon centuries," points out Bodian.
Awakening to the present moment
When you rush breathlessly from one moment to the next, anticipating another problem or anticipating a coming pleasure, you miss the beauty and immediacy of the present, which is constantly enfolding before your eyes.
"Meditation teaches you to slow down and take each moment as it comes-the sounds of traffic, the smell of new clothes, the laughter of children, the coming and going of your breath," explains Bodian. "In fact, as the meditative tradition reminds us, only the present moment exists anyway-the past is just a memory and the future is a fantasy."
Connecting more deeply with others
As you awaken to the present moment and open your heart and mind to your own experience, you naturally extend this quality of awareness and presence to your family and friends.
And when you start to accept others the way they are – a skill you can cultivate through the practice of meditation – you open up the channels for a deeper love and intimacy to flow between you.
Relax the body and calm the mind
As contemporary health researchers have discovered and traditional texts agree-mind and body are inseparable, and an agitated mind inevitably produces a stressed-out body.
"As the mind settles, relaxes, and opens during meditation, so does the body-and the longer you meditate (I mean both minutes logged each day as well as days and weeks of regular practice), the more this peace and relaxation ripples out to every area of your life, including your health," says Bodian.
Have you ever thought and worried yourself into an uncontrollable frenzy or even a meltdown? It's easy to do: fears feed on one another, problems get magnified exponentially, and the next thing you know, you're feeling overwhelmed, panicked, and desperate to take a leave of absence from your own life.
"The good news is, meditation encourages an inner mental spaciousness in which difficulties and concerns no longer seem so threatening, and constructive solutions can naturally arise," promises Bodian. "Meditation also fosters a certain detachment that allows for greater objectivity, perspective, and even humor."
Experiencing focus and flow
Have you ever been so fully involved in an activity that all sense of self-consciousness, time, and distraction dissolved? If so, you've experienced what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a state of flow. "You might experience a state of flow when you're creating a work of art, playing a sport, working in the garden, or even making love," explains Bodian. "Athletes call it being 'in the zone.' Through meditation, you can discover how to give the same focused attention to and derive the same enjoyment from every activity."
Feeling centered, grounded & balanced
For many people, living in an increasingly flat and rapidly – changing world can foster feelings of insecurity and of not having a "place" to call one's own. To counter these negative mindsets, meditation offers an inner groundedness and balance that external circumstances can't destroy.
Studies have shown that basic meditation practice alone can enhance your perceptual clarity, creativity, self-actualization, and many of the other factors that contribute to superior performance. Plus, specific meditations have been devised to enhance performance in a variety of activities, ranging from sports to schoolwork.
Align with a deeper sense of purpose
When you practice making the shift from doing and thinking to being (one way to describe this is fully experiencing the present moment with love and without ego), you'll discover how to align yourself with a deeper current of meaning and belonging.
"For instance, you might get in touch with personal feelings and aspirations that have long remained hidden from your conscious awareness," suggests Bodian.
"If you allow meditation to become a regular part of your life, it will relieve your stress, disappointment, fear, anger, outrage, and hurt while focusing your energy, making you more effective, and even improving your mental and physical health."3
Stephan Bodian is the author of Meditation For Dummies®, 3rd Edition. He is a licensed psychotherapist and former editor-in-chief of Yoga Journal, has practiced and taught meditation for over 40 years, and has written extensively on meditation, stress management, and spirituality. His articles have appeared in Fitness, Cooking Light, Natural Solutions, and other national magazines.