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Meditation Could Be The Key To Your Stress Problems

By Shelby Sheehan-Bernard, Tribune News Service (TNS)

Stress. It seems everywhere we go, there’s an email to read, a text to send, a task to complete. If you’re seeking a way to ease your response to modern life’s stressors and overstimulation, mindfulness meditation may be the answer. Current research in the field, including a 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine from researchers at Johns Hopkins University, is continuing to uncover the benefits of a consistent meditation practice, such as its ability to help reduce anxiety and depression, as well as physical pain.

Think meditation is some complex, transcendental, or even a hokey experience? It’s actually simpler than you may think.

“There are so many misconceptions about a mindfulness practice,”said Sharon Salzberg, a meditation teacher and New York Times best-selling author of books such as Real Happiness-The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program. “Sometimes people think it needs to be tied to a certain belief system, or you have to sit in a pretzel-like posture, or there is a lot of preparatory work before you can start. None of that is so.”

She said it can be as basic as starting with five minutes each day, just focusing on your breath. “The trick is to realize that your mind will likely wander a lot,” said Salzberg, who notes that this isn’t a problem or a bad sign despite popular belief. “The goal is to gently let go of the distraction and begin again by bringing your attention back to the breath.”

If you find that this exercise doesn’t work for you, there are also guided meditations available online. Ashley Turner, a yoga meditation instructor and mind/body psychotherapist, is one of many teachers who have accessible online practices. (You can check out hers and a range of others available through the My Yoga/Gaiam TV.)

The key, Turner said, is consistency, not necessarily duration. Like Salzberg, she recommends starting with five minutes a day, adding one minute each week until you work up to an optimal 15 to 20 minutes each session.

The process may sound easy enough, but it’s not without its challenges. Elena Brower, a yoga and meditation instructor and author of the book and audio course “Art of Attention,” sees many beginners struggle with racings thoughts and feeling powerless to control them. “We think a lot. We all do. Our minds go a mile a minute and we can’t stop them until we learn how to meditate.” Like anything worth learning, she said, “it takes time and practice.”

Time is also a sticking point for many. “The biggest misconception is that we don’t have time to meditate. The truth is we don’t have time not to. Our bodies need us to take time in that healing state, to bring us back to neutral, and find a fresh experience of ease inside,” Brower explains.

A few tips to get you started:

1. Keep it simple. To begin, Salzberg suggests finding a comfortable seated position and focusing attention on the feeling of breathing in and out for five minutes.

2. Consider the many different forms of mindfulness meditation. Feel like sitting down doesn’t work for you? Salzberg notes there are a range of methods, and they aren’t all about stillness and silence. She suggests finding the one that works for you, whether it’s standing, walking or lying down. There are also practices for activities, such as mindful eating or drinking tea.

3. Start fresh each day. To get the most out of your practice, Turner suggests practicing in the morning, as it can help change the trajectory of your day. “It cultivates a sense of gratitude and helps slow you down,” she said. “It’s really about changing your relationship with your mind and allowing yourself some distance from your thoughts.”

4. Don’t expect immediate results. “Give it a month rather than evaluate it every moment because then you are not actually doing the practice; you’ve stepped away from it to assess it,” Salzberg said. When the time comes to evaluate its effectiveness, consider the big picture and how it’s affecting your life. “Look at how you speak to yourself when you’ve made a mistake, how present or distracted you are meeting a stranger, how you speak to your children or your neighbors. That’s where you’ll see the changes.”

5. Remember that it’s not about erasing thoughts. “That’s a whole misconception,” Turner said. “You’re just trying to notice and not get caught up in them, to have a little distance and shift your response to them.”

(c)2015 Tribune Content Agency, LLC, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: longtrek home via Flickr

Easy Ways To Increase Your Health

By Shelby Sheehan-Bernard, Tribune News Service (TNS)

If you’re one of the 92 percent of people whose New Year’s resolutions have lost their luster, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, you may not only be feeling unhealthy — you may be thinking you’re a total failure.

“We bite off more than we can chew, then we feel shame, and it’s a downward spiral from there,” said Lisa Wheeler, NASM- and ACE-certified fitness expert who is featured in several Weight Watchers fitness videos including “7-Day Tone & Burn.”

“Something small is better than nothing, and if you think about it, that’s how we learned as children: one word at a time, then sentences, then paragraphs,” she adds, noting that research shows that smaller incremental changes provide the best outcome.

Katy Bowman, biomechanist and author of the book Move Your DNA, suggests individuals seeking a healthier lifestyle look to small everyday changes that don’t require an outfit change, fancy gear or something outside of their routine.

“Even a simple change like sitting on the floor instead of the couch allows you to use more muscle and energy instead of outsourcing that to furniture,” she explains.

Looking for some simple changes that can increase both your physical and mental health? Check out these expert tips for inspiration:

1. Start the day right. Wheeler admits that she’s not a morning person. To offset this, she does a small mobility exercise such as a sun salutation and drinks a glass of water as soon as she wakes up every day. “That way, I’ve already got in movement and hydration to start my day with a positive outlook.”

2. Set the alarm — for bedtime. A self-described workaholic and night owl, Wheeler knows she won’t get a full eight hours of sleep unless she actually schedules it. So she sets an alert on her phone 30 minutes before bedtime so she can start winding down and getting to bed on time.

3. Get up and move. It’s no secret that Americans live a sedentary lifestyle, but according to Bowman, just a two-minute slow-paced walk every 30 minutes throughout the day can significantly improve health. Think you can’t do this at work? “Go hand-deliver a note to a colleague instead of emailing it, or take a walk while making phone calls,” she suggests.

4. Vary your sitting position. For most people, sitting at a desk all day is an inevitable part of their job. Bowman suggests varying your sitting position to provide variability of movement, which can burn calories and help your body align more with its natural state.

5. STOP. An acronym used by yoga and meditation instructor Ashley Turner, STOP stands for “stop, take a breath, observe and then proceed.” Inserting a moment of pause in your day will increase mindfulness, which allows you to increase contentment in your life and make better decisions about your health, according to Turner.

6. Try the “plus one” rule. If you’re having a hard time getting motivated to move, just start with one minute of exercise or movement and add on each day. “That’s doable for people and brings it to bite size,” Wheeler said. For example, you could start with a one-minute walk and gradually work up to 30 minutes a day, or do one pushup a day for a week and build up to 52 pushups by the end of the year.

7. Build a support system. Turner suggests looking at the five people who are closest to you and asking yourself: Are they positively affecting my life? She encourages people to seek out friends they can go on a walk or hike with, which helps build connections with people who motivate rather than detract from personal wellness goals.

8. Ditch the furniture. Try watching TV while sitting on the floor, which Bowman says engages your muscles even if you aren’t moving. Have to fold laundry? Try doing it on the floor and squatting as you sit down each time. Simple steps like these, she explains, can really add up throughout the day.

Photo: Guilherme Tavares via Flickr