Meditation for Stress

Stress is the body’s response to an intense situation or set of circumstances. Humans have been conditioned since the beginning of time for fight-or-flight. When there is a perceived danger, the heart races, and the adrenalin rushes, providing strength and speed. This response provides protection when trying to outrun a dangerous animal. Today, however, the stress that most of us experience comes from deadlines at work or school, or from family life.

Why is Meditation Effective in Relieving Stress?

Because meditation is so accessible, people can practice it daily. Those who meditate regularly become adept at controlling their thinking. They can eliminate negative, destructive thoughts, and foster positive, healthy thoughts.

By consciously choosing positive thoughts, people can change their outlook and behavior. Some assert that this can even yield additional serotonin, a neurochemical that regulates mood. The mind body connection is powerful in ways scientists do not fully understand yet. However, the documented health benefits from meditation are encouraging, making meditation a healthy approach to reducing stress.

Why Should I Manage Stress With Meditation?

If not managed, stress can exacerbate existing health problems, or even create new ones such as:

  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Chest pains
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Tiredness
  • Insomnia
  • Skin breakouts
  • Hair loss
  • Weight gain or loss.

In addition to physical symptoms, some experience:

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Resentfulness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Inability to focus.

Having effective techniques to control stress can be the key to a happier, healthier life. Meditation is a simple and fast technique that can be incorporated into a busy schedule to reduce stress. Best of all, meditation can be performed almost anywhere, at any time, at no cost.

What is Meditation?

Meditation has been practiced for almost 5,000 years. Although it is found in most of the world’s great religions, it is also employed in the health field for stress management. The idea is that since muscle tension accompanies stress, learning to relax muscles can reduce stress. Additionally, meditation affects the body by lowering blood pressure, decreasing heart and respiratory rates, increasing blood flow, strengthening the immune system, and relieving chronic pain. Over time, practicing meditation can reduce mood swings, provide a greater ability to deal with stress in your life, improve the quality of sleep, and regulate appetite. These benefits counteract the negative effects of stress.

There are many types of meditation techniques. The goal is to focus the attention away from personal thoughts and emotions and towards some other object, vision, or sound. Meditation can be accomplished utilizing the body, mind, or both. With each technique, however, the result should be the same. Clearing the mind of chatter, and the day’s worries creates a feeling of peace and relaxation.

What are Some Meditation Techniques?

Whenever possible, meditate somewhere quiet where there won’t be any interruptions. To help with concentration and relaxation, wear comfortable clothing and find a comfortable position. Many who practice meditation slowly increase their meditation time to 20 or 30 minutes each day. However, the duration of meditation is not as important as the frequency. Therefore, meditating every day for just a few minutes is adequate. Review the different techniques below and choose the technique that sounds most relaxing.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Meditation

Progressive muscle relaxation meditation starts with lying down face up, and eyes closed. Start with one area of the body and then flex and relax each muscle. First the muscles in the foot: toes, arch, ankles, then the muscles in the leg, etc. Then move to the next segment of the body. Be sure to relax the muscles in the face, as this is where there can be the most tension. At the end of this meditation technique, the body should be completely relaxed. By focusing one’s attention on the body, distracting thoughts are banished allowing for greater relaxation.

Walking Meditation

Walking can be another form of meditation. This time the focus is on each step to the exclusion of all other thoughts. This method is a good choice for those who already walk every day, or wish to include walking in their daily routine. The rhythm of each step provides a good focus.

Breathing Meditation

Breathing meditation is optimal for those who work in an office in front of a computer. Performing this mediation with closed eyes enhances concentration allowing the focus to remain on each breath. Follow the flow of your breath during each inhalation and exhalation. When worries of the day start to break concentration, the breath should bring attention and focus back.

Visualization and Guided Imagery Meditation

Visualization and guided imagery is a technique that works best with closed eyes and deep breathing. Imagine a serene, tranquil setting. This technique makes use of all the senses. What does it sound like? What does it feel like? What does it smell like? If this technique is done right before falling asleep or just before waking up, the unconscious mind can relax the nervous system.

Mantra Meditation

Mantra meditation involves sound. It is the repetition of a sound or meaningful phrase. A traditional mantra sound is Om or Aum, usually incanted in slow, deep and elongated exhalation. However, it can be any peaceful sound. If using a phrase, it should be short in order to establish a rhythm of repetition. Some calmly speak; others choose to chant. Establishing a relaxing, peaceful rhythm is most important aspect of Mantra Meditation.

Additional Resources

For a stress assessment, visit:
www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-assessment/SR00029

For more meditation ideas, view:
http://www.learningmeditation.com/room.htm

For more guidance on training the mind, see
Stages of Meditation by Dalai Lama, Geshe Lobsang Jordhen, Losang Choephel Ganchenpa, and Jeremy Russell

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