There are many ways to relax and clear one’s head, but few have a more measurable impact than meditation. Often described as “thinking about not thinking,” meditation helps the body and mind unwind. In fact, a growing body of research suggests that meditating for as few as 10 minutes a day may help reduce blood pressure, lower anxiety and stress, and help a racing mind slow down.
Maybe you’ve tried meditation but have had trouble getting in the zone. No question it’s hard to shut out the chaos of a busy day and keep your to-do list and your worries from crowding out calming thoughts. But it’s worth the effort.
Making a practice of meditation can help you tap into how you’re feeling—physically, mentally and emotionally, says Ryan Gauthier, DAOM, RAc, LMT, a doctor of acupuncture and oriental medicine with Henry Ford’s Center for Integrative Medicine. It lets you set the stage for how your day will go. Some studies even suggest practicing meditation boosts productivity.
You can get the benefits of mediation without signing up for a retreat or taking a 60-minute vow of silence. The best practices are ones you can enjoy on the fly. Here are six simple meditative solutions Dr. Gauthier recommends:
- Go for guided. A number of simple, guided practices, available both online and in app form, make trying meditation easier than ever. Guided meditations give your busy mind something to focus on, as a voice guides you to visualize specific scenarios. It could be a meadow with a running brook, or perhaps you will imagine white healing light surrounding your body. The voice may even just guide you to focus on your breath, prompting you to inhale and exhale on cue. The meditation might even lull you to sleep if you listen for 10 minutes before bed. Want to give it a try? Upload an app like Headspace or Calm (or search online for other options).
- Call up an image. “In my practice, I tell clients to visualize a tree with golden leaves. Then, I tell them to watch the leaves fall one by one from the tree. As the leaves pass their body they imagine being covered in golden light,” explains Dr. Gauthier. “Almost any object works, provided it doesn’t have any negative connotations. Take an apple, for example. First, visualize a crisp red apple. Then imagine cutting it in half. What does it look like? Is the inside juicy and white? Where are the seeds? What does the stem look like? Just imagining the object with all of its nuances is a form of meditation.”
- Try progressive relaxation. If you’re holding on to emotional or physical stress, progressive relaxation can help you decompress. Start at your toes and flex them. Consider what it feels like to tense your toes. Then take a deep breath and release that tension. What does it feel like to relax? Work your way up your entire body all the way to the top of your head, tensing and relaxing the muscles to release pent up stress.
- Breathe deep. Breathing is the first thing we do when we’re born and the last thing we do before we die. So learning to connect to your breath has powerful benefits. Take a deep breath and pay attention to how your body feels. Then breathe in through your nose and feel your belly inflate. Breathe out through your mouth and feel your belly contract. Make your breath intentional. For example, visualize breathing in peace and calm, and breathing out stress and tension.
- Try moving meditation. Practices such as yoga and Tai chi are based on the same principles as meditation. In fact, they’re often called “moving meditations” for that reason. The idea: to connect with your body in space and concentrate on the movement. And since these practices are often in a class setting, you’ll benefit from spending time with like-minded folks.
- Break out a coloring book. If you have trouble thinking about nothing, try doing something that focuses your mind, but isn’t too taxing. Coloring can be an ideal activity. Turn on some soft music, adjust the lighting and start coloring. Simply concentrating on the different colors and designs while clearing your mind of other thoughts and feelings is a form of meditation.
Still not sure you’re cut out for meditation? Find your mind wandering whenever you try to settle in? You’re not alone. Even the most Zen devotees have trouble letting their thoughts go. Just acknowledge the distraction and bring your attention back to the practice.
Perhaps most important, start small — with just 10 minutes each week — and build up to a daily practice. Just like any exercise or diet program, your best bet is to start with a manageable goal so you can build on success. But check with your doctor first before embarking on a regular practice, particularly if you’re interested in moving forms of meditation.
Learn more about integrative medicine services offered at Henry Ford or request an appointment today.
Dr. Ryan Gauthier specializes in acupuncture and oriental medicine, practicing at Henry Ford Medical Center – Cottage (in Grosse Pointe Farms).