If you mention meditation to someone, you might spark a questioning look or a typical response like, "Meditation doesn't work for me. I can't turn off
Believe it or not, meditation is not about the elimination of thoughts, as many people commonly think, but it is more about the awareness of your thoughts. "Many people believe that the intention in meditation is to erase your mind of all thoughts," Stephanie Osborne, CEO of Meditate New Orleans, said. "That's nearly impossible since the mind is meant to think and process. The intention is to notice your thoughts and remember to turn your awareness to whatever anchor you choose. Ultimately, meditation is meant to bring your awareness to the present moment."
Although practicing meditation trains your mind to focus your awareness on the present, that state of calmness doesn't just feel good—it's actually good for your health, too.
For Osborne, her practice of meditation alleviated her ulcerative colitis symptoms and eased her anxiety. Her first encounter with meditation was when she was a student at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts from 1993-1995. "I learned, from lying in stillness, how much the constant chatter slows down and then you're able to rest in awareness," Osborne said. "Meditation over the years has helped reduce my ulcerative colitis symptoms, has helped settle my anxiety, and has helped me to see things more clearly."
Undoubtedly, the daily practice of meditation has been touted as the one of the most effective ways to manage stress and take care of your emotional, as well as mental, state of mind. Even mainstream medicine is starting to acknowledge the healing powers of meditation as the many studies have shown the various benefits.
Some benefits of meditation include decreased blood pressure, decreased release of cortisol or the stress hormone, improved sleep, and enhanced creativity. Meditation has helped people manage their symptoms of anxiety, asthma, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and more.
Dr. Cindy Ashkins PhD, LCSW, LMT, a local psychotherapist and life coach of 41 years, has recommended practicing meditation to her patients for the reduction of stress. "Absolutely," Dr. Ashkins, who is also a licensed massage therapist and integrates her work with energy psychology techniques and breath work, said. "With all the noise from the outside world and the age of technology, I think it helps to bring an individual clarity and awakens one's creativity and expansion into new possibilities."
Dr. Ashkins also emphasized that the practice of meditation teaches us to utilize "our mindfulness, to stay in the present, and allows us to hear that still small voice inside of us, which is our core and our true self, without all the outside noise."
As meditation brings attention to our inner self, it can also help us to have more control over our thoughts and feelings. "Through meditation, we are able to be more fully present and we cultivate generosity and kindness toward ourselves and others," Larry Ozenberger, founder of New Orleans Insight, a local peer-led mindfulness meditation practice group, said. For the past two years, Ozenberger has been certified to teach mindful meditation and has been practicing this tradition since 2007. "I was attracted to and have stayed with meditation because I wanted to deal with the problem of suffering in my life, to become more open-hearted, and to learn to cultivate happiness and serenity," Ozenberger admitted.
Now that you know that meditation is good for your emotional and physical health, how do you meditate? There are many ways to meditate. In mindful meditation, you are returning to your breath and strive to remain in the present moment by following these steps:
1. Find a comfortable position. Sitting in a chair or on the floor is most common.
2. Set a timer. If you are trying to meditate for the first time, choose something like 5 or 10 minutes to begin.
3. Notice your body—simply breathe in the cool, fresh air into your nostrils and then be aware of the warm breath leaving through your nose. For example, counting 10 breaths, then reset to zero, and repeat.
4. Notice when your mind wanders. If your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breath. This is the actual training and calming of our minds.
While all minds wander, meditation instructors like Osborne and Ozenberger indicated that the actual training involved with meditation is just to keep on beginning again. If you need a little help, try downloading these free apps: Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer.
Calm and Headspace are two of the more popular apps that will teach you the basic techniques of meditation. In these introductory sessions, a virtual meditation instructor will teach the concepts of mindful awareness while focusing on your breath and body.
Calm has a free seven-day introduction or you can subscribe for a more rigorous 21-day program ($39 for a year or $9.99 monthly). Each day, the meditation sessions will take seven to 15 minutes and it includes a few minutes of background on a meditation technique followed by a practice session. Headspace has a 10-day introduction that consists of 10-minute segments that teach the concepts of meditation. After the free 10-day program, you will need a $12.99-a-month subscription ($7.99 monthly for a full year). Additionally, the Insight Timer app has an extensive free version, as well as a Member Plus subscription for $59.99 per year or $9.99 per month.
If you prefer to meditate with a group, Ozenberger hosts free group meetings on Tuesday evenings at 7-8:30 p.m. and on Saturday afternoons at 3-4:30 p.m. via Zoom. "There is no fee, but donations are gratefully accepted," Ozenberger stated. For Zoom links, please sign up for New Orleans Insight's email list at noimg.org contact.
For in-person guided meditation sessions, Osborne of Meditate New Orleans began offering her regular schedule on August 5, for Thursdays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays at 10 a.m. These one-hour meditation meetings are $10 per session. Sign up by texting 504-884-4567.
Whether you use the free apps or sign up with a local group, meditating for 5 or 10 minutes a day can improve focus, memory, and even train your brain to cope with everyday life stressors.