From an integrative medicine viewpoint, practicing meditation is one of the best things you can do for your health and wellness. The benefits of meditation are well documented, it is a natural and non-invasive intervention, and its benefits encompass body, mind and spirit. The benefits are extensive and we generally think of things like stress relief, improved well-being, and increased self-awareness. Meditation can also be a useful tool for reducing anxiety, depression, and insomnia. There is good research to support the idea that meditation and mindfulness can decrease blood pressure, reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis, help people stop smoking, and that it may be useful in reducing menopausal symptoms. The most important result of developing a regular meditation practice may be in reducing systemic inflammation. In fact, the decrease in inflammation may be the pathway for improvements in pain and immune function as well as for many of the other conditions described above.
Another benefit: practicing meditation is SIMPLE! It doesn’t cost anything, no special equipment is needed, and it can basically be done any time and any place. Benefits can be realized immediately, yet they grow and build over time.
That said, many people find that despite the benefits and the simplicity, it isn’t exactly easy. Among other things, meditation is about focusing and quieting the mind, and our culture is all about multi-tasking and stimulation. Starting gradually can help to overcome challenges. Here are a couple of suitable-for-beginner practices to begin to lay a foundation if you are interested in developing a regular practice.
Before You Start
Both of the practices that follow emphasize working with the breath as the focal point of your mediation. While they can be done anywhere, as a beginner, it’s best to start in a relatively quiet place where you can sit comfortably with your spine upright. Set aside a minimum of 5 minutes (yes! even 5 minutes is long enough to reset your system, and longer, deeper periods will offer even greater benefit), and allow more time if you can, increasing the overall length of time as you go. It may be helpful to have a timer that will chime after your designated time so that you aren’t distracted with keeping an eye on the clock.
Measuring Your Breath
Sitting comfortably, bring your attention to your breath. Observe your inhalations. Observe your exhalations. Then begin to count the length of each inhalation. Count out the length of your exhalation. Often they are of different lengths, and that’s fine. Stay with your counting, and if you notice your mind wandering away from your breath, gently bring it back to your counting. Actively counting out the length of each inhalation and each exhalation gives your mind something to do. Along with counting, use each inhale as an opportunity to sit up a little taller, lengthening your spine. Use each exhale to relax and settle into your body a little more. Stay with this for the time you’ve set aside.
Balancing Your Breath
This practice builds on the previous, and it starts in the same way: sitting comfortably, observing the breath, counting out the lengths of the inhales and the exhales. Once settled, take notice of the length of (the number you’re counting to for) your typical inhale. Take notice of the length of your typical exhale. Stay with your counting as you bring your breath into balance, using the SMALLER of the two numbers. So if your inhale is SHORTER than your exhale, use your counting to shorten your exhale, so that both inhale and exhale are the SAME length. If your inhale is LONGER than your exhale, shorten it to match the exhale. If your inhales and exhales are already the same length, that’s great….you’re ahead of the game! Stay with the counting throughout the practice, and make your breath as smooth and even as possible, along with keeping the inhale and exhale the same length. In the yogic tradition, this breath practice has a Sanskrit name: Samavritti, which translates as “even turning of the breath; equal motion of the breath.”
After You Finish
When your meditation time comes to an end, take a final moment to observe how you feel. Make note of any challenges you experienced, and also any shifts you noticed. Was it difficult to focus on your breath? Was this boring? Do you feel more calm, more at ease? How did your body respond to this practice? Consider your observations without judgement – they are simply what happened today. Commit to another practice session tomorrow and notice how your responses change over time.
Here are a some resources that provide more information and hopefully more inspiration:
- Mayo Clinic – Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress
- New York Times Wellness Guide – How to Meditate
- Spotify Podcasts – Meditation Minis
- Deepak Chopra – 21=Day Meditation Experience (free course)
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health – Meditation in Depth
At Satori Integrative Medicine Clinic, we encourage our patients to incorporate mindfulness practices into daily life as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for: major depression, the depressed phase of bipolar disorder (bipolar depression), postpartum depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), pain syndromes such as fibromyalgia and complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), also known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), and addiction. Our services include integrative medicine, ketamine and lidocaine infusions and medical acupuncture. If you or someone you know suffers from any of these conditions and this approach to health and wellness resonates with you, please contact us for more information.