Meditation and Yoga

If you go camping to relax, you might be wondering if thereÌs something more you can do to de-stress, aside from enjoying the serenity of the great outdoors. And there isÛthrough practices like yoga and meditation, you can actively relax your mind and body. WeÌve all heard about the health benefits of relaxation, how it benefits almost every system in your body, from your heart to your digestion. Yoga and meditation can also help you sleep better at night, improve your posture and flexibility, take away muscle aches and pains, and work the stress out of your life.

Yoga is a 5,000-year-old practice that originated in India. Today, more than 20 million Americans use yoga to stretch, strengthen, and relax their bodies. Yoga consists of a wide variety of poses and breathing exercises that are meant to stretch the body and focus the mind. The poses can be done in a series, moving from one to another (often called a ÏflowÓ) or one at a time with pauses in between. ItÌs surprisingly fun and very easy for a beginner to tackle. The poses range in difficulty, so thereÌs something ideal for every ability level.

There are a number of ways to get started. A beginning yoga class is the best way, because the instructor can introduce you to a number of gentle poses that you can practice on your own, later. If a class isnÌt a good option, consider a basic yoga book, or go online for some beginning poses such as Downward Facing Dog, Tree Pose, Warrior, and Triangle Pose. Remember that in yoga, the goal isnÌt to be as flexible as you possibly canÛitÌs to calm your mind, focus on your breathing, and do the pose as well as you can without straining yourself. Sometimes in yoga, easing up on a stretch to focus on form will give you better results.

To practice yoga on the road or in your campsite, youÌll need a sticky mat (a no-slip mat available at most gyms, health food stores, and exercise stores) and a flat surface. Wear loose clothing that allows free range of movement, and perform your stretches with bare feet. This is a fabulous way to work out the kinks after a long drive or to soothe your muscles after a hike or swim. If you practice yoga every day during your camping trip, you may just go home ready to make it part of your life!

All you need to begin meditating is a comfortable place to sit, either on a chair or on cushions on the floor. If you want to meditate outside, bring along a camp chair or foam pad and look for a place thatÌs far away from the sound of voices, dogs, traffic, and other distractions. The sound of a river or waterfall might make a nice, steady background for your meditation.

Sit down in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Let the air fill your chest, then release it, noting the way the act of breathing feels during every step. Follow the air as it flows in through your nose, down your throat, into your chest. Then notice it flow out again. DonÌt force your breathingÛthe breaths donÌt need to be large or longÛjust do what comes naturally. The key is to focus your mind on the physical sensation of breathing.

This, the focus on breathing, is meditation. It seems simple, but it comes with challenges. You may find that you can focus on your breathing for a few breaths, then your mind wanders. Maybe you start thinking about all the things you need to do that day, or a hard conversation you need to have, or a nagging worry. If that happens, notice where your mind just went, then gently bring it back to the breath. If your mind wanders again, do the same thingÛlet the thought go and bring your mind gently back.

Many people find that short sessions are best when starting meditation. Even thirty seconds can feel long when you arenÌt used to focusing on just your breathing. Allow yourself to go at your own pace, starting with thirty seconds and working up to a minute, two minutes, and five minutes.

An important part of meditation is the way it lets you check in with yourself every day. Some days, meditation will be easier than others, leaving you feeling relaxed and at peace. Other days you might be bored, anxious, or sleepy. Your mind might dredge up old feelings you thought were behind you, maybe feelings of anger or resentment. If this happens, note the feeling and let it go. This is part of the work of meditation, and part of its power. Just return your mindÛand bodyÛto the act of breathing and let yourself truly relax.
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