Kate Love of the Open Mind-Open Heart meditation group in Bethesda says that meditation can help reduce stress.
“There is the expectation that we need to be available and informed all the time. This expectation wasn’t in place 10 years ago.” — Kate Love
In her dimly lit basement in Great Falls, Mary Beth Kogod sounds a meditation bell that echoes through the room. The 12 people sitting on cushions in a circle around her close their eyes and listen to the gentle sounds of her voice.
“If your mind begins to wander, gently guide it back to the sound of my voice,” said Kogod, as she leads the group in a mindfulness meditation session.
The practice of meditating to aid with ills running the gamut from stress and anxiety to pain and depression is on the rise. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 18 million people practiced some form of meditation in 2015, and the number of Americans who engage in the practice has doubled over the last 15 years.
“We have more smartphones and other electronics that consume us and give us constant access to stressful events we see on the news,” said Kate Love, who runs the Open Mind-Open Heart meditation group in Bethesda. “There is the expectation that we need to be available and informed all the time. This expectation wasn’t in place 10 years ago.”
Love says that while scientific research to back up these claims is limited, it is growing. For example, a study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at NIH shows that mindfulness practices have a positive impact on insomnia.
Meditation usually entails sitting relatively still and quiet, as in Kogod’s meditation session, and focusing on one thing, such as a sound, an image or one’s own breath.
“I teach clients concentrative meditation where they focus on one thing,” she said. “I also teach mindful meditation where people try to cultivate a sense of awareness of what is happening in their body. For example, what thoughts pass through your mind as you sit quietly? What sounds do you hear? What emotions do you feel? The work comes when you notice these sensations and then let them go.”
A 2011 study by the Association for Psychological Science showed that meditation can be effective in boosting memory and concentration. Settings for this mind-body practice now range from workplaces to classrooms.
Amber Wilson, a fourth grade teacher, guides her students in mindfulness meditation practices most afternoons during the school year. “A lot of my students have difficult home environments which affects their ability to concentrate in school,” she said. “When I stop them between subjects and let them chill out a little bit, it really makes a difference in their performance, even after just five minutes.”
Meditation can also help with addiction treatment, says Warren Schelter, Ph.D., a psychologist with a practice in Alexandria. “It can instill a sense of calm and overall wellbeing,” he said. “Anxiety and depression often go hand-in hand with addiction, which is why a calming meditation practice might be effective for some people.”
Schelter underscores the fact that meditation should not replace traditional medicine. “I would recommend that anyone experiencing symptoms of mental or physical illness see a medical doctor first,” she said. “Mediation should work in conjunction with traditional medicine, not in place of it.”