Have you heard about all the benefits of meditation but for whatever reason just haven’t been able to commit to a regular practice? Don’t throw in the towel yet! Today I will explain how two of my favorite activities I practice for my own physical and mental health are interconnected and the benefits they have. I feel like it’s very common for me to meet someone who has not tried meditating, does not like meditating, or someone who does not meditate often. One complaint I hear from people who try meditation a few times then throw in the towel is that they get very uncomfortable sitting down, or it is hard to sit still for so long. One suggestion I would offer anyone in this boat is to first prepare yourself physically for the mental act of meditation. It takes me back to my yoga training, when I learned that the asana limb of yoga (physical movement, or the one we know most commonly in the western world as “yoga”) was used by people long ago to prepare themselves to sit and meditate for hours on end. (Fun fact: There are eight limbs of yoga. We can discuss that at a different time.)
I know there are folks out there that think yoga is also too difficult, or they aren’t flexible enough, don’t have enough time, etc., etc., and aren’t likely to practice a 20 minute yoga session to prepare for meditation. Although all of these are stories you are telling yourself and not the truth, I get it. Yoga can be a difficult practice to pick up on a whim. I have a solution! You can prepare yourself for a meditation session with a few quick stretches. And I can’t think of anyone who hasn’t felt the amazing benefits of a great stretch!
Stretching provides excellent physical and mental preparation for meditation. This act can make your meditation sessions more productive and comfortable by working on your flexibility. You’ll be able to sit longer and more comfortably. Conversely, the act of stretching can bring about mindfulness and meditation within ourselves. See what the perfect combination of stretching and meditation can do for your total well-being. Physical Benefits of Stretching 1. Sit more comfortably. A limber body adjusts more easily to any pose. You’ll be able to relax on a chair or cushion. 2. Enhance your posture. Slumping in front of a computer or TV shortens and tightens your muscles. Stretching exercises will show you how to correct your alignment and carry your body weight more efficiently. You’ll look better and be protected from many common injuries. 3. Breathe more effectively. Controlling your breath while stretching will teach you how to breathe slower and deeper. Stretching also revs up your circulation. Let the blood and oxygen reach every part of your body. 4. Extend your sessions. Even a few minutes of meditation can produce dramatic results. However, the most valuable realizations often come from being able to sit for longer periods of time. Mental Benefits of Stretching
1. Shift your attention inwards. Stretching promotes mindfulness. You notice your body and breathing. External cares drop away. 2. Heighten your awareness. Follow that inward path. You’ll find that your intuition grows stronger, while discovering greater self-knowledge. 3. Boost your energy levels. You’ve probably noticed that even small body movements can help you wake up when you start to drift off during a boring meeting. A long stretch is an ideal way to increase the energy flow throughout your body. 4. Reduce distractions. Put off worrying about the broken dishwasher or your child’s report card. You’ll see faster results from stretching when you engage both your body and mind. 5. Sharpen your concentration. Since stretching boosts your concentration, you can apply that ability to your meditation session and all other daily activities. Set a goal that you can focus on while meditating. See how long you can watch your breath. Bring your attention back each time you catch it drifting away. Sample Stretches to Help Meditation 1. Practice sitting poses. The traditional lotus position awakens your energy level and quiets your mind. If you’re just starting out, a half lotus or easy sitting pose (also known to those with kids as “criss cross applesauce”) will generate some of the same benefits. 2. Twist around. Twisting from the waist squeezes out toxins. It helps your circulatory system and internal organs function better. 3. Strengthen your core muscles. Many stretches invigorate muscles in your back and abdomen. You’ll lower your risk of back pain and have more energy for meditation and daily tasks. Start each morning with a series of sun salutations. (Ok, ok…sun salutations are considered yoga asanas but they are just such a good full body stretch!)
4. Release neck tension. Sitting and sleeping in awkward positions can create chronic neck troubles. If you have difficulty lowering your head to your chest, gentle head rolls and other movements can put things back on track. 5. Soothe your shoulders. Similarly, many people get in the habit of keeping their shoulders raised. Try holding light weights in your hands to lower your shoulders. Aim to duplicate that feeling all day. 6. Wiggle your toes. You might be surprised to discover how much your toes can move once you give them a break from being squeezed into shoes all day. Curling and spreading your toes will cut down on foot pain and increase your balance. Recharge or begin your meditation practice by training for flexibility. Increasing your range of motion reduces stress and muscle soreness. You’ll feel more supple and peaceful during your meditation sessions and in the hours in between. It is my hope that in combining these two activities, you will set some new routines into your schedule as building blocks for a happier and healthier life!