Northwest Health Winter 2012

Emotional Health

Connecting Mind and Body

Meditation promotes inner calm and may yield health benefits, too.

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About five years ago, Group Health member Dennis Ahrens noticed and admired that some of his coworkers seemed resilient and calm when under strain or tension. When he asked them about this, they attributed it to their practice of meditation.

His decision to join them has yielded both physical and emotional benefits, he says. His blood pressure is lower, and he understands how to better control anxiety and cultivate a sense of inner calm. "I'm a better listener, less judgmental, and less reactive to daily stresses because I'm more aware, alive, and present to what is actually happening in life," says Ahrens. "Meditation helps me stay more connected to other people as well as more connected to myself."

Finding inner calm through focus. The goal of this mind-body practice is to help the individual achieve calm and awareness by steadying the mind's focus, says psychotherapist Sarah Stuckey, MA, LMHC, who practices at Group Health Behavioral Health Services in Tacoma. "Meditation also offers a route for being less attached to emotionally charged thoughts," she adds.

Stuckey recommends meditation for patients suffering from depression and anxiety, as well as from grief and loss issues. Practicing meditation in short bursts of 30 seconds is advocated by some psychotherapists, she says, to help patients manage distressing emotional states, including thoughts about harming themselves or making impulsive choices. "Meditation can help turn the mind away from these thoughts, not only by reframing the situation, but more importantly by moving one's mind to a detached and compassionate place," she says.

Additionally, meditation is used by some patients who don't want to rely exclusively on medication to manage their pain. It is sometimes recommended to patients to help lower blood pressure or manage menopause symptoms. Research studies are under way to determine whether there is measurable evidence of health benefits, and for what conditions and diseases it can be most valuable.

Many ways to meditate. Ahrens, an organization change consultant and an executive coach, says he meditates daily at home, and participates in sitting and walking meditation with small groups as often as his schedule allows, both mornings and evenings. "To be silent together with other people is supportive, inspiring, and strengthening, regardless of the practice form," he says.

There are many ways to practice meditation, including focusing on a movement, such as your breath, or walking, swimming, or stretching. The common thread, notes Stuckey, is that all types of meditation try to help a practitioner gain a balanced mind, or mental equilibrium.

Getting Started

You can take a class to learn the basics of meditation, or simply find a quiet place and sit in a comfortable position. Stuckey suggests the following:

  • Clear your mind. Let go of worrying about how or what you are doing.
  • Choose a meditation focus, such as breathing. Then try to breathe naturally. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the focus.
  • Begin by meditating for 2 to 3 minutes and work your way up to 10 to 20 minutes.
  • Practice, practice, practice.
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