Illness and Meditation
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The Emotional Impact of Illness
Often thought of as a hippy-dippy practice aimed at transcendence, meditation is coming into its own as a stress-reduction technique for even the most type-A kind of people.
Facing a serious illness can be frightening and very stressful. You may have concerns about not being able to do what you were normally capable of. But dealing with potential pain, unknown outcomes with your health, and all the surprises that come along the way as you try to move back to physical health can be overwhelming. You may feel isolated as well, though you are not alone.
Learning basic de-stressing techniques that can help you to get your body out of stress mode (turn off your fight-or-flight response, which may be chronically activated at this point, understandably), and help your body maintain a healthier balance.
Anyone can practice meditation. It's simple and inexpensive, and it doesn't require any special equipment.
And you can practice meditation wherever you are - whether you're out for a walk, riding the bus, waiting at the doctor's office or even in the middle of a difficult business meeting.
Meditation has been one of the most popular and traditional ways to achieve mindfulness for centuries, so it tops the list of mindfulness exercises. Meditation becomes easier with practice, but it need not be difficult for beginners. Simply find a comfortable place, free of distractions, and quiet your mind.
Yes: mindfulness can be as simple as breathing! One of the most simple ways to experience mindfulness, and it can be done as you go about your daily activities, is to focus on your breathing. Breathe from your tummy rather than from your chest. Focusing on the sound and rhythm of your breath, especially when you’re upset, can have a calming effect and help you stay grounded in the present moment.
Observe Your Thoughts
If you are stressed and busy, you might find it difficult to stop focusing on the rapid stream of thoughts running through your mind, and the idea of sitting in meditation and holding off the constant chatter of your thoughts can actually cause more stress! If this sounds like you, the mindfulness exercise of observing your thoughts might be for you. Rather than working against the voice in your head, you sit back and "observe" your thoughts. Don't become involved in them. As you observe them, you might find your mind quieting, and the thoughts becoming less stressful. Writing your thoughts in the form of your own personal story is a great way of processing them and decreasing their intensity.
Reflection, Prayer, Affirmations
Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. Properly channeled, thoughtful reflection and positive affirmations can serve as a wonderful healing tool for the spirit and the soul. If you are at a loss for dialogue, I suggest starting with a "grateful" exercise. Think of things you are thankful for, say them aloud or to yourself, and reflect on what joy these things or people have brought into your life. It can be something as simple as a kind gesture or thoughtful words of encouragement. If you are wanting to establish a time limit to this exercise, you can set an alarm on your phone so you can truly relax in the moment and not spy on the clock every few moments. Another method is to use a necklace with beads or a rosary if you are of Catholic faith, and with each statement hold a bead, state your gratitude acknowledgement, and "feel" the gratitude wash through your body. Or using this same practice, you can instead concentrate on words such as "peace", "health", "transformation", etc. Let these words resonate throughout your body, sending the vibration to every cell and muscle fiber.
The term "cleaning house" has a literal meaning (cleaning up your actual house) as well as a figurative one (getting rid of "emotional baggage,"), and both can be great stress relievers! To make 'house cleaning' into a simple mindfulness exercise, you first need to view it as a positive event, an exercise in self-understanding and stress relief, rather than simply as a chore. Then, as you clean, focus on what you are doing as you are doing it - and nothing else. Feel the warm, soapy water on your hands as you wash dishes; experience the vibrations of the vacuum cleaner as you sweep across floor; enjoy the smell of the laundry as you fold it; experience the freedom of letting go of unneeded objects as you put them in the charity bag. If you approach cleaning as an exercise in mindfulness, it can become one. Personally, I changed the dreaded chore of unpacking the dishwasher into a simple mindfulness meditation - I unpack each plate with gratitude for it's service to my family. I feel it's texture and size and place it carefully on the shelf. Believe it or not, cleaning can be a cathartic experience for me.
Listen To Music
You can listen to music as background or you can use it as a mindfulness meditation. Listening mindfully to music has so many benefits - so many, in fact, that music is being used therapeutically in a new branch of complimentary medicine known as music therapy. You can play any music that engages you - soothing new-age music, classical music, or another type of slow-tempo music to feel calming effects. Make it an exercise in mindfulness by really focusing on the sound and vibration of each note, the feelings that the music brings up within you, and other sensations that are happening "right now" as you listen. If other thoughts creep into your head, congratulate yourself for noticing, and gently bring your attention back to the current moment and the music you are hearing.
Create Your Own
I hope you are getting the idea that virtually any activity can be a mindfulness exercise. It helps to practice meditation or another exercise that really focuses on mindfulness, but you can bring mindfulness to anything you do, and find yourself less stressed and more grounded in the process. Gardening is a great way of practising mindfulness; light a candle and focus on the dancing flame; cooking a meal - be aware of the colors and textures of the vegetables. Did you know that eating is one of the very effective simple mindfulness exercises?
Christi Murphy, LLC
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