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Meditation can be refuge from the holiday hysteria

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Catherine W. Idzerda
December 15, 2010
— Gift shopping, children's Christmas shows, office parties, Christmas cards, holiday baking, holiday decorating, visits with unpleasant relatives, cleaning the house before the arrival of such relatives, making sure the kids spend an equal amount of time with both sets of grandparents, finding the extra leaf for the table, the spouse's office Christmas party and on and on and on.

It's a brutal to-do list, but you might consider adding three more items:


1. Sit quietly.


2. Breathe.


3. Repeat.


You can call it taking a break, or you can call it the start of an ancient practice westerners call "meditation."


Linda Caldean, nurse and co-owner of Earthsong Gifts & Books, 2214 N. Kennedy Road, Janesville, is both a meditation practitioner and teacher.


"This is a really frazzling time of year," Caldean said. "There are all the 'have tos' at Christmas."


Meditation, she said, is just "inner focus or concentration."


That focus produces changes in our brains that improve mood and concentration.


Dr. Richard Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at UW-Madison, has studied those changes using EEGs and MRIs to look at brain activity during mediation and rest states.


He and his fellow researchers at Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior have studied the brain scans of everyone from Tibetan monks who have been mediating for decades and ordinary folks who are new to the practice.


For Caldean, meditation is especially effective against what she calls "mind chatter."


"Mind chatter" is the relentless string of thoughts that runs across our brains. It's usually made up of to-do lists, miscellaneous anxieties and real worries.


So how do we get started?


And what type of meditation is best? How will I know if I'm doing it right?


Instead of worrying, try this: Sit in a comfortable chair, shut your eyes and breathe.


Just breathe.


"That mind chatter is going to run through your head, but let it just go through," Caldean said. "Don't let it usurp the whole process."


Those random thoughts about wrapping paper, Christmas cookies and what to buy Uncle Crabby can just be gently noted and passed along.


Initially, it won't be easy.


"We're not used to sitting quietly," Caldean said. "If you can work your way up to three minutes, great. If you can go three, go five minutes."


That's the basic technique, but there are other, more structured, ways to learn, Caldean said.


"Certain types of meditation are more visual, some are more auditory, some more tactile," she said.


Guided meditation or guided imagery CDs give people specific images or instruction to help them relax or stay focused.


Some guided mediations are designed to be used on a walk and are especially beneficial for people who have trouble sitting still.


Yoga and tai chi also can be forms of meditation.


Finally, books and DVDs help other kinds of learners.


Caldean stressed that there are no rules and no one absolutely correct path.


The best way to start?


Just breathe.



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