The word meditation, by its very definition, conjures up images of peace and calm. But, why is it then, that when asked to meditate, many of us feel anxious instead of serene?
More and more wellness authorities are prescribing meditation these days — from health coaches and yoga instructors to MD’s, physical therapists, and mental health professionals. This trend reveals the general health community‘s confidence in the modality, so if practitioners are confident, why aren’t we as their patients?
This fear comes from our anxiety over the unknown or unfamiliar. We don’t know how to embrace mindfulness!
As a culture, here’s what we know. We’re familiar with busy-ness. We don’t run out to grab lunch — we scurry. We even do it while talking on the phone and making lists. Our minds are so distracted that if it weren’t for the empty bags and containers we may not even realize that we ate lunch at all!
Multi-tasking at breakneck speed has a price. A hurry-up pace of life isn’t sustainable long-term. Cracks begin to develop in our “perfect” façade and they’re showing up earlier and earlier. Women now in their 30’s and 40’s are beginning to suffer from conditions that used to hamper those of retirement age. Memory loss, insomnia, and digestive dysfunctions, for starters, are common for mothers and grandmothers alike.
The way we spend our time couldn’t be more different from generations past. I know that my grandmother used to sit in her kitchen for an entire evening and shell peas and shuck corn. When was the last time you did that? Me neither.
Here’s the part of meditation’s definition that may strike fear in your heart: continued or extended thought, reflection, or contemplation.
Do you see any wiggle room there for the multi-tasking activities we find familiar? Where’s the busy-ness? How long is “continued or extended?” Do we have to sit or can we stand? What’s reflection and contemplation? What are we supposed to think about, anyway?
I’ve known people who could practically break into hives just thinking about sitting still.
As with many things in life, we assume we’re supposed to tackle meditation like a problem. We’re supposed to figure out how it’s done “right” and then hop to it. I bet there’s even an app for that.
What it boils down to is our expectations. Do you worry that if you meditate, you’ll feel compelled to visit an ashram in India as in Eat, Pray, Love? Do you think you need a wardrobe of flowing gowns? What do you expect to experience when you try it? Frustration? Incompetence? Maybe even failure?
The good news is that there’s no “right” way to meditate. You don’t have to be inert and uncomfortable. You don’t even have to be still if you don’t want to. In fact, many activities you’re probably already doing can be considered meditative. Have you ever lost track of time while washing dishes, vacuuming, or gardening? Maybe you didn’t know it, but you were meditating. Contemplating something in your mind – puzzling it out – can be meditative.
“Meditation is more about your mind than it is about your body.“
Being mindful takes practice and focus. It’s about giving yourself permission to participate in something that allows you to think for an extended period of time (whatever that means for you). For example, my favorite activity, tai chi, is called a moving meditation for good reason. By moving the body slowly and with intention, the mind can relax and unwind. A relaxed mind leads to a cascade of pleasant side effects including lowered (or regulated) blood pressure, improved circulation, and improved digestion. Additionally, meditation goes hand in hand with deep breathing which brings much-needed oxygen into the body.
You don’t have to take up the hobby of shelling peas to meditate. Try allowing your thoughts to drift as you do “mindful” activities such as, washing your hair, folding laundry, walking in your neighborhood, weeding a flower bed, bicycling, swimming, dancing, yoga, stretching, knitting, crocheting, crafting, rocking a baby (borrow one if you need to!), chopping vegetables, etc. I bet you can come up with dozens more.
Practicing mindfulness isn’t easy, but then – that’s why they call it practice.
Sue Ingebretson (www.RebuildingWellness.com) is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia editor for the ProHealth website community.
Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™ (www.FibroFrog.com)- a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.