Practitioners of mindfulness have long since argued that meditation can help reduce stress.
This position has been supported by scientific research.
When researchers at Johns Hopkins University recently conducted a systematic review of 47 clinical trials of meditation and stress reduction, involving over 3500 participants, their findings suggest that mindfulness meditation programs can help relieve psychological stress like anxiety, depression and pain. In a paper published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the researchers advised physicians to “talk with their patients about the role that a meditation program could have in addressing psychological stress.”
Stress is such a commonplace part of modern life that feeling stressed has almost become a cliché. If you admit to stress you’ll likely elicit a shrug in response. You’re certainly not going to get much sympathy. When stress is everywhere and everybody is stressed, individual stress becomes a part of the background noise of daily life.
Unfortunately, that’s a grave mistake because stress can lead to serious physical and mental health problems.
When stress goes on without relief for a considerable time it can lead to health problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, trouble sleeping, chest pains, stomach upset, depression, and anxiety, among others.
According to a WebMD report, between 75% and 90% of doctors’ office visits are for stress-related complaints and ailments.
And in the workplace, stress is classified as a major hazard by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and costs American industries over $300 billion a year.
So, stress is a serious issue that requires urgent and serious attention.
Fortunately, there is a solution to this vicious beast, one that relieves stress and promotes general well-being inside and out. This solution is meditation.
Meditation is an ancient practice the quiets and focuses the mind, bringing about a calm natural state that is the exact opposite of how you feel when stressed.
While some people use meditation as a tool of self-enlightenment, others are perfectly happy using it as a simple means to eliminate the negative effects of stress that we are all exposed to.
Far from being a demanding practice, mediation is easy to master and can be performed anywhere and in any position that is comfortable. It will lower your blood pressure, relax tense muscles, promote immune system health and generally make you feel better.
The remainder of this article gives you some tips to help you get started on your own meditation practice. These tips can be used for guidance or as refresher instruction, depending on your level of experience with meditation.
Remember, there is no one “right” way to meditate. Choose what works best for you. The important part of meditation is the results that you achieve not how achieve those results.
Meditation, like anything else, requires practice. To get optimum results you need to make time in your schedule to meditate. Set aside a specific time each day to meditate. You cannot let the rest of your day, no matter how hectic, interfere with a practice designed to ameliorate the negative effects of that schedule. Your health, happiness and peace of mind are important, so make sure that the time for meditation is important as well.
While meditation can be performed anywhere, it often works best if done in a special place. Now, by “special place”, we’re not talking about a temple next to a waterfall surrounded by an ancient forest. Just as you set aside a particular time to meditate, you should also set aside a particular place. This can be anyplace that is quiet, private and comfortable. Any room in your home will do as long as it meets these criteria. Try softening the lighting in the room or using candles for illumination.
Set Aside Distractions
The practice of meditation is all about quieting and focusing the mind. In order to effectively quiet the mind you also have to quiet as many potential distractions as possible. This means that you need to leave your phone behind while you meditate. Ditto when it comes to all other personal electronic devices. If you wear a watch, take it off. Turn off any music, as well as the television. If other people you live with know that you are meditating and ask them to respect your need for quiet also.
Stretch Before You Begin
The goal of meditation is to eliminate stress and promote a calm, centered existence. You cannot achieve this goal if you actively bring your stress with you into the meditation session. That is why it is so important to do a routine of a couple simple stretches before you begin meditating. One of the symptoms of stress is tight, sore muscles. A few stretches eliminates some of that tightness, as well as relieving the associated pain. Relaxed, pain-free muscles will help you concentrate during meditation by eliminating the distraction of muscle tension.
The essence of successful meditation is the breath. Slow, regular and deep breaths are essential to emptying the mind.
If you are a beginner at meditating you may be surprised to find how much “chatter” goes on in your mind. Thoughts will come and go, each trying to distract you and break your focus.
One way to beat back this tide of chattering thoughts is to concentrate on your breathing. Slowly breathe in filling you lungs completely. Hold your breath for a moment and then slowly exhale, again concentrating on the feeling of the breath leaving your body. Repeat this process over and over, focusing only on the sensation of breathing calmly and fully.
Don’t Fear Frustration
If meditating is a new experience for you, then it’s not unreasonable to expect some setbacks during the learning process. The trick is not to let these setbacks frustrate you.
Remember the first time you rode a bike or went ice skating? You probably weren’t very good, looked and felt clumsy and thought you’d never get the hang of it.
Well, the first few times you meditate will be exactly the same. The key is to persevere. Each time you meditate you will develop more confidence in your abilities. It may take a few weeks, but if you keep at it you will see measurable progress.
Be Willing to Experiment
The most common misconception about meditation is that it is a rigid practice. Many people believe that real meditation can only be accomplished when a person is in a certain position. That position must be held at all time with nary a muscle moved. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The reality is that meditation is a very relaxed practice. You need to be able to meditate comfortably, in your own way, in order to be successful.
So, don’t be afraid to experiment with positions. It is perfectly all right to meditate while sitting, standing or lying down. In fact, in some traditions, meditation is preformed while walking or doing chores. The goal of mediation is to clear the mind and gain serenity, not develop the ability to withstand physical discomfort. Find the meditation position that works best for you and use that position to your further your ability to meditate successfully.
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