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In his surprising book, “The Big 5: Five Simple Things You Can Do to Live a Longer, Healthier Life,” Sanjiv Chopra, MD, discusses meditation as one of the important things we can do for our health. Other suggestions in Dr. Chopra’s big five are regular exercise, consuming coffee and nuts, and getting adequate amounts of vitamin D.
Meditation has been increasingly studied and found to be a valuable practice for its mental health benefits. Meditation has been found to help lower the adverse effects of stress, improve mental clarity, and create a sense of centeredness and internal peace. It helps with introspection, self-awareness and improves one’s ability to cope with emotional moments. By reducing the body’s reactivity and improving the immune system’s function, meditation can enhance our physical health.
Meditation comes in different forms and you are encouraged to start out with a practice you find comfortable.
Mindfulness is one of the most practiced forms of meditation. It is supported by strong research regarding its benefits for emotional health and developing an attitude of acceptance and resilience. Even sitting in silence for a given amount of time—without any additional effort—has been found to be beneficial for brain health. Some religions and spiritual activities integrate meditative practices in the form of rosary prayers or reflective quiet moments. There are many ways you can practice meditation and benefit from it.
Mindful meditation can be practiced as a way of living. You can engage in mindfulness meditation while eating, organizing your home, or going for a walk.
You can be curious about your momentary sensations, being aware of your internal experiences and staying in the present moment. You can intentionally be attuned to your senses as well as being perceptive of what is around you.
Or, you can be mindful of what you are actively doing as your meditation practice. Next time you snack on a bowl of nuts or a cup of coffee like The Big 5 recommends, remember that these activities too can be done as meditation practice.
As you are minding your health in this New Year, see if you can include meditation as your self-care practice and enjoy the stillness it brings.
Becky Tilahun, PhD, is associate staff in the Center for Behavior Health in the Neurological Institute. She is a clinical psychologist who has been teaching mindfulness meditation to patients for several years. She is passionate about promoting mindfulness to professionals as a stress management tool. She is trained in Mindfulness Meditation at the Duke Integrative Medicine professional mindfulness training program.