Meditation and Mindfulness

How they help with physical and emotional health, and tips on practicing them

By Alison Stanton

As Sally Charalambous has discovered firsthand, an important key to physical, emotional and spiritual health involves a concept known as mindfulness.

Sally, a retired registered nurse, who teaches group classes on meditation for Sun Health, says mindfulness, especially as it relates to meditation, has a number of benefits. As a bonus, anyone can learn to be more mindful—it just takes some practice. 

“Mindfulness is choosing to focus our attention on the here and now. It is returning our attention to whatever is going on now and accepting it,” Sally says. “With mindfulness, we are not negating the past or fearing the future; we are paying attention to the present and not being distracted.”

Practicing meditation

Like mindfulness, Sally says meditation requires total acceptance of whatever is given in the present moment.

“Meditation involves focusing your mind for a period of silence, and it can be done for self-improvement, or as part of a religious or spiritual practice,” Sally says, adding that during her meditation classes, everyone prepares for meditating by starting with some breathing techniques followed by focusing on relaxing one area of the body after another.

“Ideally, people should wait two hours after eating to meditate, and they should find a quiet place where they will not be distracted, and get into a comfortable position—preferably in a chair with a straight back instead of lying down,” she says.

During meditation, people should focus on breathing effortlessly. Ideally, this should be done two times a day, Sally says.

“It usually takes about a month of practicing meditation before significant changes occur,” she says.

Benefits of meditation

There are a number of ways that meditation can help improve health, Sally says.

“In terms of our physical health, meditation can help lower our blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels. It frequently results in people needing less of their medication. It also helps to boost the immune system and increase the health of the telomeres, an area of one’s chromosomes that can affect cell aging,” she says. “A 2005 study found that people who meditated for 40 minutes a day showed less aging in their brains.”

As for spiritual benefits, Sally says they include an increase in creativity, self-knowing and self-regulation.

Meditation can also help reduce stress levels, Sally says.

“Over the past 18 years, there have been hundreds of studies conducted on meditation by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and others,” she says. “They have found that meditation can help with stress and anxiety, and a 2014 study found that it can be as effective as antidepressants.”

Interested in learning more? Sally is leading a three-part Holiday Meditation Series, starting Dec. 4. See page 29 for more information.

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