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It’s no secret that stress is a big problem in our society. It can lead to a host of health issues, and it’s only getting worse as more and more people are becoming overwhelmed with work, family, and other responsibilities.
Stress causes tension and anxiety (just to name a few) and plays a role in chronic diseases. But what if there was a simple way to help you relieve stress? What if all you had to do was sit down for 10 minutes and focus on your breathing? If, this sounds too good to be true, think again.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is the practice of focusing our attention on a particular thing, such as our breathing, body sensations, or a word. It is a natural state of being and brings about some amazing benefits for our health and happiness. It is a relaxation technique in which you redirect your thoughts away from the things that are causing you stress. It is the process of training your mind to live in the moment, to pay attention to what is happening right now.
When you live in the moment it helps you to temporarily set aside your worries. And, forgetting about your worries for even a few minutes can help keep your stress in check.
Meditating is not a difficult technique to learn, but most people still struggle. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Being aware of your wandering thoughts and the ability to redirect them is meditation.
This is me every night. Sometimes I listen to a meditation app while other times I practice on my own. My brain is usually on overload. When I can’t shut my brain off, I just keep directing myself back to my breathing. On my inhales, I say in my head “peace” and on my exhales, “relax”. Some nights it takes a little longer than others to be fully calm and relaxed. Since I began meditating at night, I fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
There is no need for special gear or equipment. Also, meditation is inexpensive and can be practiced anywhere. Anxious about a big meeting? Take a bathroom break and meditate in the stall for a couple of minutes. Meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time? Take a few minutes to yourself before you leave your house. Just a few minutes of focusing on your breathing can help relieve your anxiety.
Health Benefits of Meditation
Learning how to manage your stress can go a long way in preventing numerous health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “stress can cause anxiety, headaches, muscle pain, depression, and a host of other problems”. If you are not feeling your best, you may behave differently too. You may not want to exercise, eat properly, or socialize with friends. Meditation is a great way to combat the negative impact that stress has on your physical and mental fitness.
The benefits of meditation are just as beneficial as physical exercise. Meditating for just a few minutes every day can help lower your blood pressure, improve circulation, reduce anxiety, and improve your mood. Some benefits are anecdotal while others have been scientifically proven. At any rate, many people believe in the power of daily meditation.
When you incorporate meditation into your daily routine, you are better able to not only manage your stress, but it can help you become more patient and creative as well.
Where to Begin
So now that you have a better understanding of what meditation is and the health benefits associated with it, you may be wondering how you can learn. It really is easier than you think and the more you practice, the better you will become.
The first thing you want to do is find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. If you are awake before the other members of your household, like me, the living room may be an acceptable location.
Now get comfortable. That may mean lying down or reclining, you don’t have to sit upright with crossed legs (unless you want to). It may mean wearing your cozy PJs and slippers. In any case, the important thing is that you are comfortable.
Now that you are situated comfortably in a quiet place, the next thing you need to do is simply close your eyes. This is sounding pretty good right about now, isn’t it?
Focusing on your breathing is an important element when meditating. But before you start focused breathing, you want to breathe naturally. Don’t try to control your breathing.
Lastly, now that you are settled, you can begin to focus on your breaths. Notice how your stomach extends slightly outward as you inhale and relaxes as you exhale. Pay attention to the movements of your rib cage and shoulders as well. Try to just breathe naturally. Your mind should be totally focused on your breathing and nothing else.
However, your mind WILL wander and that is perfectly normal. Don’t push thoughts away when they wander. They will return with a vengeance! You can’t turn off your brain, so don’t even try. The trick is to redirect your wandering thoughts back to your breathing.
You may have heard that you should meditate for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour every day. When just starting out, your goal should be just two to three minutes a day. Once you get the hang of it, you can increase the length of time. Just a few minutes of meditation every day can be beneficial.
Different Meditation Styles
All forms of meditation reduce stress and help you to relax. However, the variations have subtle differences as well as some different features. Let’s have a look.
Mindfulness meditation has been the focus of this article. The object is to keep your mind focused on your breathing. This type of meditation is perfect for beginners because it is easy to practice.
Spiritual meditation is one of the best-known forms of meditation and is widely practiced. It is similar to praying and can be done at home or in church. The goal for most people who practice spiritual meditation is spiritual growth.
Focused meditation is probably not the best choice for beginners. If you find this type to be difficult, you may get frustrated and not meditate at all. The key of focus meditation is the concentration on one of the five senses. You focus on one thing that you choose, whether it is a visual item, a smell, or a sound.
Movement meditation is just like it sounds. Instead of keeping still, you meditate while moving. A quiet walk, qigong, even gardening, are considered forms of movement meditation.
Mantra meditation is the repetition of a word, phrase, or sound. It can be said out loud or mentally. Some find this type of meditation easier than focusing on their breath.
Transcendental meditation is popular and similar to mantra meditation in that the word or phrase is replaced by a sound such as Aum or Om. If you like structure, this method may be for you.
Progressive relaxation meditation focuses on reducing tension in the body. It is the process of relaxing and tightening each muscle, one at a time. This type is great for bedtime meditation.
Loving-kindness meditation can help you learn to practice kindness to others as well as yourself. When you think about the things you are grateful for and stop negative self-talk, you will feel better about yourself and others. It also helps you to release anger and other negative emotions. I like to call it “turn your frown upside-down” meditation.
Visualization meditation is, you guessed it, focusing your thoughts on images. Imagine sitting on the beach watching the sun come up (or go down). Whatever setting you consider to be peaceful is the image where you place your focus. Get a taste of visualization meditation with this guided imagery video.
Please keep in mind that there is no one right style of meditation. If you are just starting out, I recommend trying mindfulness first. Then experiment with a few others to determine what style works best for you and which one(s) you are comfortable with.
Meditation is a great way to relieve stress which can improve your physical and mental health. Practicing meditation promotes a calming and peaceful feeling that can help you to be more patient, creative, and productive. It is easy to do, can be done anywhere, and no special equipment or gear is needed. Find a quiet place, get comfortable, and breathe. Just a few minutes each day is all it takes.
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