How to Relieve Stress Through Meditation
Life is stressful. According to the American Psychological Association, stress levels among American adults have been steadily increasing since 2007. Work, family, and financial responsibilities are the greatest sources of stress, along with personal and familial health concerns. Stress seems ingrained in our culture, and until society works to improve work and life conditions among its citizens, relieving stress must happen on an individual basis. Thankfully, there are tools that can be used to manage stress and anxiety, from exercise to healthy eating to mindfulness. One of the best and most accessible stress-management tools is meditation.
Meditation: A Time-Honored Remedy for Stress Relief
Meditative practice has been around for thousands of years. Originally, meditation was practiced to better understand the mysticism that surrounds eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. Today, meditation is practiced outside the confines of religion, and is often utilized by physicians and therapists to ease stress and anxiety in their patients.
The benefits of meditation are widely documented: practitioners receive a sense of calm and personal insight that extends beyond the time spent meditating. The majority of studies that examine the effects of meditation find that participants report better outcomes for anxiety and stress-related symptoms compared with control groups.
As a remedy for stress, meditation really can’t be beat. It’s safe, much less expensive than other treatments, and can be practiced anywhere by anyone. Meditating for a mere 10 minutes a day can have a profound effect on your mental health. All you need? A quiet place (recommended for beginners) and a little guidance. No special equipment required.
Meditation for Beginners
The secret to meditation is to keep it simple. Meditative practice involves clearing one’s mind through focused breathing: slow, deep, focused breath is the cornerstone of any meditative practice. As you inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth, concentrate on the air filling your lungs and then completely evacuating your body. Stay in the present. We call this mindfulness. Your mind will try and wander to other things: what to make for dinner, an impending phone call, the long list of work projects that need to be finished. This is normal. When you find your mind wandering, redirect your focus to your breathing. Breathe in… breathe out.
Staying in the present means ridding oneself of distractions. Meditating on an empty stomach might prove problematic, as you are physiologically designed to think of the food you’d like to be eating. Other distractions include people who might interrupts, technology that fights for your attention, and your environment. You may need to step away from your work space to a spot you find soothing; being surrounded by work materials might be too distracting. As focus improves over time, you will find you are able to meditate anywhere: at your desk or while walking outside, for example.
Beginners should take note of what helps them focus. Some prefer complete silence while others like nature sounds or soft music in the background. Some like to incorporate meditation with another practice, like tai-chi or yoga, while others like sitting in a comfortable chair or even lying on their back. First time practitioners should limit meditation sessions to a few minutes, and then slowly increase session length over time. Soon, you will find yourself able clear distracting thoughts quickly and easily. As you train your mind to focus, it will become less prone to wandering. Meditation trains your mind to focus, and you will begin to see your concentration improve in all aspects of your day-to-day life.
Guided Meditative Practice is a Great Place to Start
Those who still feel unsure about starting a meditative practice on their own should take heart: there are many excellent resources for beginners. Smartphone apps like Insight Timer and The Mindfulness app include free guided meditations, timers, and meditation music tracks. The book Meditation for Daily Stress: 10 Practices for Immediate Well-being, by Michel Pascal, gives practical meditation approaches that help people incorporate the practice into their busy, modern lifestyles. YouTube makes it possible to receive direct instruction from experts in the meditative field.
Don’t be intimidated by meditative practice. You’d be surprised how meditation can be modified to make you comfortable and at peace. Find a meditative practice that works for you and help dissolve the stress that accompanies this thing we call life.