How can meditation relieve stress?

One of the biggest misconceptions about meditation, said Stephanie Frantz, is that you have to stop your thoughts.

"We have anywhere from 40,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day, so that's unlikely to happen," the meditation instructor said. "It's about turning your attention away from them."

Frantz will lead a 50-minute workshop on mindfulness meditation and breathing techniques at 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 8 at The Community House (see Page XX for details).

The Joy Meditation founder, who also teaches at local colleges, said the session is for anyone interested in a healthier rhythm than the achievement-driven cadence many are caught up in.

"People find it very hard to stop doing. Meditation is about just being," Frantz said.

She said people spend time getting their body in better shape but neglect their minds.

"Detachment training is an exercise for the mind. You're just training yourself not to follow your thoughts," she said. "Using your breath, your mantra - or both - helps you detach from your thoughts or transcend your thoughts and go to quieter levels of your mind."

Students will learn techniques to get them started.

"I'll teach them a simple mantra meditation and a diaphragmatic breathing exercise," she explained. "It's very interactive."

Frantz discovered the wellness benefits of meditation in the early 1990s when seeking to become more centered after a season of hardship. She was influenced by famed author and alternative medicine advocate Deepak Chopra, and ultimately trained at the Chopra Center to become an instructor.

Meditation promotes inner silence, which allows one to hear what is truly needed, she believes.

"All of your answers are inside of you. You're greatest teacher is quieting your minds enough so you can hear the wisdom that's inside of you," Frantz remarked.

The practice requires intentionality, however.

"Meditation is something you can't really sell people on. You have to be motivated internally and personally committed to keep at it and create a habit," she said.

Frantz meditates 30 minutes in the morning and afternoon, but the key is regularity, not duration.

"It's like any exercise - it takes a while to find the right routine," she said. "It could be 5 minutes or 20 minutes."

Students sometimes enter her class burdened by heavy loss or adversity and find relief.

"They are literally in tears at the beginning of the class," she said. "By the end they're smiling, they're in good spirits. It seems like it changes their whole attitude."

The physical benefits can be notable, too.

"I've seen students whose blood pressure was lowered from 178 to 118 over two weeks," Frantz said. "It's always gratifying to see people get results from it."

She advised students to come with an open mind and a desire to contribute to a kinder world.

"If we can make ourselves more peaceful, that impacts everyone around us. You're doing your little part for the collective conscience of the world."

- by Ken Knutson