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Meditation quiets the mind and calms the body. But doing it takes patience and practice. page 3
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

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On Thursday evenings, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fredericksburg hosts a mindfulness meditation group. Surely other groups exist elsewhere.

Get comfortable

Classes aren't necessary to get started, though. Experienced meditators recommend learning from a teacher, but they say it's possible to glean enough advice from reading and conversations to get going.

Much of the advice is more practical than profound.

Put in earplugs if it's noisy outside, author Austin recommends. Wrap yourself in a blanket if you're chilled, Fields advises.

Fields also advises creating a calm environment--one with dim lights, soft white noise and a comfortable temperature.

Austin, the author, also stresses the importance of comfort, and of relaxing the body before trying to relax the mind. Her advice to beginners: lie down.

"The problem most people have is they want to meditate, so they sit down in some sort of cross-legged pose, and their knees are killing them, and their backs are killing them, and their minds are never going to quiet," Austin said. "And God forbid anybody try lotus [position]. They'll probably tear the ligaments in their knees."

Lying down with feet and calves elevated can be a great position to relax in, she said. If that doesn't work, she suggests beginners sit up and press their foreheads down on something hard--like a chair or big dictionary. Pressure on the spot between the eyebrows is soothing, she said.

Austin said she relied on meditation--and its common companion, yoga--to ease stress when she was a stockbroker in Los Angeles in the 1980s.

"It's the only way I really could survive it, especially as I moved up the ladder," Austin said.

Meditation eased tension and kept her well during 14-hour workdays, she said.

"When all the brokers around me were sick, I wouldn't get sick as quickly or for as long as they did," Austin said.

For a time, Austin lived in New York City, and that's when she realized how valuable earplugs can be. Blocking out external sounds such as police sirens and jackhammers can be tough.

Tougher still, Fields said, is quieting internal noise.

'Find what works best'

The stress response--what one feels after, say, a fender-bender--is automatic, Fields said. But relaxing in a way that creates physiological change takes work.

"The relaxation response has to be intentionally induced," Fields said. "So if you never meditate, you never know what that is."


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