Fitness Guide

The Health Benefits of Meditation — and Where to Do It

Recharge your mind and spirit at these peaceful Hudson Valley destinations.


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So, you’ve become quite adept at Pilates and yoga, mastered tough roads and hills in spinning class, are actively gardening to grow healthy vegetables. What’s next? May we suggest meditation?

Before you pooh-pooh what may seem to be a lot of brouhaha about doing nothing but sitting or lying still, it’s time for a mindset correction. Meditation done mindfully can provide big prizes: inner peace, happiness, stress reduction, empathy for others, and lowered blood pressure. And this isn’t just based on anecdotal evidence; dozens of studies point to the positive effects of meditating. Neuroscientist Sara Lazar, who is affiliated with Harvard Medical School, conducted a study using brain scans. The results showed that meditation over time can actually change the brain’s gray matter in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.

Stephanie Speer, a Hudson Valley instructor with a focus on mindfulness-based stress reduction, says, “It teaches you to pay attention intentionally to the present moment. You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf and respond rather than react through stillness and concentration.”

If you decide to try it, you’re in growing company, including many celebs such as Sheryl Crow, Ellen DeGeneres, Jennifer Aniston, and Clint Eastwood.

More good news is that meditation doesn’t follow a single script: Sit down and turn off all lights, lie down and imagine calming waters, or chant "Om" multiple times. “There are many forms, with a thread of focusing on something — breath, body, chant, or mantra, all of which steady the mind and body,” Speer says.

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf and respond rather than react through stillness and concentration.”

While you can learn to meditate on your own using a book or CD, like Self-Healing with Sound and Music (Sounds True Publishing), you may prefer more formal instruction. The Hudson Valley offers many individual and weekend classes, and even month-long retreats. Here are seven favorites: 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Chuang Yen Monastery

Carmel, 845.255.1819 

‘Chuang Yen’ means adornment, which is why Chuang Yen Monastery weaves compassion and wisdom into its practices. For a dedicated mindfulness session, visitors can attend the Satipatthāna Meditation Retreat, a seven-day retreat that includes sitting and walking meditation and practicing mindfulness. The Monastery holds various retreats, summer camps, workshops, programs, and celebrations focusing on enlightenment and meditation. 

 

 

Omega Institute

Rhinebeck845.580.9049 

Stay for a weekend or five-day retreat or practice mindfulness at Omega's introductory workshops. For shorter visits, interested locals can also attend professional programs and gatherings, which incorporate yoga, tai chi, and meditation teachings into the structured sessions.  

 

 

Tergar Meditation Community

Garrison

This local chapter of the Tergar Meditation Community is part of an international meditation community. Its free meditation sessions are held Thursday evenings (7-8:15 p.m.) at the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center and focus on working with the challenges of day-to-day life to create a peaceful mind and open heart.  

 

 

Sadhana Center for Yoga & Meditation

Hudson, 518.828.1034 

Classes, workshops, and retreats include a one-day meditation retreat to deepen the practice as well as explore a variety of topics, with guided meditations often done lying down.

 

  

Sky Lake

Rosendale, 845.658.8556

A Shambhala Meditation and Retreat Center, the retreat offers a wide variety of classes with the opportunity to check out ongoing introductory classes and programs in a bucolic setting. 

 

Stephanie Speer 

Dutchess County845.332.9936 

Speer focuses on individualized mindfulness-based stress reduction, so her teachings aim to integrate mindfulness into everyday life, create a personal daily practice, and increase ability to relax and cope with short- and long-term stressful situations.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Zen Mountain Monastery 

Mt. Tremper, 845.688.2228 

Each weekend retreat begins on a Friday evening and allows participants to learn about Zen training with a taste of cloistered living, with a concluding talk by the abbot on Sunday, followed by a lunch.  

How do you decide which method is best for you? Speer suggests asking friends for recommendations, deciding if you want secular or spiritual-based techniques, checking out a potential leader’s training and skills, as well as that illusive chemistry connection in person. “Many leaders, including myself, offer free workshops to see if it resonates,” she says. Her best tips: “You don’t have to like it to do it; avoid having expectations or hyper-focusing on the future; live in the present moment — and you’re likely to find (pleasant) surprises.”


Related:  Get Your “Om” on at Hudson Valley Yoga Studios

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