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The Benefits of Meditation

Lately, as of my writing this, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed with everything associated with cancer and cancer care. Being a caregiver for my husband due to prostate and bladder cancer, my daughter with breast cancer and most recently, my own breast cancer, I’ve been exhausted mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Our days have been filled with tests, waiting for results, doctor appointments, new meds and side effects, trying to eat well and exercise when we feel up to it. That’s to name only a few of the things that seem to have taken over our lives and time.

Trying out meditation

I knew I needed to get a handle on this feeling of drowning through each day. Our local health club offers classes on meditation. I’ve tried meditation a couple times on my own, and my mind could not stop shifting to topics that are not supposed to be the focus of my thoughts during meditation. It was difficult to keep my mind from wandering where it was not supposed to go. So I thought I’d give this class a try; there’s nothing to lose and hopefully something to gain.

Meditation has been described as many things: mindfulness, an emotionally stable condition, a focus on peace, an elimination of stress, a calming practice. It has been included as a ritual in many religious practices, being touted as nourishing the soul. On the opposite spectrum, meditation has been called a poor method of dealing with the truths in our lives that we find upsetting, causing us to bury our heads in the sand, ignoring reality.

Learning to be present

Personally, I found meditation to be calming and stress-relieving. It did not create a utopia eliminating all the difficulties in my life, but instead gave me a way to more effectively and positively handle my life’s challenges. There are many types of meditation, and I think everyone who decides to use this practice needs to find what works best for them. For me, I found two specific practices that, while they needed practice and refining, worked well for me fairly quickly.

Being mindful was probably the most difficult aspect for me to learn, but also probably the most beneficial and one that can be done anywhere, any time. In mindfulness, you notice your surroundings, your thoughts and emotions. But you’re not letting those emotions control you, you don’t judge them or yourself, you just recognize them. You remain aware of the present, not thinking about the past or the future.

Many books have been written about the topic of being in the “now,” and for me, that’s pretty much what this meditation activity is all about, being present today, right now, this time, this place.

Surprising results for me

The second form of meditation I found useful was yoga meditation. I am certainly not overly flexible at age 70. And I found, at the beginning, many of the yoga positions were almost impossible for me. But like anything else worthwhile, I kept practicing and improved over time. Like mindfulness, yoga stresses that staying only in the moment, not in the past or the present, is important. Using special breathing practices helps perform both the yoga positions and the focus on the moment, and only the moment.

I have to admit that I was surprised at the difference meditation (done correctly after I had some help) had on my emotions and my mental well-being. It didn’t change my circumstances but helped me manage the way in which I handle the difficult things in my life.

I’d highly recommend meditation but would also suggest taking a class or two to learn the different ways to meditate to achieve even better results. In some cases, too, doctors should be consulted before beginning any kind of meditation practice. You want to be sure you experience benefit, not harm or pain.

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