I loved teaching some of my patients how to clear the mind and meditate. Over the years, many patients reported that the simplest breathing exercises helped them a great deal.
I once had a patient who had been seriously injured many years before I met him. He relayed his story to me: On the day he was injured, while he waited for the ambulance to arrive, he was terrified and began to hyperventilate. Someone he did not know, leaned close to his ear and whispered to him to focus on his breath and to continue doing so until he was stabilized. His racing heart slowed and his breathing returned to normal. He credited that person, who was a yoga instructor, with saving his life.
The simplest and easiest meditative exercise I know is to 'follow your breath.' This exercise can be learned quickly and has been successfully used by many patients who were in pain and/or short of breath as a way of reducing anxiety. Studies show that meditation can lower blood pressure and relieve stress. I used this technique when I was delivering my babies and once to relieve a wicked migraine headache when I had no aspirin available.
First I make myself comfortable in a seated position. Then I scan my body from head to toe, noticing any tension or other sensations. I gently allow each body part to relax. I spend several minutes on this.
Then I bring my attention to my breath, becoming aware of the air moving in and out of my nostrils. I make no effort to change my breathing, just notice it. Each time I am distracted, I return my attention to my breath, the sensation of the air going in, it's temperature, and then how it feels as I exhale.
I listen to the subtle sound the air makes as it passes through the nostrils and the slightly different sound it makes on the way out, gently bringing my focus back to the breath if my mind strays. I continue this practice for 15 to 30 minutes. When I first started practicing this exercise, I could only manage about 5 minutes at a time.
Learning to meditate can be challenging. Our world is so distracting and most of us lead distracted lives. The benefits are worth the effort it takes to master the techniques. After a few weeks of meditation, most people notice they feel more relaxed and less stressed.
There are many CD's available to walk you through various meditative practices and they can be very helpful. I recommend listening to a sample(on i-tunes) to make sure the voice on the tape is a pleasing one to your ear.
Books and CD's :
'Sadhana' by Anthony DeMello
'Learn to Meditate' by David Fontana,PhD
'The Relaxation Response' by Herbert Benson, MD
'Breathing- The Master Key to Healing' by Andrew Weil, MD
Today's Take-Away - Simply spending time becoming aware of the breath can relieve tension and bring a sense of calm to a harried life.