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Learning to meditate can have immediate and lasting benefits for mental health

How do you meditate?

I remember asking myself this question when I was studying psychology at the University of Kentucky and then eventually being introduced to it my senior year in one of my advanced psychology classes. Before this class, I had heard about meditation, but I had never tried or even learned about it in a professional way.

The professor was soft-spoken and warm, creating a space of safety and calm within the classroom. She began leading us through various meditation exercises at the beginning of each class until the end of the semester. My first memory of meditation in this class was an exercise where the professor would begin by asking us to close our eyes, focus on our breathing, and notice the movement of the air through our nose, chest, and belly. I remember feeling so intrigued by these experiences that I began looking forward to days when I could go to this class and experience another moment of meditation.

Fast forward to today and I am now a certified meditation instructor specializing in mindfulness and have led hundreds of people through guided meditation experiences over the past 7 years. I have led groups ranging from one person all the way up to hundreds of people at one time in meditation. The most memorable meditation experience so far was guiding up to 200 people under the stars and amongst the solar system at the planetarium in Richmond KY.

The benefits of meditation are powerful and they can be immediate and also grow over time. I have personally experienced the benefits of meditation and how it can impact our ability to feel calm under pressure and stress, as well as strengthen our immune system amidst disease and toxicity in our environment.

Potential benefits of meditation:

• Calming of the nervous system leading to slower heart rate and breathing pace • Increased focus on the present with calm, clarity, and non-judgment • Increased sensation of grounding and focus for the day • Increased self-awareness • Increased stress management • Increased creativity and focus • Increased immune system response • Reduction in anxiety and depression • Increase in gratitude

The idea of incorporating meditation into one’s daily routine can seem overwhelming. You may have a preconceived image of what meditation is supposed to look like, cross-legged sitting on a meditation cushion with eyes closed, hands resting in your lap, focusing on your breathing for over 60 minutes. And for some, this is their meditation routine, but for many, this is not feasible for them and their daily life.

So if you lead a life where the concept of sitting on a cushion isn’t available to you, you can still benefit by inviting meditation while you engage in daily chores around the house such as dishes, vacuuming, and general cleaning, or while at work when you are sitting at your computer, in a meeting, or able to take a break in between tasks.

Here are some simple techniques you can invite during your day to experience slowing down and turning inwards. Engage in these techniques for as long as it feels right for you. Eyes can be closed or open depending on your level of comfort:

1. Breathe in for count of 4, breathe out for count of 4 or 6 2. Say quietly to yourself internally the word “In” as you inhale, and “out” as you exhale 3. Say quietly to yourself internally the phrase “I am” as you inhale, and “_____” as you exhale (ex. Enough, calm, present, etc.) 4. Invite your arms to move up over your head on your inhale, and come down to your sides on the exhale 5. Visualize a color that represents calm filling up your body as your breathe in, and visualize a color that represents tension/stress/etc. leaving your body as you exhale

Every moment of slowing down and being present, no matter how short the session, can strengthen your awareness over time, leading to an increase in stress management and self-awareness. It will take time to make these techniques part of your daily routine, but you’ve got to start somewhere, so start today.

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