Take time to breathe

Meditation has benefits for any age

August 29, 2010|By MARIE GILBERT

MAUGANSVILLE - This is Mary Ann Allan's quiet time.

Tucked away in a corner of her Maugansville home, she has removed herself from buzzing cell phones, distracting televisions and cyber civilization.

It's a temporary escape. In a few hours, the 78-year-old woman will begin a busy day that includes errands and appointments.

But for now, she's alone, reconnecting with her thoughts and gaining an inner calm.

And she's doing it with a very old tool - meditation.

Stretching back thousands of years to ancient spiritual traditions, meditation has found its place in a tumultuous modern world.

It is practiced by people of all ages, all backgrounds and in all types of settings.

But those who meditate seek to accomplish a common goal - inner peace.

Allan has been practicing and teaching meditation for more than 40 years.

She discovered the discipline, she said, "when I realized that life was not going the way I wanted it to go. I began looking for solutions of why I was dissatisfied and I found it in prayer and meditation."


"Meditation gave me a mind makeover," Allan said. "It created energy, strength, peace, love and joy - all the things I had been looking for. I found it was a tremendous way of life."

Allan said the basis of meditation is looking within yourself.

"We tend to look for answers to our problems outside," she said. "But if you are willing to commit to changing your thinking, changing your perspective, you can change your world."

Allan said there are various types of meditation, but many people tend to think of it as "strictly from the East and involving hours of being by yourself."

But it can be practiced anywhere at any time, she said. And you don't need to be in the lotus position.

"You can stand, you can sit in a chair, if you want," Allan said. "You don't have to take on postures that are uncomfortable or unfamiliar to you."

The key, she said, is to relax, look inside yourself and learn how to enrich your life experiences.

"It's about staying focused," she said. "By focusing your mind on your inner self, you begin to gently push away distractions and experience a sense of calm."

"I tell people to listen to a different frequency," Allan said. "Instead of tuning in to rock, tune in to a station on high. Allow yourself to accept the gift of life."

Allan said she began teaching meditation during the 1980s at Washington County Hospital and later opened a studio at her home. Over the past few years, she has offered sessions at Hagerstown Community College.

"Some people prefer one-on-one," she said, "while others would rather meditate in a group setting. Both are good. Both have advantages and disadvantages. It's a matter of choice."

Allan said the great thing about meditation is that anybody can do it. She has clients of all ages and interests and has even taken the principles of meditation into local prisons.

"I had 90 men attend one prison class," she said, "and they were some of the most attentive students I have ever had. They asked a lot of questions and were very interested in learning everything they could. I believe that if meditation changes one person, if it helps one person to see a new way of life, it's wonderful."

While meditation can enrich your life experiences and expand your horizons, Allan said research also has shown it has health benefits.

It aids in reducing stress and anxiety, she said. It also can lower blood pressure, improve the ability to sustain concentration, ease pain associated with chronic diseases and has a positive affect on depression.

New research has been taking these discoveries to a deeper level, revealing how meditation and other relaxation techniques work in cells, turning on and off genes that are associated with inflammation, cell aging and free radicals.

One study of individuals who were new to meditating showed measurable brain and behavior differences after just two weeks of daily 30-minute sessions, said Richard Davidson, director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But meditation is like any other workout, the study showed. To reap the benefits, don't stop.

Allan said meditation also can change the way people respond to family and friends, as well as their jobs.

"Meditation is a unique experience," she said. "It's like going to the beach and watching the sunrise. It's a retreat from the world's turmoil."

Allan said meditation can make a difference in so many aspects of a person's life.

"But no one can change you, except you," she said.

Want to learn meditation?

Mary Ann Allan will offer meditation classes this fall at Hagerstown Community College, called Mind, Body and Spirit. The sessions run from Tuesday, Oct. 12, to Tuesday, Nov. 16, and will be held at the Advanced Technology Center. The program is open to people of all ages, but Allan recommends being at least 16 years of age. More information is available by contacting the college's Center for Continuing Education at 301-790-2800, ext. 236, or

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