Breathe In, Breathe Out: The Benefits of Meditation

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We’ve all heard exercise, sleep and nutritious eating improves our health, but they can be challenging to do on a regular basis. What if you added one thing that would make all of these things easier? Research points to the benefits of meditation improving every aspect of your health.

Renown Clinical Psychologist Mikaela Hildebrandt, Ph.D., has seen the positive effect of meditation first hand.

“Patients I have worked with have seen improvements in their mood or ability to cope with daily stressors,” Dr. Hildebrandt says. “Several patients also find that they are more engaged in the areas of life that matter to them, reporting success with desired lifestyle changes, such as healthier eating and engaging in more physical activity.”

Dr. Hildebrandt has seen additional benefits of meditation in patients with a terminal diagnosis.

“I have also personally worked with oncology patients, and mindfulness has been shown to improve quality of life at the beginning of the end of life, especially with regard to relationship satisfaction and finding meaning,” Dr. Hildebrandt says.

Meditation begins by taking the focus off of the external world, breathing consciously and letting the mind rest so it isn’t jumping from thought to thought. 

One of the keys to meditation is the rhythm of the breath. Breathing is automatic at most times, but when stressed you may have a tendency to hold your breath, breathe shallowly or even hyperventilate (breathe at an abnormally rapid rate).

Whenever we consciously change our breathing, it interrupts our involuntary stress responses, allowing us to control our autonomic nervous system. This system has two parts: the sympathetic (accelerator) and parasympathetic (decelerator). When you activate these parts in a consistent pattern, you can enter into what’s called coherence, which promotes the ultimate trifecta of mental benefits: clarity, focus and concentration. Conversely, stress revs you up – your heart rate, thoughts, speech and even physical movements.

So how do you begin a meditation practice?

There is no right way or wrong way to meditate. It begins with the simple act of closing your eyes, getting in a comfortable position (sitting or lying) and focusing on your breath. You can begin by setting a timer for five minutes. Work your way up slowly, minute by minute, week by week, until you feel at a comfort level with your results. When thoughts begin to enter your mind – and they will – put the focus back on your breath. Let the thoughts pass through. Some people find it helpful to say a word like “peace” silently to themselves, or even out loud, to help maintain their focus.

Notice the quality of your breath at the beginning of the meditation and any tension you have. At the end of the mediation also note any difference in your breathing or tension in your body.

Dr. Hildebrandt acknowledges that starting a meditation practice can be challenging for some.

“As far as starting a meditation practice, I personally like to prepare folks by letting them know that it may seem worse before it gets better,” Dr. Hildebrandt says. “In other words, you will likely notice how ‘mind-less’ you are as you begin practicing mindfulness before you make any improvements.

“This part of the process is normal, and it is an important opportunity to practice self-compassion from the standpoint of being a non-judgmental observer,” Dr. Hildebrandt adds.

If you feel you need more information and help with life issues than meditation can provide, consult one of Renown Health’s Behavioral Health Specialists. For more information call 775-982-5318.

If you are suffering from chronic headaches or memory problems, consult one of Renown Health’s Neurologists. For more information call 775-982-2970.

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