Is it possible to receive the physiological benefits of meditating without having to formally sit and meditate?
In 1975, Dr. Herbert Benson, a pioneer in mind-body medicine, coined the term “The Relaxation Response” to describe a beneficial physiological response in the body that he discovered was occurring in practitioners of a variety of disciplines — meditation, prayer, yoga, chanting, tai chi, etc. He found that all of these disciplines have two main factors that elicit a physiological response, which in turn delivers tremendous health benefits!
First, you need a mental device, something for the mind to focus on. Second, you need a passive attitude, a compassionate acceptance of the process.
After working with and experiencing the “mental device,” I've come to define it as a Healing Mental Focus, whereas the “passive attitude” I like to describe as a Self-Loving Attitude.
The Healing Mental Focus distracts the mind from all the recurring thoughts that cause stress on a daily basis, and it has a healing affect on your nervous system. This can be in the form of a mantra, affirmation, a physical focal point — focusing on or within the body, a repetitive audible sound, repeating numbers, or a repetitive movement, to name a few.
For example, let's say you decide to focus on your breath; pay attention to the temperature of the breath on the way in through the nose compared to the temperature of the breath on its way out. If you pay close enough attention, you’ll notice the temperature on the way in is cooler than the air flowing out. This is a great example of a powerful healing mental focus that you can choose to use.
The Self-Loving Attitude allows the critical parts of your thought process to quiet so your Healing Mental Focus succeeds. For instance, if you lose focus on your breath or break the repetition of a mantra, being easy with yourself and getting back to the focal point is key. You're bound to lose the focus, so beating yourself up about it is pointless and counterproductive. Remember, however the process unfolds is exactly how it should be; you are perfect, whole and complete just as you are.
So, is it possible to receive the physiological benefits of meditating without having to formally sit and meditate? The answer is a resounding YES!
Simply implementing the Healing Mental Focus and the Self-Loving Attitude while performing an activity — running, walking, sitting, or even dancing, can have an incredibly positive physiological affect on heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen consumption and brain activity. And implementing these two components in your life strongly correlates with reduced anxiety, depression, and the mitigation of a number of disorders.
Even more encouraging is that it doesn’t take a lot of time. In a study conducted by Benson himself and published in May of 2013, a difference in “gene expression” (the way your DNA expresses itself) changed in just 20 minutes. This was measured through blood analysis before and after just one 20-minute session that elicited the relaxation response. Astoundingly, in 20 minutes you can change the composition of your blood toward a healthier you.
So how can you do this? Try using the Healing Mental Focus and Self-Loving Attitude while you're walking. Walk for 20 minutes and repeat a mantra over and over in your head or focus on your breathing. When you lose focus, be easy about it and restart. It may be challenging at first but with a bit of persistence you'll get into a rhythm. Observe and experience — you may have just taken the most relaxing walk of your life!
Try it out with any activity that doesn’t require intellectual engagement, like running or even a not-so-important meeting at work! Bottom line: introducing a Healing Mental Focus and a Self-Loving Attitude into regular activity can make you feel amazing.
Feel free to contact me with any questions of how to incorporate these healthful techniques into your life.