Can’t get the hang of meditation? Relax a minute, it’ll come to you

While medical science remains uncertain whether prayer has the power to heal, experts are pretty sure meditation works.

Yet another study released last month — this one in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging — reports that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in brain density in areas related to memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.

Exactly what those brain changes mean is not clear, but there also have been studies confirming that meditation can reduce blood pressure — in healthy people as well as in those with heart disease. And those who meditate report that at the very least it improves their sense of the quality of their lives.

Trouble is, meditation can be frustrating. And many of those who try it, quit.

We are all tangled up, I think, in a distinctly American idea of meditation. We believe there is a right way to do it, a method to be mastered and something to be achieved.

Meditation is, in fact, exactly the opposite of those things. It is not about doing. It is about being. Being still, being quiet and being with yourself for a few minutes each day.

There are a couple of videos on YouTube of yoga students in the resting pose at the end of a class, with hilarious voice-overs of what is going through their minds. Mashed potatoes. Chinese food. That dress on eBay. The guy who hasn’t texted back.

Anybody who has ever tried to meditate will relate immediately. You can drive home from work and upon arrival have absolutely no memory of the commute. But trying not to think about anything pretty much guarantees that you can’t…

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stop thinking about everything.And there are plenty of everyday distractions, too: the cat, the phone, the kids, the husband. All of them are reasons to get up before the rest of the house in order to meditate — another reason to quit.Meditation requires only a seat in a quiet spot, but there is lots of meditation help out there. There is guided meditation in which the voice on the CD or on your iPod talks you through. Concentrating on the instruction helps to shut down at least part of your mind.

And there is music that is perfect for mediation. It not only sets the mood, it helps you concentrate if you try to follow the notes or the voice. And there are sounds to help you meditate: the ocean, rainfall, a brook, birds. Saying prayers or the rosary can be a form of meditation. You can simply follow your breath, in and out.

Meditation has another side effect — besides a healthy resting heart rate or a lower blood pressure. It teaches something called mindfulness — the ability to be in the moment wherever we are, whatever we are doing. A kind of zone in which we are only aware of the person or the task in front of us.

Those people we love can certainly benefit from a little more of our mindfulness — our attention, our focus, our interest in what they are saying or doing. It is what they deserve from us.

There are shelves full of books on meditation written by experts. I am not one of them. And I have started and stopped meditating about as many times as I have started and stopped dieting, but with this difference: I have stopped beating myself up about what might seem like failure in any other endeavor.

In meditation, my yoga teachers tell me, there is no succeeding because there is no doing. There is just being.

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