The health benefits of meditation are well established. Thousands of studies link a regular meditation practice with everything from reduced blood pressure to improved mood. But for some people, sitting still and focusing on the breath is stressful.
"Even seasoned meditators sometimes struggle to quiet their minds, so you shouldn't beat yourself up if you have trouble with it," says Ryan Gauthier, DAOM, RAc, LMT, a doctor of acupuncture and oriental medicine with Henry Ford’s Center for Integrative Medicine. Instead, consider other strategies that help you feel more grounded, calm, productive and focused.
A variety of activities can help quiet the mind and switch off stressful thoughts. The key is selecting activities that turn your focus to the present — and that bring you a sense of joy and peace. A few favorites:
- Get some fresh air: The idea of stepping outside to enhance health and healing dates back centuries. Some people call it forest bathing. Others call it taking a green shower. No matter what you call it, studies confirm that getting out in nature — especially if you can be mindful while you're there — can help reduce stress, boost feel-good hormones and clear a cluttered mind. "Being in nature helps us disconnect from everyday worries and tune in to ourselves," Dr. Gauthier says. Just leave your devices behind.
- Move your body: Exercise is a great way to coax your brain into a more meditative state and release feel-good hormones. Physical activities that involve repetitive movements, such as swimming, cycling and running may be especially beneficial. "Any activity where you lose yourself in the practice of it can be restorative and healing," Dr. Gauthier says.
- Take a breath: Close or soften your eyes and notice your breath. Is it short and ragged? Long and deep? Then take a few moments to fill your lungs. Slowly inhale through your nose and feel your belly, ribs and chest expand. As you exhale through your nose, reverse the process and feel the muscles of your chest, ribs and lower belly gently contract.
- Get creative: Creative pursuits such as coloring, knitting, cooking and playing music can help cultivate a meditative mind. "Find the activity that allows you to get lost in feelings of peace and calm," Dr. Gauthier says.
Meditation In Practice
Meditation is about bringing awareness to the present moment. The goal is to detach from distracting thoughts about the past or future and focus your attention on what's happening in your mind and body right now.
You don't have to sit on a mat and think about not thinking to get the benefits. You can just choose to be mindful in your day-to-day activities. Pay attention to your senses as you navigate the world and anchor your mind in the present moment.
"That can be as simple as feeling how the water hits your body in the shower and picturing white, healing light as the water runs over you," Dr. Gauthier says. "The idea is to remain grounded in the here and now."
Ryan Gauthier, D.A.O.M., R.A.c., L.M.T., specializes in acupuncture and oriental medicine, practicing at Henry Ford Medical Center – Cottage (in Grosse Pointe).