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Stress Less: Meditation

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, via 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 your mind. It sounds simple (we all breathe, after all), 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 unfinished report. Remind yourself before you begin that all those obligations will be waiting for you after 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. Earlier this year researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital reported that eight weeks of mindfulness meditation actually led to changes in brain structure. Click here for details. 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, you repeat a mantra (a single word or sound) to yourself 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.

Does Meditation Work?

Meditation is embraced by conventional medicine today as a perfectly acceptable means of lowering blood pressure, reducing pain, helping migraines, easing menstrual cramps, and, most important, reducing stress and anxiety.

Not surprisingly, people who engage in regular meditation go through life in a calmer state, live longer, develop fewer chronic illnesses, are hospitalized less often, and take fewer prescription medications. A study showed that people with chronic low back pain reduced both pain and reliance on medication by practicing simple meditation techniques.

You can learn meditation through books, recordings, and in groups at colleges, community centers, and hospitals. A typical recording guides you through a 30-minute meditation.

You can also learn a lot about meditation on the internet. Search Google for breath meditation, transcendental meditation, and mindfulness meditation, read about each, and see which appeals to you.

Then, just start.

Ultimately it’s recommended that you meditate twice daily, in two 20-minute sessions, once before breakfast and once at bedtime. The more you practice, the better you’ll become at achieving a state of calm and relaxation.

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