Meditation is the cure for what ails you

Practice helps people learn to recognize feelings and be mindful of the present moment


Last updated 1/22/2020 at 4:48pm | View PDF

Jim Slonoff

If Buddhist monks were willing to relinquish everything and employ meditation as the path to find enlightenment, there must be something to the practice, Bridget Juister said. "Most of us aren't going to be doing those things. We can still pursue (meditation) just to find our own peace of mind." (Jim Slonoff photo)

"Meditation is, in my mind, the most radical thing a human can do. It's a way to shift our state in the moment to be more relaxed and available. But even more importantly, it's a way to shift who we are in all future moments, so that our baseline way of operating in the world is calmer and clearer, more fearless,

more caring."

- Jeff Warren

Some people think they would never be able to meditate. They have too many thoughts racing through their minds.

Those folks aren't the exception, said Bridget Juister of B Holistic Way in Hinsdale. They're the rule.

"Monkey mind," she said. "That is everybody's problem and that is the whole point of meditation, to recognize you have these thoughts."

Juister started practicing meditation at a hectic time in her life, when she was a new mom who had just moved to the suburbs and recently launched an acupuncture practice.

"I realized in that time that this was so important," she said. "This is probably the most important thing we can do for ourselves. It doesn't cost anything. You don't have to file insurance claims. It's useful."

She thinks some of the misconceptions about meditation - including that it's exclusively a religious practice - are fading and people are more open to recognizing its value. She attributed that trend to a simple theory: people are in need of the benefits now more than ever.

"The technology is so fast and so high speed and there is so much noise that we are hungry for quiet, peace, stillness," she said. "We are reaching within ourselves to find that."

That stillness offers people an opportunity to recognize their feelings, create some space from those feelings and then transform them.

"If you're feeling self-pity or you're feeling worry or you're feeling fear, you can use meditation to say, 'I don't want to feel like this. I want to feel better.' Meditation allows you to become aware of your thoughts," Juister said.

That awareness can be useful as part of talk therapy with people who are dealing with stress, anxiety and other issues, said Bob Agnoli, director of mental health services at The Community House. He often teaches clients deep breathing exercises as part of their sessions.

"You're slowing the body down. You're getting more oxygen into the system so you are thinking more clearly," he said.

Deep breathing combined with tensing and releasing muscles can help relax areas of the body, such as the shoulders or stomach, where stress and anxiety often is felt.

He and Juister agree there is no one prescribed way to meditate.

"We're not asking you to sit cross-legged and have some incense burning," Agnoli said. "You don't need to do all that."

Meditation doesn't require one to sit at all, Juister said.

"Art, music, exercise - these are all kind of forms of meditation that allow us to get out of our heads a little bit into whatever we are doing," she said. "That's why these things are so uplifting and so important."

Agnoli suggested a 10-minute meditation as a good way to unwind. Juister said whatever amount of time people have available can be useful, from three minutes to an hour.

"Sometimes just taking three deep breaths and really using your exhale to relax in and of itself is positive," she said.

Even though he is aware of the benefit, Agnoli admitted he sometimes forgets to meditate.

"I think part of it is we're in such a stress-driven society and we don't take time for self-care," he said.

Helping children learn to meditate at a young age would be a great help, Juister said, especially with phones connecting kids to social media and all the emotions that can carry with it. Suzanne Wychocki, a licensed social worker with Comer Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago and Vine Counseling Center, agrees. She points to a new "Breathe with Me Barbie" - which offers five guided meditations at the press of her star necklace - as evidence that meditation for kids is gaining traction.

"I'm not thrilled that it's Barbie, but I'll take it," said Wychocki, a former Hinsdale resident. "Whatever it takes to get the word out."

She believes there are appropriate ways to introduce meditation to kids of any age. One of the best ways parents can encourage the practice of mindfulness is to model the behavior themselves, being aware of and naming their emotions.

"Mindfulness is reacting without judgment," she said. "You know what? I'm upset. It's OK to be upset."

Her children were first introduced to meditation and mindfulness when they learned to belly breathe as preschoolers in California. A child who is able to identify an emotion is more likely to choose an appropriate response.

"Kids have three emotions. They are happy, they are sad or they are angry," Wychocki said. "But anger is sometimes fear. If you can tell the difference between anger and fear, you'll be able to manage it yourself a little better."

These tools will help kids seek their own truth and find inner peace instead of looking to the outside world to tell them who they are or how they should feel, Juister said.

"What happens is you kind of realize you are not your body weight. You are not your hair. You are not your material wealth. You are not your amount of (Instagram) likes," Juister said.

The cancer patients she works with at Wellness Health arrive at a similar conclusion.

"You're not your cancer," she said.

Those realizations lead to the posing of larger questions: Who are we and why are we here? But meditation isn't just about seeking answers to existential questions.

"When you practice meditation you're being mindful of your breath or mindful of a mantra and you're being mindful of thoughts entering your head and what those thoughts are," Juister said. "When you are meditating, you practice mindfulness. You can use mindfulness and not practice meditation."

Juister attributed many positive outcomes to the practice of meditation. The most important result, in her opinion, is developing self-love.

"If you can love yourself, then you can be more loving and kinder," she said. "You can be more accepting of people's flaws and annoying ways. You can get out of your own way."


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