Humans today exist at a pace that previous generations could not begin to fathom. From the moment the alarm goes off, days are scheduled to fulfill a list of demands. Even leisure activities need to fit neatly into an open time slot. Outside sources demand attention, and information flows in and out quicker than ever before. The very idea of self-care has shifted from imagined spa days and bubble baths to merely caring for basic needs, like adequate sleep and a balanced diet. According to Stress in America: 2019, a study conducted by the American Psychological Association, stress levels continue to rise by generation in nearly all areas, including money, work, health, and relationships. Can something like meditation really help to manage the emotional strain of daily life?
An Ancient Practice
Archeologists have found evidence of meditation in wall art and scriptures dating from approximately 5000-3000 BCE. Many religions with ancient origins, such as Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam, have some form of meditation as part of a spiritual practice. How can something from the old world aid in dealing with problems from the modern one? Meditation has been used by people for hundreds of years to connect spiritually, encourage mindfulness, center oneself in the present, and reduce stress. While the actual study of meditation for its medical benefit didn’t begin until the 1960s, its continued practice speaks to it being worth a closer look.
For much of its history, meditation was used as part of a spiritual practice. In Judaism, the method of hitbodedut is a form of secluded meditation, where one speaks with God informally and intimately, often in nature. In more modern practices, you may hear that “prayer is when you speak to God and meditation is when you listen”. If a spiritual connection is desired, it’s a good idea to build a meditation practice.
Mindfulness Over Mayhem
Mindfulness is a word that most understand, but few actually practice. Keeping the mind in one place, focused only on what’s at hand, sounds like an impossible task. There are deadlines to be met, homes to run, and social media permeating all corners of life. To make matters worse, everyone carries a constant reminder of these obligations with their smartphone. How can one manage ever to be fully present in the moment? This is where a meditation practice may be of benefit.
While mindfulness comes easily to some, others find that focusing their mind is a struggle. Meditation can teach you to be aware of distracting thoughts while not chasing them. There are many kinds of meditation that include various elements:
How does one learn these meditations? As ancient practices like meditation and yoga become mainstream, they become more accessible. As with most things, there are apps for each of these, and many of them are free to download. Once you’ve chosen an app, start exploring. Find a length and style of meditation, and try to practice daily.
How Mindfulness Helps
The pressures of modern life create conditions that worsen mental health issues and substance use disorders. The strain of competing priorities creates anxiety, fear, and frustration. Incorporating practices that ease this pressure not only helps reduce negative emotions but increases enjoyment and appreciation, in general.
As mentioned earlier, the idea of self-care has gone from luxurious to necessary. People who prioritize their mental wellbeing find that this practice benefits everyone around them. For example, children can benefit from the mindfulness of their parents. Memorable events like birthday parties and vacations are more special when a parent isn’t weighed down with stress. If they can be fully present and engaged, everyone has a better time. Your work life will benefit as well since mindfulness can increase your ability to focus on the task at hand.
If you’re struggling with mental health or substance use, recovery programs often incorporate mindfulness to encourage a “one day at a time” practice. This concept can also provide relief from negative self-talk and support forward progress.
Some meditations are as short as 5-10 minutes. These meditations typically focus on loving yourself and fostering spiritual connection. They are easy to access, pose no risks, and can significantly help those who suffer from constant stress. Access your inner zen and stay present in the moment with a practice of mindfulness.
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