In a society ‘blitzed out’ by stress, meditation focuses on life lived one breath at a time...
How to meditate
• Sit in a comfortable position – on a rug or pillow on the floor or in a chair. Eyes can be closed or downcast.
• Start with five minutes and gradually increase to 20 or 30. You might set an alarm so you don’t have to think about time.
• Observe your breath as you inhale and exhale. Don’t make it deeper, just notice it as it is.
• As your mind wanders, be aware and bring it gently back to the breathing, over and over.
• Be patient. The more you practice, the easier it will get.
Devotees of meditation do take time each day to sit quietly, close their eyes and focus on their breathing.
But they could also be practicing while sitting in traffic, standing in grocery lines, or stuck in a contentious meeting.
“It’s available to us in a lot of life circumstances,” said Sharon Salzberg, an internationally known leader of meditation retreats and co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society. “You don’t have to close your eyes. No one even has to know you’re doing it.”
Salzberg's latest book, “Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation”
Meditation trains the mind to concentrate. It also helps people become more mindful of the moment, instead of worrying about the past or the future, and to be more compassionate toward themselves and others.
“It’s really mental training,” Salzberg said, “in the same way you might go to a gym for physical exercise.”
Like exercise, meditation benefits both the mind and body. Modern scientific techniques and instruments, such as MRI, have enabled researchers to document that meditation lowers blood pressure, relieves chronic pain, reduces stress and protects the brain against aging.
While meditation has roots in religion, becoming a Buddhist is not a requirement.
One of the most popular forms of meditation – Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction – was adapted for the secular health care setting by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at University of Massachusetts.
Since 1979, more than 19,000 people have completed his eight-week program there, learning to cope with pain and other chronic illnesses.
Some who have taken the course now teach it in centers around the world. At Duke Integrative Medicine, more than 2,500 students have taken the course, taught by eight instructors.
“It’s all about mindfulness,” said Dr. Ron Vereen, a Durham psychiatrist and one of the Duke instructors. “Most people have probably experienced it, when we’re out in nature, and for a moment, we’re at one with what’s happening …
That kind of paying attention – on purpose, in the present moment, with nonjudgmental awareness – it’s different from ordinary attention.”
Surrounded by silence in Group Meditation:
A bell sounded for the start of the 30-minute meditation period. Everyone got quiet and closed their eyes.
Debbie George, guided the practice:
“One who is relaxed and centered becomes concentrated and aware,” she said.
“One who is concentrated and aware in the body and mind sees things clearly.
“One who sees things clearly lets go of the ways of struggle of the mind.”