Meditation Retreats

How quieting the mind can benefit your life

Breathe in, I know that I breathe in. Exhale, I know that I am exhaling. “- Thich Nhat Hanh

Over the past two decades, the practice of mindfulness and meditation has moved from a spiritual practice practiced in ashrams in India, where it originated thousands of years ago, to the mainstream as the celebrities promoting its benefits. Headlines boast the effectiveness of mindfulness in reducing stress, improving sleep, and even losing weight. Meditation retreats in beautiful, exotic locations promise opportunities to sit back and “dive deep”, while phone applications make it easy to do zen on the go.

But what is meditation really? What happens when the mind is calm and instead of chatting, concentrating on the simple but profound act of breathing? In and out.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mindfulness as “the practice of maintaining a non-judgmental state of increased or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions or experiences from moment to moment”.

Simply put, it is aware of the present moment and accepts it for what it is.

“Informal mindfulness walking means noticing what happens when you move from one place to another,” said Rebecca MacAulay, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Maine at Orono.

As you walk from the car to the grocery store, you may become aware of the sky and notice it is gray. Is it blue

“Then you may notice the feeling of your legs, your upper body, your muscles moving as you move forward,” MacAulay said. “You notice the temperature on your skin and you notice the temptation to perhaps judge [that temperature]. ”

It calms that judgment, that’s the key.

“Our brains are constantly categorizing things, mindfulness stops categorizing and helps us accept the moment for what it is,” said MacAulay. “You are not trying to change it and you are not trying to influence how you feel, you are just being aware of yourself.”

Not to mention, given the invention and increasing popularity of social media platforms, many people of all ages are focused on capturing the perfect photo of an activity rather than experiencing it.

“I think about Snapchat or the selfies, we miss the important moments in our lives because we think about taking a picture or telling someone about it later,” said MacAulay. “But then you are no longer there. You have left the room and are thinking about the future. “

It is believed that focus or concentration meditation – where the user thinks more about deep breathing than a mantra or statement – activates the frontal lobe circuit, the area of ​​the brain focused on attention and cognitive control.

The advantage?

“It improves our ability not to give in by creating freedom from distraction. You strengthen the neurocircuits that allow us to focus better,” said MacAulay.

This means that by meditating regularly, even for a short time, you are less likely to curse the driver who cuts you off or reacts negatively to an unplanned change.

“It removes reactivity,” said MacAulay. “In clinical psychology, we work on taking a break when someone experiences strong emotions. With mindfulness [practices]They all encourage you to be aware of yourself and in the moment. “

Find your focus

Focused meditation is just one of many types of mindfulness, and each has different benefits. Equally important, though far less explored, MacAulay said, is knowing that mindfulness doesn’t work for everyone.

“One of the things that are less likely to be talked about and understood is who mindfulness doesn’t work for,” she said. “It becomes kind of a panacea, and soon mindfulness becomes the panacea for everything.”

In their book, Altered Traits, authors Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson argue that while meditation produces lasting results, it is not just about hours sitting on a pillow. To get the long-term benefits, practitioners need to ensure that they seek out master teachers and well-trained teachers to provide feedback and encourage non-attachment.

However, according to MacAulay, the benefits are undeniable.

Other types of meditation include loving-kindness meditation, which is designed to help the practitioner develop a sense of love and kindness for everything.

Body scanning meditation, on the other hand, encourages people to scan their body, one area at a time, for tension. As soon as they are noticed, the meditators try to release these areas and let go of the pressure they originally felt.

Other meditations, such as mindful walking and many types of yoga, including vinyasa and kundalini, combine physical activity with deep breathing.

“In walking meditation, you often begin to run very slowly. You can even start by standing, noticing that moment, and then taking very slow steps,” MacAulay said. “Usually it’s done in the shape of a circle or back and forth and you can feel what it’s like to make every move [required to move forward]. What it’s like to lift your foot, how you feel when the hamstrings are engaged. “

Improving access to meditation

While there are many meditation classes and retreats in Maine, MacAulay said over the coming year that she and her Ph.D. Students will focus their research on ensuring that marginalized communities in the state have access to the skills needed to achieve greater mindfulness.

Older adults, she argues, or those in rural communities or in socio-economically depressed areas, may not have the resources to attend workshops or training courses on mindfulness. But it is these communities, she said, that could benefit greatly from it.

“I recently returned from mindfulness-based stress reduction training … [but] be able to [do] It’s a luxury, ”said MacAulay. “I think researchers need to look at how we can spread these things in rural areas to older adults and economically disadvantaged adults. This is extremely important in stress management.”

In the coming months she and her students will be working on exactly this idea.

“When you think about meditation, it can be a little esoteric. The brain naturally wonders if I’m doing this right. It can be very difficult to start your own business, ”said MacAulay. “We want to make it more accessible and see if we can teach these skills in workshops where we can summarize some of the components and make them more accessible.”

Tip # 1 on your list? “Just try it.”

And then let go of any excuse that it will be easy.

“The first time you try meditation you may find that your mind is lost, and that is normal,” said MacAulay. “We spend our lives thinking, our minds want to get carried away, because that’s how the brain works. With meditation, you begin to calm these networks, the self-referential component of the brain that makes us ruminate. Mindfulness can help calm this down. But it takes time and practice, so don’t get discouraged. “

Meditation in Maine

Would you like to learn more or try meditation yourself? Check out one of these courses in Maine or practice from virtually anywhere.


The Blue Heron Wellness Center offers drop-in meditation classes as well as other energy / mind workshops.

Om Land Yoga offers many different types of yoga as well as the course “Mindfulness of Yoga: Overcoming Obstacles to Joy”.

The Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor offers a mindfulness meditation group that meets regularly throughout the month.


The Midcoast Center for Community Health and Wellness offers a variety of mindfulness programs, including mindfulness-based stress reduction.

The dancing elephant in Rockland offers Buddhist and mindfulness teachings as well as a mindfulness group and a meditation and knitting group.

The Haven in Camden offers meditation retreats and classes, including Hemi-Sync, a binaural technology developed by Robert Monroe who founded the nonprofit Monroe Institute.

The Northern Light Zen Center in Topsham offers meditation exercises, educational workshops and Zen retreats led by Zen masters and master Dharma teachers from the Kwan Um School of Zen.

Northern Maine:

Araya Wellness offers public, semi-private, and private meditation classes in Presque Isle and Mars Hill.


The Portland Zen Meditation Center offers regular Zen meditation classes as well as community meetings to discuss group questions and individual practice.

The Nagaloka Buddhist Center teaches two types of meditation – mindfulness in breathing and metta bhavana.

The Maine in Saco Mindfulness Center offers workshops, classes, and counseling on mindfulness, meditation, and personal growth.

Vajra Vidya Portland is a Tibetan Buddhist meditation center that offers retreats, courses, and weekly study groups for those who are just starting out in meditation and those who are more advanced.

Open Heart Sangha in the Portland area is a sitting and walking meditation group that follows the teachings of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.


For those who want to practice meditation anytime, anywhere, there are several free and paid apps available, including Rest, Headspace, Buddhify, Simple Habit, Insight Timer, and 10 Percent Happier. Many apps are aimed at meditation skeptics, on the go or at anyone who wants to start or continue a mindfulness practice.

Related Articles