Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress
Meditation can wipe away the day's stress, bringing
with it inner peace. See how you can easily learn
to practice meditation whenever you need it most.
By Mayo Clinic staff
If stress has you anxious, tense and worried,
consider trying meditation. Spending even a few
minutes in meditation can restore your
calm and inner peace.
Anyone can practice meditation. It's simple and
inexpensive, and it doesn't require any special
equipment. And you can practice meditation
wherever you are whether you're out for a walk,
riding the bus, waiting at the doctor's office or
even in the middle of a difficult business meeting.
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of
years. Meditation originally was meant to help
deepen understanding of the sacred and
mystical forces of life. These days, meditation
is commonly used for relaxation and stress reduction.
Meditation is considered a type of mind-body
complementary medicine. Meditation produces a
deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind.
During meditation, you focus your attention
and eliminate the stream of
jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your
mind and causing stress. This process results
in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.
Benefits of meditation
Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace
and balance that benefits both your emotional
well-being and your overall health. And
these benefits don't end when your meditation
session ends. Meditation can help carry you more
calmly through your day and can even improve
certain medical conditions.
Meditation and emotional well-being
When you meditate, you clear away the information overload that builds
up every day and contributes to your stress.
The emotional benefits of meditation include:
● Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
● Building skills to manage your stress
● Increasing self-awareness
● Focusing on the present
● Reducing negative emotions
Meditation and illness
Meditation also might be useful if you have a
medical condition, especially one that may be
worsened by stress. While a growing body of
scientific research supports the health benefits
of meditation, some researchers believe it's not
yet possible to draw conclusions about the
possible benefits of meditation.
With that in mind, some research suggests that
meditation may help such conditions as:
● Anxiety disorders
● Binge eating
● Heart disease
● High blood pressure
● Sleep problems
● Substance abuse
Be sure to talk to your health care provider
about the pros and cons of using meditation if
you have any of these conditions or other health
problems. In some cases, meditation can worsen
symptoms associated with certain mental health
conditions. Meditation isn't a replacement for
traditional medical treatment. But it may be
a useful addition to your other treatment.
Types of meditation
Meditation is an umbrella term for the many
ways to a relaxed state of being. There are many
types of meditation and relaxation techniques that
have meditation components. All share the same
goal of achieving inner peace.
Ways to meditate can include:
● Guided meditation. Sometimes called
guided imagery or visualization, with this method
of meditation you form mental images of
places or situations you find relaxing. You try
to use as many senses as possible, such as smells,
sights, sounds and textures. You may be led
through this process by a guide or teacher.
● Mantra meditation. In this type of meditation,
you silently repeat a calming word, thought or
phrase to prevent distracting thoughts.
● Mindfulness meditation. This type of
meditation is based on being mindful, or having
an increased awareness and acceptance of living
in the present moment. You broaden your conscious
awareness. You focus on what you experience during
meditation, such as the flow of your
breath. You can observe your thoughts and emotions
but let them passwithout judgment.
● Qi gong. This practice generally combines
meditation relaxation, physical movement and
breathing exercises to restore and
maintain balance. Qi gong (CHEE-gung) is part
of traditional Chinese medicine.
● Tai chi. This is a form of gentle Chinese
martial arts. In tai chi (TIE-chee), you perform
a self-paced series of postures or movements
in a slow, graceful manner while practicing deep breathing.
● Transcendental meditation. You use a
mantra, such as a word, sound or phrase repeatedly
silently, to narrow your conscious awareness
and eliminate all thoughts from your mind. You focus
exclusively on your mantra to achieve a state of
perfect stillness and consciousness.
● Yoga. You perform a series of postures
and controlled breathing exercises to promote a
more flexible body and a calm mind. As you move
through poses that require balance and concentration,
you're encouraged to focus less on your busy day and
more on the moment.
Elements of meditation
Different types of meditation may include different
features to help you meditate. These may vary
depending on whose guidance you follow or
who's teaching a class. Some of the most common
features in meditation include:
● Focused attention. Focusing your attention
is generally one of the most important elements of meditation. Focusing your attention is what helps free your mind
from the many distractions that cause stress
and worry. You can focus your attention on such
things as a specific object, an image, a mantra, or even your breathing.
● Relaxed breathing. This technique involves
deep, even-paced breathing using the diaphragm muscle
to expand your lungs. The purpose is to slow your
breathing, take in more oxygen, and reduce the use of
shoulder, neck and upper chest muscles while breathing
so that you breathe more efficiently.
● A quiet setting. If you're a beginner,
practicing meditation may be easier if you're in
a quiet spot with few distractions no
television, radios or cellphones. As you get
more skilled at meditation, you may be able to do it anywhere, especially in high-stress situations where you benefit
the most from meditation, such as a traffic jam, a
stressful work meeting or a long line at the grocery store.
● A comfortable position. You can practice
meditation whether you're sitting, lying down, walking
or in other positions or activities.
Just try to be comfortable so that you can get
the most out of your meditation.
Everyday ways to practice meditation
Don't let the thought of meditating the "right" way
add to your stress. Sure, you can attend special
meditation centers or group classes led by
trained instructors. But you also can practice
meditation easily on your own. And you can make
meditation as formal or informal as you like
whatever suits your lifestyle and situation. Some
people build meditation into their daily routine. For
example, they may start and end each day with
an hour of meditation. But all you really need is a few
minutes of quality time for meditation.
Here are some ways you can practice meditation
on your own, whenever you choose:
● Breathe deeply. This technique is good
for beginners because breathing is a natural function.
Focus all attention on your breathing.
Concentrate on feeling and listening as you inhale
and exhale through your nostrils. Breathe deeply
and slowly. When your attention wanders,
gently return your focus to your breathing.
● Scan your body. When using this technique,
focus attention on different parts of your body.
Become aware of your body's various
sensations, whether that's pain, tension,
warmth or relaxation. Combine body scanning with
breathing exercises and imagine breathing heat or
relaxation into and out of different parts of your body.
● Repeat a mantra. You can create your
own mantra, whether it's religious or secular.
Examples of religious mantras include the Jesus
Prayer in the Christian tradition, the holy name
of God in Judaism, or the om mantra of Hinduism,
Buddhism and other Eastern religions.
● Walk and meditate. Combining a walk with
meditation is an efficient and healthy way to relax. You can us
e this technique anywhere you're walking in a
tranquil forest, on a city sidewalk or at the
mall. When you use this method, slow down the pace
of walking so that you can focus on each movement
of your legs or feet. Don't focus on a
particular destination. Concentrate on your legs
and feet, repeating action words in your mind such
as lifting, moving and placing as you
lift each foot, move your leg forward and place
your foot on the ground.
● Engage in prayer. Prayer is the best known a
d most widely practiced example of meditation.
Spoken and written prayers are found in
most faith traditions. You can pray using your
own words or read prayers written by others. Check
the self-help or 12-step-recovery section of
your local bookstore for examples. Talk with your rabbi, priest, pastor or other spiritual leader about resources.
● Read and reflect. Many people report
that they benefit from reading poems or sacred
texts, and taking a few moments to quietly
reflect on their meaning. You also can listen to
sacred music, spoken words or any music you
find relaxing or inspiring. You may want to write
your reflections in a journal or discuss them with
a friend or spiritual leader.
● Focus your love and gratitude. In this
type of meditation, you focus your attention on
a sacred object or being, weaving feelings of
love and gratitude into your thoughts. You can
also close your eyes and use your imagination
or gaze at representations of the object.
Building your meditation skills
Don't judge your meditation skills, which may
only increase your stress. Meditation takes
practice. Keep in mind, for instance, that it's
common for your mind to wander during meditation,
no matter how long you've been practicing meditation.
If you're meditating to calm your
mind and your attention wanders, slowly return to the object, sensation or movement you're focusing on.
Experiment, and you'll likely find out what types
of meditation work best for you and what you
enjoy doing. Adapt meditation to your needs at
the moment. Remember, there's no right way or
wrong way to meditate. What matters is that meditation
helps you with stress reduction and feeling better overall.
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