Beginner's Guide to Meditation From Miraval's Alysa Volpe
In the latest Giuliana & Bill, the couple retreated to Miraval in Tucson, Ariz., to physically and mentally prepare G for her double mastectomy. During their stay, they met with meditation instructor Alysa Volpe. Read on for her insight into how they were at that vulnerable stage in their lives, and for tips on how best to meditate on your own time.
What was your impression of Giuliana and Bill? How would you describe their mindset at that time?
During the 10-minute session, I found them to be sweet, approachable and really genuine. They were happy to be there and interested in the experience. Giuliana was very calm. There was obviously some anxiety there, but she was upbeat, positive and just trying to take it all in. They got along quite well. Bill tried to keep her laughing a lot.
Was that Giuliana and Bill's first time meditatiing? How did they respond to every step of the process?
It seemed like meditation was new to them, so they were interested in understanding why a person would meditate, what the benefits are, how it can help deal with stress, which they all recognized was important for what Giuliana was going through. They were inquisitive and supportive of the whole situation. They also wanted to know if I meditated daily. I don't always get to because I have a toddler, so we talked about that a little and laughed about it.
That leads me to my next question: What are the benefits of incorporating meditation into your life?
Meditation gets the mind to stay focused on one thing at a time. It allows you to see things with a little more clarity, so that you're not so easily overwhelmed. That's always really helpful when you're going through something stressful. It's easy to get overwhelmed with what your life was before and what might happen in the future. When that happens, you end up missing the experience of the present moment. That's what meditation does. It gives the mind the ability to stay present. When you're able to stay present, you're able to appreciate what's going on around you with less effort. You're able to just stay connected with what you're doing as opposed to getting distracted.
Here are Volpe's top meditation tips for beginners:
Start off with a guided meditation. "That's a nice way to get your feet wet because you have someone else's voice to guide your mind and you just have to follow it," said Volpe, who has guided meditations on her iPod. You can buy guided meditations on iTunes or at Whole Foods. "If I'm ever feeling overwhelmed, I'll sit and listen to that."
Meditate for 10 minutes. Then, build. Volpe says 10 minutes is the minimum for trying to get the mind to get focused. If you can build up to a 20- or 25-minute practice daily or every other day, that's going to be more beneficial.
Bring your focus to the breath. "That's always your key to the present moment," explained Volpe. "If you can just bring your mind to watch the inhale and the exhale, that will instantly calm your nervous system." Once you master that, you can start to add other meditative techniques or tools, such as incorporating a mantra or visualization.
Get into a routine. Schedule meditation whenever it would be easiest for you to do. "I try to do mine first thing in the morning because there's less likelihood that my son will interrupt because he's still asleep," said Volpe. A 5-minute sit down during the middle of the day can help you reboot mentally. If you had a really long day or if you have a hard time falling asleep, meditating before bed will be very beneficial. "Mediation gets the brain and nervous system to relax and calm down. Therefore, you will surrender into sleep because you're relaxed; not because you're exhausted. You'll get a restful sleep that way."
You don't have to meditate every day. If you can't find time to meditate, make sure you're present in "the more mundane things." For example, Volpe recommends putting on your shoes without worrying if you're going to be late. "Meditation is a one-pointed focus with passive awareness. The awareness is there, but you're not efforting into it." To a certain extent, you can turn anything into a mindfulness practice if you're really present in what you are doing.
Sitting while meditating is not necessary. If you have injuries and sitting cross-legged or sitting on the floor is just going to be a distraction for your body, Volpe suggests sitting in a chair or lying down. You can use a cushion under the hips to open up the hips, so that you're comfortable. You can also sit with your back against the wall for support.
Setting the mood will enrich your experience. Burning candles and incense makes meditation more of a ritual and will get you in a proper mindframe. You can even get the room to a comfortable temperature. "It is nice to have a serene space to do meditation," said Volpe. "But the idea with meditation is that it doesn't have to be that way. You should be able to be in a mindful state in the middle of the mall during Christmas and not feel overwhelmed."
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