You can (and should) start a meditation practice this fall. For real.
Deena Kara Shaffer
I’ll admit it straight up: I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with meditation. I’ve experienced its grounding, peace and presentness, and yet I’ve also found meditation difficult to prioritize and stick with. But each time I return to a consistent practice, I’m struck by its retreat-like stillness and calm. Sounds like exactly what’s needed when the metaphorical tornado that is September hits. Right?
Yes! Caroline Meyer, ND and reiki master, says, “Meditation relieves suffering. It can bring us to a place where we experience happiness and joy.” It does so by inviting us back to this breath—right here and now. Meditation can help us let go of past and future, reactions and planning, fretting and ruminating. Meyer describes how, when fully present, we’re able to “enjoy the pleasurable events in our lives more intensely and able to weather the painful challenges that arise for all of us. In doing so, we become better parents, partners, workers and friends.”
John Miller, author of The Contemplative Practitioner: Meditation in Education and the Workplace, says that “meditation reduces stress, the cause of many illnesses,” and Meyer points to studies about the positive effects of mindfulness on “a range of medical concerns, including chronic pain, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, anxiety, depression, respiratory conditions and even skin conditions.” Recent research also indicates meditation may reduce high blood pressure, help with distress accompanying cancer diagnoses and treatments and alleviate menopausal discomforts.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine and originator of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program taught worldwide to help ease pain, anxiety and stress, describes mindful meditation as moment by moment, or breath by breath awareness. Donald Eckler, a meditation instructor in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, depicts meditation as “the act of relating to life directly, as it is,” without overthinking, theorizing or judging. Meditation invites self-compassion and what Eckler calls “friendliness” toward ourselves. Meyer says meditation can be practiced in myriad ways, including “traditional breathing practices, mindful walking, chanting and even through daily tasks like cleaning and cooking.” Most essential is to be “fully absorbed in what is happening in this very moment.”
There are many styles of meditation, including those that use mantras or visualization (see “Try it!”), each with its own history, techniques and mentors. Several characteristics are shared across meditation types. Meditation usually involves a space with minimal distractions, a specific comfortable position, a particular focus of attention and an open attitude. Mindfulness—the awareness and acceptance of the present moment and the thoughts, feelings and sensations it contains—is at the heart of all types of meditation practices.
Eckler, Meyer and Miller each suggest beginning with a teacher or group. While apps and online resources can be helpful, Eckler notes that someone new to meditating “is going to want to speak to a real person, someone they feel some trust in.” Meyer advises clients to start small but consistently, even a few minutes a day, and then gradually extend the time (see “Stick with it!”). And Miller suggests it’s ideal to “practice on a daily basis for at least six to eight weeks to start to experience the benefits.”