In moments of stillness and quiet focus, Mayra Scheurmann and Teresa Leyva Martin find relief from the stresses of the day.
The two sisters, both lawyers in New Orleans, meditate daily, dedicating as much as a half-hour in the evenings to the ancient mind-body practice.
"I find that it just helps me to feel centered," said Martin, who began learning meditation six years ago, about the same time as her sister.
"There's a sense of calm and focus," Scheurmann said.
A tradition that spans denominational and secular lines, meditation is a practiced mindfulness that has been shown to have measurable health benefits, especially by promoting relaxation and reducing the stress that can wear down bodies and minds.
Science is showing that meditation can lower blood pressure and lower heart rates, help control pain, anxiety and depression.
A study published this spring in the American Journal of Cardiology even suggests longer life spans for people who practice mental relaxation techniques such as Transcendental Meditation, the technique thrust into the spotlight in the 1960s when the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced it to the Beatles and other celebrities.
These days, said local meditation teacher Jim Welsh, "Everyday people are taking a different look at meditation."
Welsh instructs a small class in Zen meditation, one of the myriad styles of meditation, Tuesday mornings at Elmwood Fitness Center. In a recent class, he prefaced a five-minute meditation exercise by reminding the members of the class, who were seated in a circle of chairs in a softly lighted room, that having thoughts arise during meditation is normal. The idea is not to cling to them, but rather to simply let them drift by, like clouds in the sky.
Try the cloud visualization meditation. Simply visualize the sky and watch with your mind's eye as clouds drift by. When thoughts arise, accept them without judgment and gently bring your mind back to the clouds. This is a very soothing, peaceful meditation method.