Meditation Provides Stress Relief Without Prescription
It seems almost as if antidepressants have become the norm for mood regulation. Whether it be Prozac, Paxil, Lexapro or Zoloft, these drugs have become a part of not only our medical lexicon, but our daily routine. According to a February 2012 article in Psychology Today, nearly one in ten people 12 and older are currently taking a prescribed antidepressant.
But, a growing number of people are practicing a simple technique called "moving meditation," that, according to one expert in the field, is proving more fruitful in raising moods and safer for the body in the long run.
Mary Jo Ricketson has owned the Center for Mind-Body Training in Medfield, Massachusetts since 1999, and has been teaching the art of moving meditation to her patients for more than two decades.
"It's a series of exercises that are done mindfully," Ricketson said. "In other words, it's a form of present-moment training. There's power in that the body is always present. We cannot take the body to the past or ahead to the future. But, the mind is weak at times, and the mind wanders."
Like basic yoga, there aren't a lot of physical restrictions. The movements simply help to relax the mind, creating the same feeling as being "in the zone."
"You don't have to be extremely fit, or in great condition," Ricketson said. "These exercises are very simple, they're doable at any level. You could work at a low level of intensity and not so deep in the exercises, or you can take it to Olympic athlete levels if you wanted to."
Ricketson says by focusing on maintaining our thoughts in the present, we are able to focus more and access what is described as "inner strength." But, unlike other types of relaxation, including Transcendental Meditation, or TM, there is no need to utter a mantra.
"My moving meditation is also associated with almost using exercise as a form of meditation. Rather than following the words, I follow the breath. So, you are mindful of the movement of the breaths in the body, as you move in the exercises. It's simply another way of connecting you to that inner source. Without the breath, there is no life."
But, in the same case as anti-depressants, meditation will not reduce the level of stress in a person's life. Rather, meditation makes life more manageable. Ricketson believes some amount of stress is good, and when handled correctly through meditation it can be used to enhance life.
"It gives you the ability to respond to the stress in such a way that is life giving," Ricketson said. "So, we learn to let the stress work for us, rather than against us, because a stress-free life actually creates a weak person. We need stress. Even if you look at the physiology, a person that is stress free, in time, that person will die. So, you need to bear weight, you need to lift and you need to move."
According to Ricketson, the body has an internal pharmacy stocked with everything we need to regulate us and orient us in our surroundings. Though antidepressants can perform the job, she says the body, with enough time and practice will regulate itself.
"It's really possible to get off those drugs," Ricketson said. "Every single chemical, every single medication, every single treatment that we give ourselves through synthetic and man-made drugs, those drugs are in us and have the power to heal us."
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, during an NPR interview with Ira Flatow in December 2011, he said, "the more the mind wanders into the past and future, the more attention is fragmented, the more vulnerable we are to poor emotional health." His encouragement towards focusing on breaths and relaxation of the mind helps to regulate emotions, bringing a person back to homeostasis.
For more information about meditation and its impact on mood regulation, click here.