Val's View: Meditation and Mental Health
Posted on 28 May 2021
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it’s a great time to sync our minds, bodies, and emotions. After all, psychological resiliency is a goal we all strive for. I believe that we can achieve a healthy equilibrium and a connection to the collective unconscious through the time-honored tradition known as meditation. I found out the origin of the word stems from a Latin word meaning “to ponder.” To help find that link from the heart (where 90% of our neural traffic is) to the head (the superhighway of our frontal lobes) I try to tap into a calm peaceful state with mindful practice.
“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.” Michel de Montaigne
Easier said than done, right? If you have a love affair with doubt and worry then all the more reason to rewire those neural pathways through meditation. It’s like a smooth ride down a country road versus the snarl of a city traffic jam. Here are 5 simple forms of meditation I’d like to share that can help you achieve more clarity and inner harmony.
- Mindfulness: This is one of the most popular methods in the West. You can start by simply observing your thoughts. Take note of patterns. Get in a comfortable seated position with a straight spine. This creates a relationship between your awareness and your body.
- Focus: In this type of meditation, you focus on something like your breath or a sound bowl. Even a candle flame can mesmerize and put you into a relaxed state. The mind may wander so be patient and without judgment, gently refocus.
- Movement: The mind’s energy is powerful and bringing it into an activity like walking, yoga, or an early morning solo swim will put you in a pleasant space. These pastimes clear your aura and move your Chi or vital life energy. You are concentrating on your body so your mental bandwidth is concise and not scattered.
- Mantra: This variety of meditation is prominent in Hindu culture and involves chanting a word or phrase in repetition, such as OM. This brings a sense of tranquility and vibration. It may feel strange at first but you can truly feel the benefits from the positive frequency.
- Progressive relaxation: Doing a complete body scan releases tension by picturing and feeling each muscle tense and relax, one at a time. An analogy that best describes this is of a slow-rolling wave washing over you to unwind the mind. It is a very healing source to utilize.
If you haven’t tried meditation yet or want to revisit it, I recommend starting with 5-15 minute intervals and working your way up. Several apps can facilitate the discipline of meditation, like Insight Timer. I use this app to keep myself aligned. When I crave a little self-care, I slip on my go-to IBKUL leggings and jacket, do a timed meditation, and I’m on my way to a great day.
My first introduction to meditation was through my mother. Instead of setting up Girl Scout cookie stands, she was doing headstands in our living room. She was ahead of her time, practicing Hatha yoga and leaving mantras on the fridge like, “moderation is the key to success.” I’m still working on that one!
Your Mind Creates Your World
I’m not a Nervous Nellie but I can suffer from “monkey brain” at times. This term comes from the idea of ruminating and not letting go of a thought. It originated in India when the monkeys were tricked by drilling a small hole in the coconuts and stuffing a banana inside. This temptation led to the monkeys getting stuck because they couldn’t get their hands out until they released the scrumptious fruit. Releasing your thoughts and letting go can change your brain chemistry and regulate your heart rate. Modern medicine is finally embracing the benefits of meditation such as mood elevation, intellectual rigor, and immune-boosting effects.
Our brains can generate up to 10 watts of electrical power. If you were to get enough people on the same wavelength, you really could light up the world! Here are 4 of the states of brain waves that we live in:
1. Beta: aroused, engaged, high state of awareness
2. Alpha: non-aroused, meditative
3. Theta: daydreaming or after a warm bath
4. Delta: slowest mode, right before sleep, can be a creative place
The challenges and joys that come with empty nesting and shifting hormones have me searching for purpose and hope. I am seeking the 4 C’s: clarity, connection, concentration, and consistency. They say attitude is 90% of the equation so I am open to any tools to keep my mind and body flexible since they are connected. I find online counseling apps, like BetterHelp, indispensable. There is no shame in seeking therapy- modulating our emotions while maintaining healthy relationships with family and friends, all while stewarding the planet is a tall order! Tending to our mental health is essential for our wellbeing, especially as we age. I am glad to see the stigma against addressing mental health issues slowly changing and I look forward to an all-around healthier future!