At Open Sky, meditation is taught specifically as a means to assist our students in becoming healthier people.  Many of our students report it often invokes a sense of calm and overall ease.   Research conducted on the benefits of meditation has proven that it assists those dealing with a variety of mental and physical health issues including anxiety, depression, drug abuse/addiction, and distressing interpersonal relationship.  In addition, most major religions and indigenous cultures throughout time have incorporated meditation as a practice of connecting with the divine.

field guide meditating
Learn more about Meditation, its use and benefits at Open Sky:

Meditation: Healing Benefits

Meditation invokes a sense of calm and reduces stress. Our students report feeling an overall sense of ease, having an easier time paying attention, and believe they are less emotionally reactive. In addition, research has proven it has profound effects on a neurochemical level and therefore assists those dealing with a variety of mental and physical health issues including anxiety, depression, drug abuse/addiction, and distressing interpersonal relationship.

The practice of meditation has been correlated with higher self-esteem for those who are meditating. In addition, physiologically, several positive effects are experience in the body during a meditation session. For those with pain or discomfort from illness or stress, meditation can reduce blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen consumption assisting in the healing and coping process. Alpha brain waves slow down and beta brain waves decrease. This allows the mind and the muscles of the body to gently relax. This decrease in brain activity can reduce stress, enabling the practitioner to think more clearly thereby making better choices.

  1. Bogart G. The use of meditation in psychotherapy: a review of the literature. Am J Psychother, 45 (3), 383-412, July 1991.

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Meditation: Encouraging Self-Awareness & Self-Control

meditation at summer base campAs well, meditation is a great way to learn to be present to one’s emotional and sensory experience. This increased self-awareness provides a stepping-stone for increased self-control. Positive self-control assists students in learning to appropriately and effectively cope with challenging life circumstances. Meditation, in conjunction with instruction from field guides in day-to-day challenges and personal interactions, aids students in learning how to handle difficulties in a much more effective and successful manner.

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Meditation at Open Sky

Meditation impacts each of us differently. Typically at the beginning, students don’t really “get” why we meditate at Open Sky. They have a hard time sitting still, paying attention, or getting physically comfortable. After practicing for a while, they get used to it. We hear things like “this stuff actually works!” or “I feel a lot calmer in my body”. Our hope is to offer our students a variety of tools from which they can choose the ones that work for them. One of the beauties of meditation is that anyone can practice it at anytime. Simply being aware of the hot water on your hands while doing dishes is a form of meditation!

meditating in teepeeStudents meditate daily at Open Sky. When they are on expedition, they have a morning practice that includes 15-20 minutes each of both yoga and meditation. Once a week at base camp during our student graduation day, we bring together our entire community of students, staff and visiting families for a group meditation practice and teaching. This provides a great opportunity for cultivating community, deepening one’s own practice and receiving ongoing instruction from our staff of mediation leaders.

At Open Sky we teach an ecumenical form of meditation that simply involves following one’s breath. Students and staff are asked to sit in a comfortable position with their low back supported (usually with a sleeping pad). They are invited to close their eyes or focus at a point in front of them with a soft gaze. After a few deep breaths, they are asked to simply pay attention to their breath – each inhale and exhale. When distractions occur – as they inevitably do – they are instructed to simply notice the distraction. They are asked not to do anything about it: change it, fix it, make it go away, or analyze it. They are simply instructed to notice what is present. For example if a dog barks, they are asked only to observe the noise of the bark. Not get into a story about why the dog is barking, wanting to take care of the dog, traveling back home in their minds to visit their own dog, etc. The goal is to get to a place of observing what is here, rather than judging or reacting to it. We believe mediation assists in cultivating an observer’s mind: being aware of one’s experience in the moment. This skill is the foundation for learning self-control: an intentional response to a circumstance or event.

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Meditation: a brief history

Morning meditation -1Meditation has been around for millennia. No one is exactly certain of its precise beginnings. There is archaeological evidence from Indian artifacts that point to beginnings as early as 3000 BC. Researchers suggest that primitive hunting and gathering societies might have discovered meditation and various states of consciousness while gazing into the flames of campfires. All major religions and indigenous cultures have incorporated some sort of mindfulness practice into their beliefs and rituals. Prayer, fasting, using the breath, singing, chanting, walking a labyrinth, and pilgrimage are examples of how mindfulness has been incorporated throughout history.

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Meditation Research

Many Proven Benefits

Research on mediation has produced thousands of articles showing meditation to be highly effective for a variety of personal circumstances. There are also articles that prove that meditation is specifically helpful with adolescents and anxiety, drug use, interpersonal relationships and self-actualization. In addition to our experience with our students at Open Sky and the impact meditation has on them, the abundance of empirical evidence greatly reinforces our belief in the efficacy of mindfulness interventions.

  1. Childs J. The use of the transcendental meditation program as a therapy with juvenile offenders. Diss Abst Int, 24, 8A - Part 1, 4732-4733, 1974.

Meditation and Therapy

Meditation can act as a primer for therapy, allowing the client to step out of perceived limitations and reactions through the development of insight. In essence, meditation is self-regulation and retraining attentional habits – issues that face a lot of our students. Changing customary patterns of perception and thinking allows the possibility of changing motivation. Meditation is effective because it allows relaxation, cognitive and attentional restructuring, self-observation and insight. Meditation has also been shown to improve one’s internal locus of control and enhance one’s self-concept.

  1. Goleman, D. Meditation and consciousness: An Asian approach to mental health. Am J Psychother, 30, 41-54, 1976.
  2. Deikman, A. The Observing Self. Beacon Press: Boston, 1982.
  3. Carpenter, JT. Meditation, esoteric traditions – contributions to psychotherapy. Am Jour Psychother, 31, 394-404, 1977.
  4. Kutz I, Borysenko JZ, & Benson H. Meditation and psychotherapy: A rationale for the integration of dynamic psychotherapy, the relaxation response, and mindfulness meditation. Am J Psychiatry, 142, 1-8, 1985.
  5. Dice, ML. The effectiveness of medtitation on selected measures of self-actualization. Diss Abst Int, 40(5A), 2534, 1979.

tibetan flagsThere are numerous commonalities between therapy and meditation. The goal of both interventions is to promote psychological growth. They are considered to be technically compatible and mutually reinforcing. Both modalities focus on telling the truth, releasing negative emotions, creating authenticity and trust (both with the self and with others), letting go of the past and early conditioning, opening the heart and developing the capacity to give and receive love, cultivating awareness and a non-judgmental attitude, and developing insight and forgiveness directed both toward self and others. Whether used alone or in combination, when these interventions are used in a behavioral health setting, even better outcomes arise.

  1. Finger W & Arnold EM. Mind-body interventions: applications for social work practice. Soc Work Health Care, 35(4), 57-78, 2002.
  2. Bogart G. The use of meditation in psychotherapy: a review of the literature. Am J Psychother, 45 (3), 383-412, July 1991.

Meditation and Mental Health Issues

The population we serve at Open Sky comes to us with a variety of issues. Mindfulness interventions have been proven to be helpful with the majority of concerns that are brought by our students. Anxiety, eating binges, substance use and addiction, depression, insomnia, dysfunctional family relationships, interpersonal stress and impulsivity are among the conditions that have more successful outcomes when meditation is involved in the treatment plan.

  1. Miller JJ, Fletcher K, & Kabat-Zinn J. Three-year follow-up and clinical implications of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Gen Hosp Psych, 17, 192-200, 1995.
  2. Murphy GE, Carney RM, Knesevich MA, Wetzel RD, & Whitworth P. Cognitive behavior therapy, relaxation training, and tricyclic antidepressant medication therapy in the treatment of depression. Psych Reports, 77, 403-420, 1995.
  3. Kristeller J, & Hallett CB. An exploratory study of a meditation-based group intervention for binge eating disorder. Jour Health Psych, 4, 357-363, 1999.
  4. Sharp C, Hurford DP, Allison J, Sparks R, & Cameron BP. Facilitation of internal locus of control in adolescent alcoholics through a brief biofeedback-assisted autogenic relaxation training procedure. Jour Subs Aubuse Treat, 14, 55-60, 1997.
  5. Borkovec TD, & Costello E. Efficacy of applied relaxation and cognitive-behavioral therapy in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder. Jour Consul and Clin Psychol, 61, 611-619, 1993.
  6. Brooks JS & Scarano T. Transcendental meditation in the treatment of post-Vietnam adjustment. J Counsel and Development, 64, 212-215, 1985.

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Spirituality at Open Skyecumenical prayer symbol

We are not affiliated with a specific spiritual or religious tradition. We encourage students and families from all sorts of traditions and backgrounds. We specifically chose a meditation practice that is secular and focuses on the breath so that it would be a welcoming practice for everyone. If students come with their own spiritual practice, they can spend meditation time doing whatever it is that already brings them a sense of peace and grounding.

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Meditation at Home

Meditation is something that is accessible for everyone. The stereotypical meditative posture of sitting cross-legged on the floor is not necessary to induce conscious relaxation. You can sit in a chair, lay down, take a mindful walk – there are thousands of ways to meditate and all have validity. Luckily, there are a lot of resources out there to get you started – bookstores, websites, classes, CDs. We have listed a few websites below that might be helpful at first. Also, you get an introduction to meditation at both the Wellness Weekends and the Graduation Ceremony at Open Sky.

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