It’s tough to find a Zen moment with today’s hectic lifestyles. But meditation is one great way to unwind, leading to improved mental and physical health.
Studies show this ancient practice reduces anxiety, blood pressure and depression, and boosts attention and concentration. Meditation takes many forms, though most focus on freeing the cluttered mind — something that’s much harder than it sounds.
Group classes can help: There, an expert leads you through the process and a community lends support. On a recent Wednesday at Huntington’s Dipamkara Meditation Center, a dozen men and women gather for “Soup & Serenity,” a lunchtime meditation session that ends with an offering of homemade vegetarian soup.
Participants remove shoes, get comfortable on folding chairs or floor cushions, and close their eyes. For the first 30 minutes, instructor Susan Brenner directs deep-breathing exercises to relax the whole body. She reassures everyone whose brains are still buzzing. “If a thought or sound enters your mind, name it, release it quickly and come back to your breath,” Brenner says.
Each week, the group also discusses Buddhist teachings that apply to real-life problems. On this day, some volunteer negative qualities to eliminate, such as self-criticism. “Now I recognize anger quicker, which makes it easier to avoid it. Then, when it does crop up, I can let it go a lot quicker,” says regular Ed Santangelo, 68, of Babylon.
Ten-year meditation veteran Rindi Tarlow, 60, of Northport says it releases tension in a way physical exercise doesn’t. “I feel like I’m healing anxiety on a deeper level,” she says.
At Yoga Nanda in Garden City, Sunday evening is for yoga nidra meditation, a guided technique that’s said to provide four hours of rest in a half-hour. Lights dimmed, eight people lie on mats and concentrate on teacher Sharon Hartman’s soothing images: watching sunlight on ocean waves, walking barefoot through a green field, sitting softly in warm sand. Several become so calm they fall asleep.
“Whenever I take this, for the rest of the week I’m relaxed and nothing really bothers me that much,” says Stephanie Singson, 28, of Bethpage.
Michele Caponi-Sajecki, 55, of Floral Park leaves the class feeling peaceful, but rejuvenated. “I feel like I could take on the world if I needed to,” she says.