Breathe In, Breathe Out, Relax, Repeat

Meditation helps soothe the soul, quiet the mind, and yes, maybe even lower your blood pressure.

Sit comfortably and clear your mind. Breathe in for a count of eight, hold, and then breathe out. If a fight with a friend or an irritation from work enters your consciousness, push it away and return to the breath.

Or lie down and listen to a teacher as she guides you through an imaginary scene, walking through a field of flowers or a serene forest near a trickling stream.

Or relax as the chiming sound of harmonic tones soothes your soul.

The practice of meditation is a growing trend in Morgantown. Enthusiasts say spending time inside the mind clears their thoughts, calms them down, and allows them to focus better throughout the day. 

Area residents have several options if they want to find a teacher or class to help them with the difficult task of silencing the mind. Some prefer the old-fashioned, individual routine of eliminating thoughts by concentrating on only the simplest of tasks, such as breathing; others find guided meditation to be an easier approach to find peace and calm.

Elizabeth Halliday-Reynolds, owner of BlissBlissBliss in Morgantown, opts for the solitude of early morning or late evenings by herself. “The practice of meditation is to focus on the breath and channel the energy of the breath to just this moment,” says Halliday-Reynolds, who holds private sessions with clients. “Questions can wait. Thinking can wait. And so when questioning sets in, or boredom, or anxiety, we’re either going to notice tension in the body, or some story is going to come up that needs our attention. A deadline, an argument, an old mystery. Then we come back to the breath.”

Kerissa Kuis, on the other hand, offers guided meditations in workshops in the area, including at Pro Performance RX. She embraced the habit after experiencing depression in 2009. “Meditation helps me get out of the collective feelings of the world and helps me get into the present moment, where things are less stressful and there is less anxiety about what’s going to happen next,” she says.

Living in the moment might sound like a cliché, but practitioners often point out that focusing on what has already occurred in the past or what might happen in the future can result in reliving bad memories and worrying about situations that may or may not actually ever occur, instead of truly taking in life as it happens. “It’s helped me with fears I’ve had about my life,” Kuis says. Sharon Hovland, who has been meditating for about three years, agrees. “If you can get into the present moment and realize that is where you are, and we’re not worrying about 10 minutes ago and what’s going to happen in 10 minutes, you can find that stillness,” she says. “It’s been a life changer for me. I’ve always been pretty driven, pretty leftbrained and analytical, always on task. Now I have to make it work. It’s living in the moment. There is nothing else.”

Meditation not only calms people down; it also offers medical benefits. Margaret Glenn, an associate professor at WVU in counseling and psychology, has been certified in primordial sound meditation—a discipline in which practitioners repeat a personal mantra that they assert helps them attain deeper levels of awareness—through The Chopra Center. One of Glenn’s clients experienced lower blood pressure after attending weekly sessions. “And the only thing that had changed was doing meditation,” she says. Another student told Glenn that an upcoming surgery was not as stressful as it usually would be. “There is a restful awareness when we sit there in silence and quiet,” Glenn adds. “The mind is alert but it calms the whole body and it has a chance to heal from the everyday stress we tend to put it through. We are building new neural pathways to cope with things differently.”

Halliday-Reynolds established BlissBlissBliss about nine years ago as an oasis of wellness where attendees can focus on yoga, massage, and other techniques to find peace and calm. Recently, two other hubs of tranquility and serenity have emerged in Morgantown: The HOV in Westover, which Hovland launched last October; and the mindbody center, which just opened in February at Coombs Farm as a locale offering integrative mental health services, including meditation. “My dream is to bring in a community of people who want to hang out and try to leave the stress of this chaotic world behind for a little while,” Hovland says of The Hov.

In January, Hovland, who also teaches chemistry at Morgantown High School, began holding sessions in a technique she trained in last summer: singing bowl therapy. Hovland strikes different sized metal bowls with a mallet, sending soothing vibrations through the air. “It’s a sound bath,” she says.

Nicole O’Barto Trainer, a doctoral candidate at WVU and a licensed professional counselor who co-owns the mindbody center, a division of the counseling practice Natural Resilience, says meditation is one of the tools in her arsenal to treat patients without using medications. “We find in research that there is a lot of evidence to support movement therapies: yoga, tai chi, and walking meditation,” she says. “Meditation is really a complementary, alternative modality that Western medicine has grabbed hold of. You see more and more information published around different types of meditation.”

O’Barto Trainer began practicing meditation in about 2010 as a way to understand how it might be able to help her patients. She meditates most mornings and evenings. “I think one of the biggest misconceptions about meditation is that it needs to occur in a really serene setting and that you have to adopt a certain posture,” she says. “A lot of people are hesitant to start because they think it takes a lot of time and that there is a lot of rigidity about it. But it’s about setting aside time and taking some time for some reflection, introspection, observation, and intention-setting.”

Melita Mollohan, owner of Zen from Within, has been meditating her entire life although, as a child, she did not realize that is what she was doing when she went off into the woods and sat in stillness. “When I was a teenager, I started to read more about yoga and meditation and Buddhism, and I realized that I’m not crazy; there are other people out there like me.” Mollohan has been teaching meditation for about eight years and offers classes at The HOV as well as through Skype. She breaks meditation into three steps: Having a pointed focus—“It could be a breath, a mantra, or gazing at a candle”; remaining in the present— “Ninety-five percent of our thoughts are recycled. We are constantly replaying things in our head”; and to refocus when the mind wanders. “The more nonreactive you stay, the easier it is to bring your mind back to one-pointed focus.”

Mollohan has witnessed how much meditation has helped clients. “I’ve seen it literally transform people’s lives,” she says. “They come in with issues, ailments, aches, areas in life that aren’t going so well. And when you work on energy, your energy starts to work for you.”

One client of Mollohan’s who found meditation transformational is Diana Grimm, a Morgantown resident who works for the federal government. She sought relief from grief she experienced after a loved one died suddenly in 2012. Grimm enjoyed guided meditation, but when she experienced guided breathwork in a classroom setting, she had a breakthrough. “I realized that for me, there really was some great potential for healing in this form of meditation,” she says. theblissblissbliss.com; mindbodywv.com; continuinged.wvu.edu/meditation; zenfromwithin.com; “The HOV Westover” on Facebook

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