Meditation Made Easy

The first time I tried meditation, back in college, I did not know exactly what it was. I attempted my idea of it, with no instruction whatsoever. I thought that when you meditated you were not supposed to think or feel anything. Boy was I disappointed when I couldn’t get away from the sounds of my breath, the soreness in my back, my constant stream of thoughts, and the frustration that meditation was not working for me.

Now it’s more than a decade later and I have had intensive training with yoga and meditation, and I laugh to think how my first experience was. But I also acknowledge that my original perception of meditation was a common one for beginners.

One of the tips I picked up along the way was to focus on the breath. Give your attention to your breath instead of trying not to be aware of it. When we meditate, we train our minds to be aware, not the other way around. And what better tool can we use than our constant companion, our breath?

To start, do a few stretches to help your body relax and be still more easily. Then come sitting on the floor cross-legged with a straight spine. If you are a beginner, you may want to lie flat on your back with a pillow under your knees, or sit up straight in a comfortable chair with your feet on the floor. Close your eyes and notice your breath. Feel it entering your nostrils and passing down your throat. Observe the coolness or warmth of the air. Notice your lungs expanding and contracting. If your mind wanders, gently bring your awareness back to your breath.

You can count on your mind to wander. Yogis sometimes refer to it as “the monkey mind” because it is prone to getting into mischief. While meditating, your thoughts can wander to daydreaming, worrying if your checkbook will balance, planning dinner, wondering if that certain someone likes you, and more. You can get so caught up in the thoughts, and the emotions that go with them, that you may forget you’re meditating. When you realize your mind has wandered, don’t be hard on yourself. Just come back to your breath.

Be aware of your breath and at the same time, notice the sensations of your body, such as the pull of gravity on you, the feel of the surrounding air on your skin, and the sounds in the distance. Just observe these things and do not judge them as good or bad. All the while, keep in tune with your breath. If a thought comes to you, just notice it but don’t let your “monkey mind” wander off on a tangent. It’s actually funny to realize just how easily we can be distracted. Keep that sense of humor about yourself and return again and again to your breath.
We refer to meditation as a practice. It is practice at being conscious in the present moment. It quiets the mind, relieves stress, strengthens our nerves, and balances our emotions. The more you meditate, the more you can carry this clarity into your daily life.

Take on ten minutes a day to start with and gradually extend your practice to a half hour or more. You may even want to enrich your experience by seeking out and meditating with a local group. Whatever form your meditation practice takes, have fun watching your “monkey mind”.

Therapeutic Massage is Not a Luxury!

Are you too busy for a massage? Say it isn’t so! That means you are TOO busy. Slow down and take care of yourself, because if you won’t, who will? Massage therapy is an essential part of preventative health care. Sure, you can go get a massage when you’ve already hurt your back or when you’ve let yourself get so stressed out that your shoulders are hiked up to your ears with tension, but why wait? Why have that pain at all? Use massage therapy as it is intended, not as a luxury, not as a quick fix, but as an important part of your healthy lifestyle. If you are one of the folks that already does this for themselves, I sincerely congratulate you because I can tell you after over sixteen years experience in the massage field that it is a rare individual who will give herself the gift of regularly scheduled massages. Massage therapy has many benefits for the body, mind, and spirit. Put yourself in the hands of a licensed professional, and experience them.

Most people think of massage therapy as simply working with your muscles, but when your practitioner touches you, she is actually communicating with your nervous system. The therapist usually begins by gently laying hands on you so the primitive side of your nervous system can interpret this as a safe touch. The speed and pressure a massage therapist uses with her strokes activates the parasympathetic nervous system, your “resting and digesting” mode, and turns off your “fight or flight” mode known as the sympathetic nervous system. This is how massage therapy induces relaxation and reduces stress. At first an ancient protection against predators like bears, the human “fight or flight” response is often over-stimulated these days by the pressures of our world—-hectic schedules, deadlines, conflicts with other people, etc. Too much of this mode stresses your adrenal glands, causing exhaustion. Massage and other relaxation techniques are a great solution.

Massage helps you breathe more deeply, by activating the parasympathetic response and by decreasing tension in the muscles that may restrict your breathing. Deep breathing is good for whole-body health because it brings in healing oxygen, clears out toxins, and relaxes the mind. The action of the diaphragm gives all your internal organs a massage, which makes them function better. Massage is great for digestion because of this as well as the “resting and digesting” mode, which increases circulation to the organs. Sometimes your therapist will even work on your abdomen, massaging clockwise to encourage healthy movement in the colon.

Massage increases circulation to your muscles and throughout your body. Your arteries, which carry blood away from the heart, have a pumping action that mimics the heart and pushes the blood to your extremities, but your veins and your lymphatic vessels have no pumps. They rely on muscle movement or muscle manipulation to get the fluids moving back up toward the heart. Good circulation brings oxygen and nutrients to the cells and tissues of your body while sweeping away the toxins and byproducts of muscle contractions and cellular functions.

Massage therapy is also good for muscle tone. If your muscles are tense from overuse, or stiff from lack of use, manipulation by a trained professional will provide the circulation as discussed above and make your muscles healthy once again. Healthy muscle tissue feels firm yet elastic.

Sufferers of chronic pain find relief through massage. Relaxing a stressed nervous system helps calm down the nerve impulse firing the pain message toward the brain. The nerves sending the “tighten up” message to the muscle will be calmed as well. The increase in circulation induced by massage heals the muscles and connective tissue. Your therapist may also work on muscles that pull your posture off balance, and the resulting restoration of balance takes the strain off the troubled muscles so they can heal more easily. Some therapists also suggest stretches for you to do on your own, which will empower you in the healing process and give you more lasting results.

Remember to drink plenty of water, especially after you get a massage, to support your kidneys as they flush out the toxins your increased circulation has swept from your muscles. When you get treatment for chronic pain, you may need to apply ice to the affected area later that night, to control inflammation and facilitate healing. On the day of your massage, avoid taking anti-inflammatory drugs, which inhibit the increase in circulation and undo the hard work your therapist has done

How often should you get massage? I strive to get my treatments once per week, but at the very least once per month. If you are healing a chronic problem you will need massage more often to get a cumulative effect between treatments and get the desired results. Tight budget? Even a half hour treatment does wonders, so call one of your wonderful local massage therapists today!