Meditation: Nurturing the mind, body & soul

Jeri Haldeman teaches a yoga meditation class at Kripalu Yoga and Wellness Center in Adams.

BY: Norah Macia 
The practice of meditation is growing nationwide, and appears to be gaining more interest throughout Northern New York because of its many benefits, including relaxation, lowering stress, improving the ability to focus, and helping to reduce what many refer to as “brain chatter.”

     Many meditation practices involve focusing intently on your breathing patterns (noticing inhales and exhales), while seated in a comfortable position. This process helps bring awareness to  what people are directly experiencing through their senses, creating an ability to be “fully present” and not overreacting or allowing oneself to become overwhelmed by the environment.

HOLLY BONAME / NNY LIVING Kristen Taylor, owner of Wellspring Meditation in Clayton, practices a meditation prior to the free community class she holds each Tuesday evening at River Yoga.

     The idea behind meditation is to put space between “ourselves and our reactions,” and as a result, the process can help people better handle stress, said Dr. Lee M. Vance, a clinical psychologist with Rubenzahl, Knudsen and Associates, Watertown.

     Dr. Vance works with some of his clients in practicing mindfulness meditation to help them cope with issues such as anxiety and depression. He also conducts meditation group meetings, which are open to the public, and shares recorded meditation exercises on his website

    People often experience symptoms of anxiety and depression as the result of everyday stress, or something more serious, such as a family or work crisis. Their level of stress increases depending on how they react to a situation, but for many people, that level can be reduced through mindfulness meditation, said Dr. Vance.

    The practice of this type of meditation can help people direct their attention away from negative thinking, and instead, focus on what they are feeling and sensing at that moment, allowing them to reconnect with themselves, he said. 

   For example, a person may become upset because a boss is angry and yelling at him or her. At that point, Dr. Vance said it’s easy for a person’s “mind to race ahead” with negative thoughts, such as “I must be a really bad employee” or “I’m going to get fired.”

    Mindfulness slows that thought process down before it becomes negative. It allows people to avoid being caught up in emotional responses, and instead, become aware of the moment, and “tune in” to what’s happening at that present time with their thoughts and feelings, he said. Mindfulness meditation can help to stop “negative ruminations” that people can easily have following a stressful situation.

    By focusing on their own senses, people gain a clearer picture of the actual situation, and are able to better process it. In the previous example, a person who has taken the time to meditate may have a different reaction, such as “my boss seems stressed right now, and may have said things to me in a moment of anger.”

    This type of meditation is a particularly good coping skill, because the will to survive is human nature, so “it’s often our default to look for stress, and the worst case scenario,” Dr. Vance said.

Dr. Lee Vance sits inside the meditation room where he holds classes at his office at 22670 Summit Drive in Watertown.

     “Mindfulness meditation can help to alleviate depression, anxiety, and help someone get a good night’s sleep,” he added.

     There are other types of meditation practices available in the north country. Many instructors at The Kripalu Yoga and Wellness Center, Adams Center, include shorter meditations at the end of their yoga classes during the cool-down periods.

     The center, which was established more than 40 years ago, offers different types of meditation workshops and classes throughout the year, said Steven Williams, vice president of its 12-member volunteer board of directors.

    One popular form of meditation is done by participating in Drumming Circles, which focus on the spiritual aspect of the Native American cultural drums. Many people find that participating in drumming circles is helpful to initiate their meditation, Mr. Williams said. 

    “It’s about releasing and letting go,” he said. “It also provides for a deeper meditation.”

      Some meditation practices emphasize a focus on breathing, while a drumming circle provides a focus on a rhythm, but both are useful in helping to clear the mind, and get rid of negative thinking patterns, Mr. Williams said.

     The center also offers “sound healing hands-on experimental workshops” that incorporate sound-wave vibration energy with singing bowls, bells and gongs, to provide for a deeper meditation experience and clearer energy flow, he said.

    “There are many options for meditation, and people should choose whatever works best to take them out of their busy minds,” he said.

   Another option for meditation practice is walking through the center’s outdoor 70-foot labyrinth, which was constructed in 2003 with a $2,000 grant through the St. Lawrence County Arts Council. A labyrinth can serve as a path for “walking meditation” and is considered part of a holistic approach to dealing with life stressors.

     In a typical labyrinth, the spiral paths fold back on themselves within the labyrinth, and the walking path can be a source of comfort and clarity for many people, Mr. Williams said. The center also has a Megalith Stone Circle, a half-mile walking trail and a full-size Native American tipi, which can also be used for meditation practices.  For more information, visit the website: