Focusing on meditation

The evening sun filters through the window of Ivy Phillips’ second story studio, illuminating her meditation space and the faces of three women who sit quietly before her. She asks them to close their eyes and breathe deeply, focusing their attention on individual colors as she names them.




Six minutes go by and the participants slowly open their eyes to the world around them. Their faces are relaxed and peaceful.

Liz Day lights up as she describes her experience — which colors she saw, which ones were harder to focus on than others. 

Amanda Dunwald tells the class, with a smile, how she was struggling not to fall asleep.

While the group reflects on their meditation experiences, Ivy’s dog lounges on the floor beside her, having waltzed in from the next room to join the meditation. Even he appears relaxed and as if to voice his contentment, lets out a long sigh.

Ivy is first and foremost a yoga instructor, who’s been practicing for 20 years and teaching in Big Timber for the past seven. She runs a small studio, Yoga Plus With Ivy Phillips, out of an upstairs office on the corner of McLeod Street and Second Avenue. For the past few months, Ivy has expanded her practice to include group meditation. It’s a practice that she says is at the core of her other teachings. 

“That’s what they need before they can even start — we’re not even going to move the body because they need to check in,” Ivy said of meditation. “They need to calm their mind down.”

So what does meditation look like? 

For Ivy, it’s all about maintaining focus, minimizing distractions and slowing things down. She may ask participants to focus on something visual such as color, or to count the things they’re grateful for with the help of a beaded necklace. In other classes, she may ask them to focus on a particular phrase and how that applies to their own lives or to direct their attention to something as simple as a card — the four of hearts for example.

“So many of us have our brains constantly bouncing back and forth. Our current way of living with screens, smart phones, all of this tech actually encourages it even more,” she said.

Multiple scientific studies have shown that meditation not only helps reduce stress and anxiety, but can actually change the brain itself.

In a 2012 study, researchers compared brain images from 50 adults who meditate and 50 adults who don’t meditate. Results suggested that people who practiced meditation for many years had more folds in the outer layer of the brain, which may increase the brain’s ability to process information, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

The Washington Post interviewed Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar who tested anecdotal claims about the benefits of meditation by comparing brains scans of meditators and non-meditators. She found that long-term meditators had an increase in gray matter in the brain’s sensory regions and frontal cortex, where working memory and decision making takes place, the article stated. 

“It’s well-documented that our cortex shrinks as we get older – it’s harder to figure things out and remember things,” Lazar told the Post. “But in this one region of the prefrontal cortex, 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year-olds.”

In addition to the mental benefits, Ivy said meditation can also help practicioners manage their emotions. 

“Being in control of our thoughts leads into being in control of our emotions,” she said. “When you are able to slow your thoughts down and be in control of them, you would be aware that, ‘Oh, I can’t say that.’”

To read the full story, pick up the June 15 edition of the Pioneer or subscribe to our e-edition. Current subscribers are provided complimentary access to the e-edition with registration.


Story and photos by Mackenzie Reiss / Pioneer Editor


Ivy Phillips leads a group meditation class Thursday, June 8 in her Big Timber studio.



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