While having coffee with my sister-in-law recently, I asked her, “When do you feel most beautiful?” I thought she would tell me when her husband gave her a nice compliment, after a new haircut, or when wearing a gorgeous new outfit. Her reply took me by surprise. She responded that she felt most beautiful when she was spiritually focused and centered, when she took the time to be still. She said that when she felt close to God, she felt beautiful from the inside—and then the other areas of her life, such as her relationship with her husband and the way she mothers her children, just fell into place.
Meditation and prayer are two of the most powerful ways to create a calm center in your life. Meditation is essentially any practice that calms the mind by engaging in breathing and sitting peacefully in reflection. Some practices include trying to empty the mind of any thoughts, while others include thought observation and a focus on breath. There is even meditation that can be done while walking! Three common types of meditation are:
— Mindfulness Meditation. This style of meditation involves sitting quietly in a comfortable position and concentrating on an object, a process, or what is happening around you. The key is that you are aware of your feelings and the thoughts that come into your mind, which you are to observe but not judge. I’ve learned two useful methods for observing thoughts and then letting them go without judgment: 1) View your thoughts as clouds passing in the sky. Watch a thought come into your mind, observe it, and let it float out. 2) Another mindfulness practice I like is visualizing my thoughts as though they are being written on a chalkboard in my mind. After I’ve considered the thought, I erase it and sit in silence until another one comes.
— Breathing Meditation. This type of meditation is as easy as it sounds. Just sit and breathe, focusing all of your attention on the breath coming in and going out. I often do this in counts of three or six, meaning I breathe in for three counts, hold my breath for three counts, and then let it out for six counts. This meditation is so easy, and it calms the mind and entire body very quickly. It can be done anywhere, any time you need to relax your mind and body (for example, before blowing up at your kids!). There are many breathing techniques, which you can learn through guided meditation and then practice on your own.
— Empty Mind Meditation. During this type of meditation, the goal is to empty your mind of any thoughts and let it simply rest. When this is done successfully, a deep sense of peace and calm will take over. This meditation requires a quiet, comfortable room with no distractions, so you can truly allow your mind to become still. For me, this one only works if I have done some other meditation or yoga first. It’s tough for a busy, overtasked mind to become “empty” right away!
An important thing to remember is that there is no wrong way to meditate. Some mornings my meditation and prayer run together, and I only get five minutes in before one of my kids interrupts my peace . . . but it still helps me immensely! Many women are intimidated by meditation and attempt it by just sitting down and trying not to think. Most moms I know will go into a state of “monkey mind” pretty quickly if they do this. Thoughts will start running rampant, about the cupcakes that were supposed to be baked last night, now necessitating a stop at the store; the credit card bill that needs to be paid; or an argument from the night before . . . the possibilities are endless. With practice, this inner chatter will subside.
Though practiced for centuries, meditation is often seen as far out and New Age. The health benefits, both physical and psychological, are quickly making fans of Western physicians. Meditation is free and can be done anywhere (although not always at any time if you are a mom with children at home). Meditation takes some practice, but the wide range of benefits is compelling. They include improvements in conditions such as allergies, anxiety, asthma, cancer, depression, fatigue, heart disease, high blood pressure, insomnia, and substance abuse. 1 Studies show that meditation even lowers cortisol levels, elevated by stress, in the blood. 2 Meditators are also shown to have better overall mental health, including superior concentration, memory, and productivity—three of the top complaint areas of women raising children! 3 One statistic presented in the International Journal of Neuroscience that really caught my eye is that meditation has been shown to slow aging. Results indicated that study participants who had meditated for 5 years or more were an average of 12 years younger, physically and mentally, than their chronological age. 4 Within a few years, I will be “back in my 20s.” I’m sold . . . love it!
People often think that prayer is only for the devout and religious. I believe prayer is for anyone who strives to be more spiritual. Studies have shown many positive implications related to health and longevity, similar to the effects of medication in some cases, in people who pray.5 Some scientific research indicates that prayer is effective and influences outcomes. I use my prayer time to ask God and the universe to grant me abundance, peace, and love. It is an opportunity to express gratitude for all of the blessings in my life and ask for things and experiences that I desire. During some really tough times, I went into my prayer thinking I had little to be grateful for. Once I began praying, a multitude of blessings would flood my mind . . . simple things, such as a safe place to live, a warm bed, and a healthy family.
When you’re lucky, you can thank God for little hands to hold, people to love, and people who love you. My favorite prayer is one for others; I send them love, healing, energy, and whatever they happen to need at the time, no matter where they are. I spend the most time on my husband and children; then I pray for my entire family and my dearest friends, whoever pops into my mind. An amazing combination is meditation followed by prayer. Even if I get my mind calm and peaceful for five minutes before I pray, the effect is dramatic. The thoughts flow, and my deepest needs and desires start surfacing. People in my life start entering my mind, and I know they need my love, prayer, and positive energy.
©2012 Erin Cox. Excerpt from One Hot Mama: The Guide to Getting Your Mind and Body Back After Baby. Hay House. Reprinted with permission. www.HayHouse.com