By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
Life is often a juggling act. Between work, children, health and other responsibilities — day-to-day tasks can become overwhelming often leading to stress. Sometimes you just need to take a breath and be in the moment.
A national 2014 poll through National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health found that 1 in 4 Americans experience great stress. About 70 million Americans have high blood pressure which increases their risk for heart disease and stroke.
Mindfulness and meditation have become popular trends in the U.S. as a way to release tensions from the body. Merriam-Webster defines mindfulness as being aware of your thoughts, emotions and experiences on a “moment-to-moment basis.” It defines meditation as spending “time in quiet thought for religious purposes or relaxation.” Both are often done in a quiet atmosphere and use breathing to focus on the now. Obviously the two have very similar characteristics and there’s even a form of meditation that incorporates mindfulness.
Some people call it prayer while others call it contemplation but mindfulness meditation is basically the act of focusing your mind to prevent over thinking said Anne Albright of Wayne. There’s no one style and people can use the practice in whatever way works for them. Albright said it’s common for the average person to be a “master multitasker” that’s constantly making 15 lists in their head.
“(Mindfulness) gives an opportunity to make time in your day to stop and nourish yourself,” she said. “The beauty of mindfulness is it’s as free as it’s accessible.”
Albright started practicing mindfulness meditation in the 70s and said in the last 10 years, her practice has evolved into an act of love.
“Once you learn to meditate for yourself, expanding your practice helps you have compassion for others. We’re all humans. We’re all the same. I think mindfulness reminds us of that,” she said.
Both meditation and mindfulness have been studied and found to have many health benefits.
“Some research suggests that meditation may physically change the brain and body and could potentially help to improve many health problems and promote healthy behaviors,” according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
A 2012 study that compared the brains of adults that meditated to those that didn’t found that meditation actually improves the brain’s ability to process information. A 2009 study with university students found that meditation can lower blood pressure. It has also been discovered that mindfulness medication has many health advantages as well.
“Evidence also suggests that mindfulness meditation has numerous health benefits, including increased immune functioning, improvement to well-being and reduction in psychological distress,” according to the American Psychological Association website.
Albright is the organizer of an upcoming silent meditation retreat at Main Line Unitarian Church in Devon. On April 9, Donald McCown, co-director of the Center for Contemplative Studies at West Chester University, will lead the community in several mindfulness and meditation techniques.
“The concept behind the retreat is really for people to have that time to focus on one thing at one time,” Albright said.
She said guided meditation led by McCown will teach participants how take note of a single thought then let that thought go through breathing and focus. The retreat will also practice the Qi Gong Sequence; a sister practice of tai chi that originated in China. Albright said small, gentle actions allow you to focus on one movement at a time.
Attendees will connect with childhood memories when they color as part of an art project during the retreat. Albright said adult coloring books help people to access the freedom they had as a kid when they didn’t have to worry about the stresses of work and bills.
“It’s (mindfulness) changed my life profoundly,” said Mara Wai, associate director of The Penn Program for Mindfulness.
Wai said she was very depressed and anxious when she started practicing mindfulness. She didn’t want to use medication to solve her problems so found an alternative way to heal from stress.
The mindfulness program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine began about 25 years ago when physician Michael Baime founded it to help support patients with the suffering that comes along with illness.
Wai said the most popular course of the program is one that’s open to public called Mindfulness-Basted Stress Management which is adopted after the model developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It’s an 8-week program that helps people bring their attention to the moment so they notice stress triggers then learn how to better manage them, Wai said. In the eight weeks, people start to develop the foundation for mindfulness, she said.
“Just like any other skill or habit that someone wants to cultivate, it does take some time,” she said.
Another stress-relieving mindfulness technique is yoga. Dorian Abel, owner of Healing Yoga studio in Douglassville, said the focus of the increasingly popular activity has shifted to the benefits on the physical body as an exercise. She said while yoga is a great workout, it originally began as an activity that focuses on the whole being.
“Awareness from moment to moment is key,” Abel said adding that this is basically mindfulness.
Abel has a master’s degree in counseling psychology and had a column about the benefits of mindfulness called “Mind Your Body.” She said mindfulness techniques such as yoga help to manage depression, pain and stress. At her studio, she teaches a yoga and meditation class for stress relief. Abel said the class allows students to stay focused on the present moment and use breathing exercises to calm the central nervous system. Other classes at the studio include yoga for a strong immune system, Pilates, tai chi and Reiki; all of which use mindfulness in some form. Reiki is a practice that originated in Japan.
“It’s a hands-on healing practice that works with energy. It involves a quiet mind and centered state of being,” Abel said.
Abel said mindfulness and yoga have helped her in many ways especially sense she tends to have a very active mind.
“I often tell my students that if I can learn how to meditate than anyone can do it,” she said.
UPCOMING MINDFULNESS/YOGA EVENTS
When: 10 to 11:15 a.m. Sunday
Where: The Center Health. Yoga. Arts located at 15 Green St. in Downingtown
More Details: The class uses gentle poses and breathing exercises to release tension from the body. It’s open to all levels. The walk-in rate is $16. For more information, visit thecenterhya.com or call 610-269-7171.
EVENING MEDITATION PRACTICE
When: Tuesdays from 6 to 6:45 p.m.
Where: White Lotus Center located at 1026 W. Lancaster Ave. in Bryn Mawr
More Details: The class includes practicing silent meditation. It’s open to everyone and there’s no fee. For more information visit contemplative-arts.com or call 610-668-4140.
YOGA & MEDITATION FOR STRESS RELIEF
When: Tuesdays from 6 to 7:15 p.m.
Where: Healing Yoga Studio located at 1397 E. Main St. in Douglassville
More Details: The class includes gentle poses and breathing practices that will calm the nervous system and help still the mind. People new to the studio get their first class free. To print the coupon for the free class, visit www.healingyogapa.com or call 610-369-0831 for more information.
When: 6:45 to 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Sarva Yoga located at 1501 Baltimore Pike, 2nd floor in Springfield
More Details: The class is open to all levels. Participants will learn how to use yoga poses to reconnect the mind with the body. The drop-in rate is $17. For more information, visit sarva-yoga.com or call 484-393-2247.
SILENT MEDITATION RETREAT
When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 9
Where: Main Line Unitarian Church located at 816 South Valley Forge Road in Devon
More Details: Tickets prices start at $11.54. For more information, call 610-772-1754.