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Just Breathe
By Evelyn Gilbert Manziello

Meditation isn’t only about enlightenment

With the demands we all face everyday, it’s hard to stay balanced. While I wish I could afford a weekly massage, I can’t. Still, you don’t have to pop any pills or even spend any money to relax. There is an ancient technique used by cultures around the globe for centuries to help prevent and treat illness, control stress, and feel peaceful: meditation.

“Relaxation meditation is a form of self-healing. It’s becoming a big field in modern medicine today,” says Wil lard Roth, codirector of Albany KTC Mediation and Study Center in Niskayuna, who has practiced Buddhist meditation for 20 years. “Modern medicine can’t do everything. More people are beginning to realize this isn’t alternative medicine. It works hand-in-hand with Western medicine.”

There are many different forms of meditation. While some schools teach you to focus on a particular object, others encourage you to empty your mind altogether, and still others allow you to recognize thoughts as they pop up and then let them float away. Most types include sitting still, focusing on your breath, and quieting the mental chatter in your mind.

“The wired-in stress response in the body is not so useful when it’s getting triggered on a daily basis. It wears down the body,” says Caroline Russell Smith, cofounder of the Saratoga Stress Reduction Program. “If you’re aware of stressful thoughts arising, you can respond differently, deepen your breath, and decrease anxiety. You can respond to life’s challenges with less reactivity and more clarity.”

While some types of meditation have a spiritual component, and some form of it can be found in every major religion, one does not have to believe in a higher power to reap the benefits, which have been documented scientifically over and over. More than 1,000 studies have shown that it helps prevent and treat physical and psychological illnesses. When people meditate, blood pressure falls, pulse rates fall, and brain waves change.

“There’s no mystery to meditation. Its effect on the body, mind, and emotions is physiologically documented,” says Dr. Alicia Recone, project leader at St. Peter’s Healthcare Services’ Complementary Therapy Program in Albany. “We’ve taught thousands of people—patients, families, and nurses—meditation over the last few years. It helps them manage pain and anxiety. We encourage them to practice it throughout the day.”

If you want to try meditation, all you need is commitment, time, and patience. (Though if you want extra guidance, see our list of local meditation resources.) First decide how much time you will meditate. Dedicate at least five minutes to start with and then increase by five-minute intervals when you feel ready. Some days I don’t practice at all, but when I do I feel so much better that I try and remind myself of that when I’m tempted to blow it off.

Next, pick a specific part of each day to practice. I usually meditate in the morning, right after I get up. This way, other tasks don’t distract me from doing something good for myself.

Choose a quiet place and turn off all phones. Wear loose-fitting comfortable clothes and sit on a chair or meditation pillow with your back straight. I like to light incense or a candle and focus on the flame. Soothing music is also a helpful accompaniment for some, while others prefer silence. Try a few different methods until you find one that resonates with you. Dedicating just a few minutes to this healthy me-time can make all the difference in your day.

Evelyn Gilbert Manziello is a writer and editor based in Kinderhook. Formerly managing editor of LoCarb Woman and Natural Glow, and assistant managing editor of Natural Living Today, she has written for The Village Voice, Marie Claire, Relix and Vegetarian Times, among other publications. Evhotstory@aol.com.

The Golden Cord Meditation

Some meditations are based on a specific visualization, like this one:

1. On the in breath, picture a warm bright sun above your head and a golden cord descending from it.

2. On the out breath, feel the cord enter you via your head and travel downward through your body and out through your feet, grounding you into the earth.

3. On the in breath, envision the cord burrowing through the earth and back up into the heavens, returning in full circle to the nurturing sun.

4. Repeat for at least five minutes while breathing deeply.

 

 

Local Meditation Resources

Saratoga Stress Reduction Program is modeled on the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program founded by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. www.oneroofsaratoga.com, 581-3180.

Delmar Wellness Center offers Serena—The One % Solution, a meditation tape/CD developed by actress Letitia Splain Dayer, Dr. Joseph Olejak, and musician Peter Joseph Einhorn. www.delmarwellness.com, 439-5077.

St. Peter’s Health Care System teaches meditation to patients, families, and nurses. ww.stpetershealthcare.org, 525-1550.

Albany KTC Meditation and Study Center offers meditation instruction in the Buddhist tradition. www.kagyu.org, 374-1792.

Canyon Ranch has meditation classes in its Lenox, Mass., location. www.canyonranch.com, (800) 742-9000.

Tweak Your Way to Efficiency
By Rick Marshall

Lifehacking turns a geeky eye on the stuff of everyday existence

There was a time, not too long ago, when I considered myself a pretty organized guy. Sure, everyone who’s ever seen my workspace is probably mopping up whatever drink shot out their noses a half-second ago, but there really was a time when I thought my fragile web of paper lists, pop-up reminders, manila folders and Post-It notes was a triumph of organizational athleticism. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I’ve learned an ugly truth: If I really want to get the most out of my life, I’m going to have to hack it.

“Computers make us more productive. Yeah, right,” reads the welcome message on lifehacker.com, an online clearinghouse of tips, tricks, software and advice for tweaking the efficiency of your daily routine.

“Are you a piler? You know, someone who has piles of stuff all around your home and office?” asks a recent entry on the popular blog. “Do you live, or work, with a piler? If you said yes and are looking to eliminate piles of paper, books, clothes, etc. from your home or office, this post’s for you.”

Among the dozens of “lifehacks” currently featured on the site is an online reminder service that will pester you about accomplishing goals, a site with tips for “getting the most out of an old iPod,” a freely available personal budget system and various computer desktop or Internet browser add-ons aimed at minimizing the number of different Web sites and programs you visit throughout the day. There are even a few tips for increasing the productivity of your sleep.

If you still needed evidence that the geeks shall inherit the earth, welcome to the world of lifehacking.

“The term ‘lifehack’ is derived . . . from the [assorted tricks for organizing data, synchronizing files and one-click automation of daily tasks] that programmers and other geeks have set up for themselves to make their lives easier,” reads an entry from the blog of Minnesota-based Web consultant J. Wynia (www.wynia.org/ wordpress) titled “What is a LifeHack or Lifehacking?”

“The term surfaced when there was a suggestion to share these and see if others could benefit from these ‘life hacks’, ” he continues.

And in the infinitely networked, increasingly share-and-share-alike style of computer geekery, this simple suggestion developed into a full-blown phenomenon, with the content of these lifehacks evolving far beyond their initial, digital existence. These days, the term has been used to describe everything from weight-loss tips and cell-phone accessories: any physical or computer-oriented methods for making life easier, “tweaks” in our way of thinking that can save time, money and stress.

So how effective are lifehacks? Well, it all depends on what you’re hacking—or, more accurately, your relationship to the activity.

While many of the tips, tools and projects found on lifehacker.com and a similar site, lifehack.org, stand a good chance of changing—or, in some cases, integrating themselves into—your daily routine, no lifehack is universally useful. Generally, you’ll find that the most useful lifehacks target the repetitive or mundane tasks you’re required to complete in order to get to the stuff that requires real brainpower. They’re the tools that help you skip commercials on your favorite television program or speed past the automated menu when you’re trying to find out your credit-card balance. Nevertheless, if you don’t find yourself engaged in a particular mundane activity on a regular basis, there’s really not much point in learning to do it differently.

Take, for instance, a recent lifehack I came across. The entry, titled “Geek to Live: Train others how to use email,” lists various tips for making your e-mail use more productive and efficient. One such tip prompts you to change the ambiguous or unrelated subject lines on e-mail messages that arrive in your account to something that identifies the content of the message.

“Your co-worker’s subject is ‘hi,’ and inside he inquires about how your vacation was, and whether or not you can update the web site link to the archive page on the Smith story,” reads the lifehacker.com entry. “When you respond, change the subject line to something more obvious, i.e., ‘Re: Smith story updates (was: hi)’ so that the rest of the thread is easily identified, sorted and searched.”

Sure, it seems like a pretty obvious fix, but a quick glance at my e-mail account reveals one message after another with subject lines like “quick question” or “tomorrow morning.” Despite numerous experiences and countless hours sifting through e-mail for a particular message, I’ve never even considered making such a change in the initial stages of digital discourse. Thanks to this little lifehack, however, I’ve seen the error of my ways.

In contrast, lack of any significant culinary urge might render some of the lifehacks filed under the “cooking” banner pretty useless. The same could be said for entries related to other activities in which I am disinclined to get involved or, in some cases, for which I actually enjoyed those no-brainer, secondary steps. (To be honest, I kind of enjoy the annual brain teaser that tax forms provide.)

All things considered, however, there’s a lot to learn from the popularity of lifehacking and the Web sites that nurture the phenomenon. With more than 2 million page views a month, there’s a good chance that if you’re not checking out lifehacker.com, the person next to you has already clicked his or her way to a more efficient existence. And even if you’re not the competitive type, the lure of more free time (if only to find more hobbies to fill it) is hard to ignore.

Now if they would just come up with a lifehack that will prevent me from wasting so much time looking for new lifehacks, I’ll be all set.

rmarshall@metroland.net


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