Meditation has a reputation as an activity related to religious practices and hippy-dippy pseudo-science. This is unfortunate, because meditation is a simple, effective stress management tool that can be used by a anyone – and solid medical research has shown that meditation is highly effective as a way to lower stress and even manage pain
It’s particularly effective at the end of a long, stressful day – you can set aside a short period when you get home from work, meditate, and then enjoy your evening with a clear mind and more relaxed body.
Why meditation is great for stress
One of the pioneers of serious meditation research was Harvard’s Dr. Herbert Benson, who’s 1968 book “The Relaxation Response” showed that meditation had a measurable affect on stress, slowing breathing and heartbeat and lessening the body’s natural fight-or-flight response. Meditation will allow you to relax your body and focus your thoughts, thus focusing your mind and allowing you to let go of the day’s troubles. It allows your body to refresh its resources, which is good for your immune system, your blood pressure and your mental outlook.
When you meditate, your heart rate and breathing slow down, your blood pressure normalizes, and you use oxygen more efficiently. Your adrenal glands produce less cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline and you produce good, healing. Your mind clears, allowing you harper thought and greater creativity. Meditation has proved beneficial for people trying to give up smoking, drinking and drugs.
Simple meditation for anyone
Meditation isn’t a mystical, mysterious practice. It’s easy to do, and doesn’t take any special equipment or training. Meditation involves sitting in a relaxed position and clearing your mind. There are a number of methods for meditation – you can focus on a sound (like “om”), or on your own breathing, or on an object, or on nothing at all. You just need at least 10 minutes of quiet, free of distraction, although some people find that, with practice, they can meditate anywhere.
Here’s a couple of basic techniques:
Simple Breathing Meditation
Find a quiet room, and sit in a comfortable position, either on the floor or in a chair. Close your eyes.
Consciously relax the muscles in your feet, then your calves, and work way up your body until everything is loose.
Now focus your attention on your breathing. Breathe in deeply through your nose, and then let your breath out through your mouth. Count your breaths, and say the number of the breath as you let it out, which helps you to focus your mind and avoid distraction.
Do this for 10 or 20 minutes, then allow yourself to slowly come back up to full speed.
Focused Object Meditation
Choose an object, any object – a vase of flowers, a burning candle, a beautiful piece of fabric with a complex design. It can even be a coffee mug or a lamp.
Examine the shape, colors, shadow and light, texture movement of the object. Breathe deeply and rhythmically, and let your mind go wherever it wants, but stay focused on the object. Allow yourself at least 10 minutes to examine every detail.
Focused Sound Meditation.
Make a sound, over and over, focusing entirely on the vibration and tone. The classic meditation sound is the Sanskrit word for perfection. Use the same rhythmic breathing to help slow your heartbeat and focus your mind.
Focused Imagery Meditation
Here, you create a mental image in your mind of a happy, relaxing place. You could be on a tropical beach, or floating on a raft in a mountain lake, or even lying in a king-sized bed in a luxury hotel – whatever you find the most calm and restful to think about. Breathe in and out, slowly and rhythmically. As thoughts enter your mind, let them drift back out – focus entirely on your “happy place as you breathe.
Unlike the use of prescription medication and herbal therapies, there are no potential side effects to meditation, and it doesn’t cost anything. No special equipment is required, and you can meditate no matter what your physical limitations. It does take some commitment and patience, but after a few sessions, you’ll find that meditation is a wonderful method for relieving stress – and you can do it anywhere!
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