This December, if I do nothing else to stay healthy, I know for sure I’ll be pausing daily for meditation and quiet reflection. I tend to stay healthiest when I’m working with the rhythms of nature. So, December begins my time of hibernation. Like the plants and animals, I know this is my time to go inward and restore. If the year behind has been a hectic reminder of how exhausting it can be to live in our modern world, consider making space in your life for daily meditation.
There are a ton of scientifically researched benefits of meditation on our state of health; specifically, I am thinking of how meditation increases our immunity. There are innumerable reports on the ways stress lowers our immune system and builds inflammation in the body. Both factors contribute to both acute and chronic disease.
Meditation helps to lower our stress response and the release of our stress hormone, cortisol, allowing the nervous system to relax out of the “fight or flight” state in which we spend so much time living. The practice does this partly by helping us to be more responsive and less reactive, teaching us to be observers of our emotions, thoughts, and sensations, and to see them as passing phenomena, rather than attaching or over-reacting to them. Researchers are also revealing how meditation can help us strengthen our muscles of compassion and connection to others.
James Doty, a clinical professor of neurosurgery at Stanford University said, “When studies have been done, utilizing different types of measuring devices, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, or EEG, we see that if you are thinking of doing an action, that part of your cortex starts being stimulated. And in fact, studies have shown that even if you think about working out, those muscles will actually start responding as if you’re working out.”
Even more important in this finding, however, is the way we stimulate connection and compassion through specific compassion-based meditation practices, and the ways that being connected and compassionate increase our immunity and lesson our chances for disease.
So how does a busy person, with no margin in their schedule, make space for yet another thing to do? I think Eckhart Tolle said it best: “One conscious breath in and out is a meditation.”
Nothing fancy; nothing complicated. This is what I teach in my yoga classes. It’s especially meditative to link the breath to yogic movement for that reason. One conscious breath is enough to bring us back from spiraling forward into the future with anxiety and worry, or winding backward into the energy-sucking activity of ruminating and replaying. One breath is enough of a way to start.
Although this season should naturally urge us inward, the world remains hectic as ever. This time of year, especially, I must be conscientious about my daily rituals and yoga practices that provide quiet, rest, and time to go inward. I have a longer mediation practice now. It’s essential enough for me in staying healthy that I wake early so that my morning begins with contemplative practices. I started out, though, with just five minutes each day. Now, I have a practice that is ingrained enough that, throughout the day, I remember to pause for that one breath. Perhaps that’s where you begin.
— Christa is an E-RYT 500 trained teacher of yoga and Ayurveda. She runs Jala Yoga, with locations in Shepherdstown (WV) and Winchester (VA). With more than 15 years of experience behind her, she teaches public classes as well as the longest-running teacher training in the area. For more information, visit the above link, Like Jala Yoga on Facebook, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.