The thought of meditation often brings cringes of resistance and images uncomfortably sitting, legs crossed, in a still position for long periods of time. Most people resist the idea of meditation because they cannot imagine themselves slowing down.
We live in a world that is extremely fast-paced. Most of our daily actions and activity support us in moving even faster. Television, computers, cell phones, text messaging, emails and instant messages overload us with information; keeping us connected to the world 24 hours a day/7 days a week. Much of the information is challenging – news of war, earthquakes, crime and scandals become difficult to hear. We hate it, we fear it – yet we are drawn to and often forced to listen. Most of us seek peace and harmony. We often feel this is lacking in our lives. We strive to be happy yet few of us attain this. Individual distress and tensions combine to create stress in society. Meditation can provide the respite one needs.
Meditation techniques have been used by many different cultures throughout the world for thousands of years. According to Aryeh Kaplan in her book Jewish Meditation, meditative practices were widespread among the Jews throughout Jewish history. Many references to meditation are found in many Jewish texts in every period from the biblical to the pre-modern era. Jewish spiritual leaders teach meditations based in Jewish mysticism, called Kabbalah. Kabbalah teaches that meditation is a direct way to experience God.
Today, many people use meditation as a form of mind-body medicine. It is becoming an increasingly popular way to embrace the silent in between our thoughts. Meditation can have a great impact on ones sense of calm and can have a significant impact on health and wellness. The National Institutes of Health and its National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines sponsor ongoing studies to find out more about meditation’s effects, how it works, and for what diseases and conditions it may be most helpful. According to the NIH, practicing meditation has been shown to induce some changes in the body’s “fight or flight” response , which is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. People use meditation for anxiety, depression, pain, stress, insomnia, to manage the side effects of cancer treatment as well as physical and emotional symptoms associated with many chronic illnesses.
Meditation refers to a group of techniques designed to assist a person to focus his/her attention and eventually slow the stream of thoughts that normally occupy the mind. Ongoing practice can change how a person relates to his/her thoughts and emotions. The benefits of meditation are reached when it is done in a quiet location with as few distractions as possible. Ideally, meditation is done in the sitting position. While it is important to be comfortable, it is also important to sit in a way that promotes awareness and focus. Focusing ones attention is also important. Most meditations suggest focusing on an object (such as the flame of a candle), the breath, or even a mantra (a specific word or set of words). When interruptions or wandering thoughts occur, the attention is gently brought back to the breath, object or mantra.
As an acupuncturist and practitioner of holistic medicine, I find meditation to be a very valuable tool for myself and my clients. I find it assists me in maintaining balance and perspective in my everyday life.
Julie Silver, MSW, Dipl. Ac. is a NCCAOM Board Certified Acupuncturist and owner of Acupuncture Healthcare Associates of Michigan, Inc., a full service holistic health clinic in West Bloomfield featuring acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine and naturopathic medicine.