Meditation 101

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This week, I was struggling to figure out what to write for my blog entry. I’ve written about emotions, support, dealing with depression, and the process of change. These are just some of the issues I consider vital aspects of living well with diabetes. As I was meditating on a subject for this week, it occurred to me that what I was doing was a great idea for the entry: meditation.

Meditation has been a practice of mine for the past 35 years. During some of this time I have made it a daily practice, and some of the time I have fallen off the cushion and done it only on occasion. But all of the time I have learned that it makes a difference in how I feel and certainly in how I react in stressful situations.

Most of the stress we encounter in life is related to our perception of an event and the beliefs we have about our own capability to deal with it. Sometimes we can change the situation to lower our stress level—and if we can, by all means we should. More often, though, we can only alter our perception of the stress or work on our reaction to it. I have found meditation to be an extremely helpful tool for working on both of these areas.

If you think of meditation as a practice only for New Age junkies, it may help to know that, over the past few years, we have seen both research studies and articles printed in major publications such as Newsweek and Time touting the physical and psychological benefits of meditation. Classes in meditation are also being offered in hospitals, health-care centers, and institutions of higher learning such as Harvard University. If you are one of the many people who have been able to associate changes in blood glucose levels with stressful events, meditation may offer you an alternative to feeling overcome with anxiety—or to smothering the anxiety with a pint of ice cream.

The process of meditation is simple, but it is not easy to do. The following are some basic instructions to get you started:

  • Set aside some time: maybe 10 to 15 minutes to start.
  • Turn off the phone, radio, and TV, and do your best to make sure it is relatively quiet.
  • Sit on a straight-backed chair (or on the floor with your legs crossed if you prefer).
  • Try to keep your spine as straight as possible, supporting your own weight rather than leaning against the back of the chair. If you have trouble with this, use the back of the chair.
  • Tilt your chin slightly downward, as though you were looking at something on the floor about six feet in front of you.
  • Close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations of your breathing.
  • Just notice those sensations without changing your breathing, feeling the sensations first at the nose and mouth. After a while, turn your attention to your belly.
  • Whenever you are distracted by other things, such as sounds, thoughts, or sensations, just notice them (“Oh yeah, that’s the clock”), then gently move your awareness back to your breathing.

That’s all there is to it, but you will quickly become aware of how challenging it is to pay attention only to your breathing. This is a normal challenge that everyone experiences, so don’t get discouraged too quickly. With practice, it is likely to become easier, and the depth of your meditation is also likely to improve.

This process will help you calm the reactions you have to stressful situations. It can also actually engage a creative thinking process to help you see the stress differently.

For some additional resources on meditation, including books and meditation CDs and tapes by myself and others, click here.

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