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I write a lot about the importance of staying healthy on the road. I put up healthy RV recipes for you RVing foodies out there. And I even create little workouts that I tell you to do in the RV. But there’s more to healthy RVing than just eating right and physical activity. There’s our mental health as well. Good mental health will make you better able to cope with the unknown on the road… attack buffalo, RV breakdowns, mosquito sieges, etc.
So much of our mental health comes from genetics. Take me, for instance. I come from a long line of fretters and worry-warts. This terrifies my sister and me. Any conversation with my sister usually includes, “Help me sis! I’m turning into mom!” James and the kids all poke great fun at me for my fretful nature. My inner “Mildred” really shows herself on RV road trips, as I stomp on my imaginary brake pedal from the passenger seat, death-grip the arm rests of the co-captain’s chair, and do the loudest suck-in-of-breath ever imaginable…and that’s just from backing out of the driveway.
All that tension can start a chain reaction of health problems, and that’s where meditation comes in.
Meditation mellows me out and makes me feel more relaxed and contented with life. It allows me to hit the road without having a heart attack with every unforeseen challenge that pops up along the way. And apparently, it’s actually changing my brain.
The research on meditation and its effects on the brain has been getting a lot of attention in recent years, with studies confirming actual brain changes…including increased grey matter and improved connectivity between brain regions. And let’s not leave out the psychological effects of practicing meditation regularly. There’s good evidence that meditation lowers anxiety and depression, improves attention and concentration, and even boosts immune function.
What is “Mindfulness Meditation”?
Mindfulness is a type of meditation that involves paying attention to the present moment, non-judgmentally and curiously. There’s a misunderstanding about mindfulness meditation that the goal is becoming mentally blank, but that’s false. It is NOT about forcing ourselves to stop thinking. Perhaps that’s the goal in other forms of meditation, but in mindfulness meditation, we don’t try to get rid of our thoughts. Instead, you tie your thoughts in to the meditation, and include them in what we notice about ourselves in the moment. Once you try the exercise below, this will make more sense to you.
How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation
If you are interested in pursuing mindfulness within a particular tradition or style, you might eventually want to seek out a meditation instructor or center. That’s hard to do from the road, so I can provide you with a basic exercise to get you started becoming a more mellow, happy you (with more grey matter in your brain!).
Mindfulness Meditation Exercise: 4-Count Breathing
Sit somewhere comfortable and quiet in the RV. Keep your eyes open and inhale, and as you do so, count to 4. As you exhale, count to 4 again. Continue breathing in this fashion, being aware of your breaths, and identifying the in-breath and the out-breath. In order to identify each phase of your breath, and to keep counting to 4 for each phase, you have to bring your mind to the present. That’s mindfulness. Yes, your mind will wander, and that’s okay. There’s a popular metaphor that says thoughts are like clouds that trail off and disappear. Sometimes, as you try to meditate, there are so many thought-clouds overlapping all at once: things you need to do, fantasies, songs that get stuck in your head, etc. and it might get frustrating trying to sift through them to catch a glimpse of your breath. In mindfulness meditation, you observe these thoughts without judgement, almost as an objective outsider. Let the thoughts come and go, always gently pulling your focus back to the present, and in this particular exercise, always pulling your mind back to your breathing. Don’t get frustrated with your wandering thoughts. When you wander, come back. Whenever your mind pulls away from counting your inhale/exhale, calmly bring it back.
How Much Meditation Do I Have To Do?
This is the question would-be meditators always wonder. If this is your first time, begin with a short session, perhaps 5 minutes. You’ll eventually want to build that up as you get more comfortable with it. Even just a little is better than none at all. Still, with the research showing such huge benefits from meditation training, it’s certainly worth a shot. Take a few minutes in the morning (or evening), put your phone or iPad down, and give it a try. If the research is right, just a little time meditating can make a big difference.