Reduce Stress Through Meditation
An instruction for beginners on how to meditate in order to reduce stress.
We all share one thing: we all suffer from stress in one way or another. Studies have shown that stress can cause a variety of physiological and physical problems, from insomnia to anxiety and pain to weakened immunity. There is, however, increasing evidence that if we can reduce the stress in our lives, we can improve our mental and physical health. But how can we reduce stress?
Many people are able to reduce stress in a variety of very common ways: some people like to exercise, others have hobbies they enjoy. Other stress-reduction techniques might be reading for pleasure, taking a nice hot bath, or talking to friends or family members. All of these activities can be very effective in reducing stress; however, there are certain activities that are designed specifically to reduce stress, such as yoga, meditation, message, and tai chi. So if you don’t have any specific activity for reducing stress in your life—and even if you do—I would strongly recommend trying one of these techniques. My personal favorite is meditation. But let’s say you’ve never tried meditation before. How would you get started?
Most experienced meditators suggest sitting in a comfortable position rather than lying down—if you get too relaxed you might just fall asleep! Sit comfortably, with your eyes shut (the usual choice); half-shut, or open—as long as they aren’t focused on anything that can distract you. You might want to start with about 5 minutes at first, gradually building up to, say 20 minutes twice a day. The key is consistency—it is much better to meditate for 5 minutes every day than for an hour once a week. You will see more benefits faster if you can be consistent.
So you’re sitting comfortably with your eyes closed…and your mind keeps wandering. What can you do to stay focused? The best technique for keeping your mind still is called belly breathing or simply noticing your breath. When you are very still and quiet, focus your attention on where you can feel your breath most easily in your body; for most people this is the belly. You might even want to put your hands on your belly until you can easily focus on it. Notice the way your belly rises and falls with each incoming and outgoing breath. Don’t try to manipulate your breath—just be aware of it. If you are very still, you can feel your body rock ever so gently with each heartbeat.
If you find yourself distracted by thoughts, don’t brush them aside. Just notice them nonjudgmentally, and then let them float away like clouds in the sky. Whenever you find your mind wandering after a passing thought, gently and lovingly escort your attention back to your breath, your anchor. You might try a focus word to help keep your awareness on your breath, such as “in” or “breathing in” when you inhale and “out” or “breathing out” when you exhale. Just remember that it’s ok to be distracted; congratulate yourself when you notice your distraction, then gently escort your attention back to your breath. This is one activity that you can’t do wrong. If you are doing it, you are doing great.
When your time is up, sit quietly for a few seconds more to let yourself adjust your attention away from your breath to the world around you. Gently stretch your fingers and toes, and be very careful in getting up if you have been sitting for a very long time. You don’t want to ruin your relaxed feeling by falling down if your foot falls asleep! Now enjoy the relaxed feeling of inner peace as you go about your day. You’ll have a whole new outlook on life!