When we experience aches and pains — whether it be Aunt Flo cramps or workout soreness — our first impulse is to pop a pill. However, a recent study suggests that meditation may rival modern medicine when it comes to stomping out pain.
We spoke to stress management expert Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman’s 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life, to find out how meditation works, and some simple ways to incorporate “mindfulness” into our day.
“When we feel pain, we tend to focus on it and feel stressed, which sets off an inflammatory response,” says Mandel. “This in turn reinforces the pain and literally keeps us in a pain loop. Meditation takes us out of this loop to bring relaxation, lower blood pressure and place us in a calmer state of mind.”
Herbert Benson, M.D., director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, agrees. His research finds that mind/body practices quell the release of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
“We now have compelling scientific proof that the mind can heal the body,” he says.
Want to try it? Know this: You don’t have to sit in the lotus position for hours to benefit from meditation. Here are two simple practices for all of you rookies and skeptics out there:
- Sit comfortably, breathing deeply in a comfortable rhythm — inhale through your nose for two counts, then exhale through your nose for four counts (using your nose rather than your mouth encourages deeper breathing). Close your eyes and focus on a particular pleasing image or quote, and just generally be in the moment. If you are having trouble getting in a Zen mode, try this guided visualization. Even just a few minutes to start your day can be enough to make a difference!
- If you find sitting quietly daunting, try a moving meditation. Take a walk outdoors — moving mindfully, with good posture and breathing deeply through your nose. Focus on making each step you take purposeful. Notice the beauty of the sites and sounds around you and the rhythm of your breath. If your focus on the moment drifts, imagine placing your foot on an imaginary number or word. —Jenny Everett for Self
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