Venture Deeper Into the World of Meditation

Mending the Mind, One Breath at a Time

Take a deep breath. Relax your shoulders. Now your mind. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

Any good yogi with his or her chakras in working order will tell you that if you can follow those simple directions, you can meditate. In fact, staying conscious of one’s breathing is a technique many meditation coaches refer to as “breath awareness meditation.”

On the long journey to mastering this ancient practice, it’s the perfect place to start.

“Usually I’ll just start with focusing on our breaths and teaching people how to be centered with just a simple breathing technique,” said Laurie Beck, owner of Santa Rosa Beach-based Pilates by the Sea.

For novice meditation practitioners, experts agree that this soothing mental exercise is ideal for learning how to tune out the distractions and stressors of the modern world, one relaxing breath at a time. Once you figure out how to do so on the yoga mat, they say, it’s far easier to do the same in everyday life.

“Just sit down and, for five minutes, know that you’re breathing in and know that you’re breathing out,” explained Felicia McQuaid, owner of The Healing Clinic in Fort Walton Beach. “And in that, the mind is directed to one thing, and all those other thoughts will come and go, but your anchor is a breath in and a breath out.”

It all sounds very relaxing, no doubt. But, technically speaking, what exactly is meditation? Who should try it out? And, besides breathing, how does one know where to begin?

Defining this incredibly personal experience can be tricky and is perhaps best explained by what it is not. For instance, if you’re thinking meditation is about solving the world’s problems, or is solely aimed at somehow gaining religious insight or becoming enlightened, you couldn’t be more wrong.

In reality, it’s just about you.

“Meditation, to me, is putting the mind and the body in a calm place,” said Beck, who recently published her memoirs chronicling her struggles with cancer in her autobiography, “I Am Living to Tell.” “It’s learning how to be quiet and allow whatever needs to come in to come in, but also to release what does not serve you.”

With A-listers from Oprah Winfrey to Huffington Post editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington taking to the airwaves to give the art of meditation its just deserts, the practice has lost much of its “hippie-dippy” connotation. Even Johns Hopkins University is chiming in, with researchers there having recently released a review of 47 trials that suggested consistent meditation could have a lasting impact on psychological stressors such as anxiety, depression and even pain.

Unlike many healthful living crazes, this trend is easily achievable for any fitness level and is as well suited for the young as it is for the young at heart. Both Beck and McQuaid agreed that having rambunctious or energetic youth decompress through meditation could be a holistic solution to a cognitive issue.

While everyone’s path toward “successful” meditation is unique, there are a few standard steps you can take to get started.

First, find a quiet, clean, calm space. This can just as easily be your living room as one of the Emerald Coast’s beautiful meditation and yoga studios — it’s all about where you’re most comfortable, emotionally and fiscally. Position your body so you are both content and alert. Whether that means reclining entirely or sitting up cross-legged, it’s entirely up to you.

If focusing on inhaling and exhaling leaves your mind wandering, try instead concentrating on a single word — repeating it, and only it, over and over in your mind.

“Others focus on a mantra, a word,” Beck said. “That’s all they keep. Every time a message tries to come in, you don’t allow it.”

It’s a technique she’s used many times before. Beck’s word? “Peace.” She admits, though, that any positive affirmation will do nicely.

Repetition is key to finding focus and emotional relief through meditation. Incorporating the practice into your daily routine might not be feasible for some, but allotting 10 minutes per day can offer an otherwise hectic schedule a brief respite and have a lasting effect on the way one processes stress, a contributing factor to many serious medical conditions.

“Just sit down and focus,” instructed McQuaid, also a published wellness author through her book “Uncommon Faith.” “The first stages of meditation are just to be able to focus.”

Categories: Wellness