Are you constantly stressed and seemingly stuck in fast-forward? If so, you are not alone.

Millions of Americans suffer from chronic anxiety and stress. What if there was a natural, inexpensive and effective way to soothe your mind? In actuality there is, and it is through the power of meditation. For many people, the thought of meditation invokes images of monks, temples and burning incense, but this perception is far from the reality of modern-day meditation. Today, let's explore more about meditation and learn the possible benefits that surround this age-old practice.

Meditation 101

What is meditation? According to Psychology Today, meditation is the practice of steering the mind away from distracting thoughts while turning one's attention solely to a single point of reference in the present moment. This method of relaxation has been used by countless cultures around the world for thousands of years.

There are many ways to meditate, including guided imagery as one forms mental images of relaxing places or situations; mantra meditation, whereby one repeats a calming word or phrase; mindfulness meditation, in which one focuses solely on the actions of the present moment; activities such as yoga and tai chi that require slow movements along with controlled breathing; and the most widely practiced technique of all, prayer. According to the Mayo Clinic, meditation may help increase self-awareness, reduce negative emotions, increase creativity, improve skills to better manage stress and help to focus on present happenings.

The evolution of anxiety

In his article "The Evolution of Anxiety," James Clear states that we live in what he calls a "delayed return environment." This is an environment in which one doesn't immediately receive returns. Instead, rewards or shortcomings are delayed until a point in the future. As issues take longer and longer to be resolved, living in this state of constant uncertainty weighs on our minds, increasing our levels of stress.

It is often the case that the more we try to suppress our thoughts, the louder they become. If I work hard, will I get a promotion? Will I have the money at the end of the month to pay the power bill? Will I ever get out of debt? Clear believes meditation may reduce these feelings by getting our minds back on precise, present thoughts.

The here and now

The ability to redirect your attention away from life's numerous disturbances is a valuable skill to help free your mind. Mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe believes in today's society we are so distracted that we are most often not mentally present in the "here and now" of the world in which we live. He proposes we take 10 minutes a day from our hectic lives to do nothing.

During this meditative time, as thoughts come and go, he suggests we don't ruminate or focus too intently on them, rather let them pass without judgment. As we work to calm our minds, we should strive to keep our attention on a fixed focal point (the slow inhalation and exhalation of breathing, for example). As thoughts wander as they normally do, always pull back to this focal point to maintain mental clarity and focus.

Puddicombe believes through repetition of this skill we gain a better understanding of the patterns that our minds work in, making it easier to find what he refers to as "a mental balance of focused relaxation," experiencing only what is happening at the present time and not contemplating the worries of the past or future.

Clear points out that as with any skill, meditation takes both patience and practice. If you are new to meditation, 10 minutes may be too much, so you may want to start slowly with only one minute of deep meditation, then gradually add a minute per session until you have reached your desired time frame. According to the Mayo Clinic, even a few minutes of meditation per day may help to clear negative thoughts and restore a sense of calm, inner peace.

With so much going on in the world around you, do you ever take the time to simply sit back and let your brain fully relax? For most people, the unfortunate answer to that question is "No." If this is you, try taking Puddicombe's advice to meditate and rest your mind for 10 minutes, or come see us at the Bradley Wellness Center where we offer multiple yoga and Centergy classes each week to help you naturally unwind.

Make time for mental decompression. Utilize the power of meditation to change your life simply by recharging your mind.

Jeremy Walraven is a fitness consultant at Bradley Wellness Center.

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