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Stress Less: Meditation

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Meditation is the simplest relaxation technique to explain and by far the hardest to master.

Like acupuncture, yoga, sushi bars, and Thai restaurants, meditation comes to us from the East, from religious practice that required quiet contemplation in order to induce a state of tranquility.

The three most popular meditation techniques in the US are breath meditation, mindfulness meditation, and Transcendental Meditation (TM).

Breath meditation asks you to sit quietly, empty your mind, and focus only on the act of breathing in and breathing out in order to clear the mind. It sounds simple, as we all breathe, but like any discipline it requires practice. Breath meditation is just you, sitting comfortably in a chair, eyes closed, breathing in and out, focusing only on your inhalations and exhalations. Keeping your mind empty of thoughts can be the greatest challenge. If your mind wanders, don’t berate yourself; just return your attention to your breathing. Many of us are so over-committed that our once-stilled minds go immediately to our “to do” lists–the laundry, the birthday gift that needs buying, the report that needs to be finished. Remind yourself before you start that all those obligations will be waiting for you after your meditation is completed.

Mindfulness meditation, as developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts, involves intensely focusing on the present moment, acknowledging thoughts as they appear, and observing the thoughts without judgment. The goal with mindfulness meditation is to become increasingly aware of events within your body. The technique can include a “body scan” in which you focus on each body part, starting from your head and working downward. As you release images associated with each body part, you release associated tension.

In Transcendental Meditation (TM), introduced in the 1960s by the Beatles’ guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who died just last month, you repeat to yourself a single word or sound–a mantra–throughout the meditation. Saying the mantra helps prevent distracting thoughts from entering your mind and allows you to gradually relax and release stress. One goal during TM is a passive attitude that allows thoughts, images, and feelings to pass through your consciousness almost unnoticed.

More on meditation next time.

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