Skip agitation with meditation

Practitioners offer guidance for launching a routine


When Sean Thompson developed a stress-related ulcer in college in 1988, a psychology professor recommended he try one simple practice to find relief: meditation.

After trying out the professor’s tape of a guided meditation, Thompson made a life-altering discovery.

“What happened was it worked,” he said. “I started feeling more relaxed.”

Twenty-four years later, Thompson founded the Centered Path Buddhist meditation center in Parker. The center, which he describes as more of a study group than a religious organization, teaches folks of all backgrounds how to harness the power of meditation.

“The only people who it can’t help are those who aren’t willing to try,” said Thompson. 

Many psychologists, including Dr. Justin Ross at UCHealth’s Center for Integrative Medicine, also recommend the practice to reduce stress.

“There are tens of thousands of published studies on this,” Ross said. “The research at this point is pretty extensive and comprehensive across a wide range of conditions and concerns.”

Mindfulness meditation can reduce stress, anxiety and depression and improve wellness and the ability to cope with disease, he said.

“We talk about meditation as being a core pillar of wellness for all of us,” Ross said.

Especially now, as many people’s mental health is strained by the anxieties and uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, meditation can help everyone find a sense of peace, he said.

“This is going to help (people) better manage this unprecedented time we’re in,” Ross said. “It’s such a high time of anxiety, this is a really easy place to get relief.”

Mary Dohrmann, a psychologist with The Golden Wellness Center, encourages meditation as a way to cope with all of the daily changes prompted by COVID-19, she said.

“When something gets taken away from you, that causes grief,” she said. “People are trying to function in this new way of being, and that causes anxiety ... for that it would be wonderful to use these techniques to ground yourself every day.”

Dohrmann, Ross and Thompson agree that meditation can be extremely beneficial for those finding themselves frequently worried.

When anxious, “you’re like a bag in a windstorm,” Dohrmann said. “You’re not very rational, you can’t think clearly. Grounding yourself brings you back to (earth).”

Steps to meditation

While meditation can be practiced anywhere, it’s best to find a quiet place to sit or lie down, Dohrmann said. 

“Ideally you’re sitting comfortably on a cushion or against a wall or in a chair — with feet on the ground, not hanging,” she said. “And then just kind of rest your hands where they feel comfortable.”

Thompson recommends those interested in beginning a practice start by choosing a quiet spot in their home that’s used solely for meditation, he said. 

Once comfortable, the first thing to do is simply become aware of your body, thoughts and breaths.

“The only thing they need to learn how to do is shift their focus to the breath,” Ross said. “Every meditation practice has the foundational component of bringing awareness to the present moment.”

After that, the goal is to identify whenever a distraction comes up.

“It’s about recognizing when you’re not present and learning that you have the ability to bring your awareness back to something occurring right now,” Ross said. “That’s why the breath is so powerful, it can only occur right now.”

Often, beginners will notice their brain coming up with all sorts of distractions.

  • Have I finished the laundry? 
  • Does the dog need a walk? 
  • What will I make for dinner? 

Thoughts and feelings like these are normal and will likely always come up. The hallmark of meditation isn’t halting these, but learning to recognize them and then return to the breath, Ross said.

It can be useful to identify where in the body the breath is most intensely felt, whether that be in the belly, the nostrils or the chest, Thompson said. He also recommends trying to identify when there is a long or short breath.

“That gets the mind to calm down,” Thompson said. 

Dohrmann suggests beginning with a simple technique of inhaling for four seconds, then exhaling for four seconds, repeating the breath pattern for two minutes.

No failure, just awareness

Many people say the reason they haven’t tried meditation is because they can’t find the time, Ross said.

“The reality is … it can be as simple as three to five minutes a day,” he said. 

It’s best to try to fit in a brief meditation every day, Dohrmann said, “But whenever you can do it is also best.”

Another reason people give for not wanting to try out meditation is because they worry they won’t do it correctly. But Thompson, Ross and Dohrmann agree there really isn’t a downside to trying.

“There really is no failure in meditation, there’s just observation and awareness,” Ross said. 

Thompson points out that even if things don’t go according to plan, it still isn’t a failure.

“Worst-case scenario,” Thompson said, “you fall asleep.”


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