You have no doubt heard about mediation. Perhaps you thought it was only for reclusive monks high up in the Himalayas, or maybe you figured you don’t have any time to incorporate it into your frantic life. Whatever you thought about meditation before, it is time to reassess this increasingly popular stress-relieving and relaxing practice.
Stress is unavoidable in everyday life, and some of us suffer more than others. Too much stress can have devastating effects on our long-term health. There are many scientific reasons to begin practicing meditation, of which the ability to wipe away the day’s stress is but one.
There are several meditation and relaxation techniques available; from rhythmic exercises to deep breathing. The trick is to choose one or two that fits in nicely with your lifestyle and practice them regularly. Before long you will begin to feel that “inner peace” that followers of Buddhism like to rave about.
In stressful situations, our body’s automatic reaction causes breathing to become shallow and rapid. When that happens, the supply of air to cells in our body is lessened and in turn, triggers a greater stress response. The antidote to this stress response is deep, slow breathing. This technique is one of the easiest to learn and the most convenient to do.
Deep breathing is the foundation for many relaxation exercises and, you can practice it just about anywhere: At the office, in a park, or while lying in bed. All you need is a quiet, comfortable spot.
Place a hand on your stomach, just below the rib cage, breath in slowly and deliberately through your nose feeling the rising of your stomach and the expansion of your rib cage. Then, exhale slowly through your mouth, emptying your lungs completely. Repeat this process for several minutes until you feel the relaxation kicking in.
The deep breathing technique can be practiced multiple times per day to keep your body in a positively stress-free state.
Meditation first became popular in Asia after the Buddha began teaching, and practicing, the ancient art of mind-body connection. In recent years, however, there has been growing interest in meditation in the Western world. Thanks in large part to a growing number of positive scientific studies, more people are taking up meditation in an effort to combat stress and improve their wellbeing.
Meditation works by focusing attention and diffusing streams of thought. With practice and experience, you will ultimately be able to change how you react to thoughts and emotions; thus gaining the ability to control the effects of stress on your body.
Some added benefits of regular meditation include anxiety reduction, relief from pain associated with chronic illnesses, and better sleep.
There are two foundational types of meditation – concentrative and mindfulness. From these two types sprout numerous other forms including transcendental meditation, awareness meditation, and vipassana meditation. Some forms are more advanced than others and may or may not require you to sit in the lotus style for hours on end.
If you are an amateur mediator it’s probably best to start out lightly and work your way up the levels of mediation to suit your comfort levels and, of course, lifestyle.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
While mediation deals with the mental side of stress, PMR addresses the physical side. Developed by American physician Edmund Jacobson, this technique aims to relieve the muscular tension that accompanies stress. Jacobson figured that the negative feelings of stress could be combated by learning how to relax and relieve muscular tensions.
It is not as difficult as it sounds. The basic premise is to alternately tense and relax your muscles in a concentrated and deliberate fashion. Deep breathing is also a key feature of this relaxation technique and you can practice in any quiet comfortable location, and by either sitting or laying down
Once in a comfortable position, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Then, begin at the top of your body and work your way down, tensing and releasing each muscle group as you go. So, for example, with the head area, you would squeeze your eyes tightly together, tense you jaw and lip muscles for several seconds, then release and breath and relax the muscles.
Move on to the shoulders, arms, back etc. If you don’t have a lot of time you can do one or two muscle groups at a time.
Yoga Tai Chi
Yoga and tai chi are both forms of movement meditation. Their health benefits and ability to alleviate stress is clear and conclusive. Yoga requires a little more effort than tai chi, but for most people, once they get the hang of it, yoga becomes a great way to combine exercise with stretching and stress-relieving meditation.
Tai chi is great for people of all ages. The slow, flowing body movements emphasize concentration and conscious circulation of energy throughout the body. Tai chi has its roots in martial arts, but today it is used as a non-competitive practice of calming the mind, reducing stress, and conditioning the body.
To begin with, you will probably benefit from a professional guide: an instructor at your local gym or a video. However, once you understand the basics you can begin practicing either of these techniques on your own.
Massage therapy really needs no introduction. Most people are aware of the relaxation and stress-relieving power of a professional massage. In fact, even a non-professional massage from a partner or a friend can do wonders for bringing down those stress levels. A massage can help to ease muscle tension, relieve pain, and alleviate insomnia.
If you thought you couldn’t get the benefits of massage because you don’t have the time or money to get regular professional massages, you would be wrong. Self-massage can also yield much of the same results, is free, and can be done at your convenience.
Of course, you can’t give yourself an all-over, full body massage, but you can easily massage your shoulder, face, and legs while sitting at your desk, relaxing on the couch, or in bed. Combine self-massage with deep breathing or meditation and you can truly rid your body of stress and enter an otherworldly state of relaxation.