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Meditation quiets the mind and calms the body. But doing it takes patience and practice.
Meditation quiets the mind and calms the body. But doing it takes patience and practice.

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Date published: 1/23/2005

By JANET MARSHALL

EARNING TO MEDITATE can be as tough as falling asleep in a cramped airline seat with a whining toddler two rows back.

Meditation means shutting out all noise and thoughts. No daydreaming, no worrying, no awareness of aches or pains. Just a quiet mind.

It's a tall order.

Beginners often feel anxious, even as they try to relax, said Ren Fields, a meditation leader in Fredericksburg.

"We have so much noise in our lives," said Fields, who runs the Healing Arts Yoga & Massage Center "When there's complete stillness, it makes people edgy because they aren't used to it."

Increasingly, doctors recommend meditation to ease stress and muscle tension. Meditation can lower blood pressure, reduce pain and cut production of the stress hormone cortisol, according to numerous studies, including some done by Harvard  Medical School researchers.

Fields can attest to its power. She said she's had dental work done without anesthesia; meditation helped block the pain.

Long thought of as a counterculture practice, meditation is decidedly more mainstream now. Fields said she's given talks about it to workers at Mary Washington Hospital. Fredericksburg physicians have recommended it for headache relief. And researchers at notable institutions such as Harvard and the University of Wisconsin-Madison study its benefits.

"The idea of meditation is to quiet the mind," said Miriam Austin, author of "Meditation for Wimps." "And it's about the hardest thing to do."

Some, but not all, meditative methods are steeped in religious beliefs. Some emphasize paying attention to your breathing; others focus on repeating a mantra.

What binds them is their call for mental silence, an extraordinary feat in an instant-message, 24/7 culture.

Like slimming down or bulking up, developing a meditation practice takes discipline, patience, and finding an approach that fits. You can't go wrong trying, Austin said.

"It's a practice," she said. "You don't have to be perfect. If I meditate for 20 minutes, my mind doesn't get perfectly quiet. But by the end, it's pretty quiet. That's the payoff, and that's why people keep doing it."

'I'm going to sit here and not think'

Camilla Ham, a University of Mary Washington student, has been hooked on meditation since she was a kid. She grew up watching her parents meditate.


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