As with our next tool (self-hypnosis), meditation has a popular image that can lead to it being dismissed as a less-than-serious stress management tool. This is a shame. Good research has been conducted into meditation that shows it is a useful and practical technique for managing stress.As with the next two tools, meditation is a good way of relaxing during, and at the end of, a stressful day. It is something you can learn to do yourself, or may be something you prefer to learn in classes.
Note on research:
Some of the key research on meditation was carrier out by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University. His book on this, “The Relaxation Response”, was published in 1968. In a series of experiments into various popular meditation techniques, Dr. Benson established that these techniques had a very real effect on reducing stress and controlling the fight-or-flight response. Direct effects included slowed heartbeat and breathing, reduced oxygen consumption and increased skin resistance.
Using the Tool:
The idea behind meditation is to consciously relax your body and focus your thoughts on one thing for a sustained period. This occupies your mind, diverting it from the problems that are causing you stress. It gives your body time to relax and recuperate, and to clear away stress hormones that may have built up.
There is nothing mystical about meditation. On the contrary, it is something that you can do quite easily by following these steps:
Sit quietly and comfortably.
Close your eyes.
Start by relaxing the muscles of your feet and work up your body relaxing muscles (a technique like Progressive Muscular Relaxation can be useful for this).
Focus your attention on your breathing.
Breathe in deeply and then let your breath out. Count your breaths, and say the number of the breath as you let it out (this gives you something to do with your mind, helping you to avoid distraction).
Do this for ten or twenty minutes.
Focusing on breathing and counting breaths is just one way you can occupy your mind during meditation. Other approaches are:
Focusing on an object:
Here, you completely focus attention on examination of an object. Look at it in immense detail for the entire meditation. Examine the shape, color differences, texture, temperature and movement of the object. Objects often used are flowers, candle flames or flowing designs, but you can use other objects equally effectively (for example alarm clocks, desk lamps or even coffee mugs!)
Focus on a sound:
Some people like to focus on sounds they make. The classic example is the Sanskrit word “Om”, meaning “perfection”. Whether or not this is practical depends on your lifestyle.
This can be a very refreshing and pleasant way of meditating. Here, you create a mental image of a pleasant and relaxing place in your mind. For more information, see our article on imagery.
Listening to Meditation Scripts:
You can access a useful library of meditation scripts by clicking here. Most of these are chargeable, however you can listen to the free (and beautiful) "Secret Garden" script by clicking here.
However you do it, it is important to keep your attention focused. If external thoughts or distractions wander into your mind, let them drift out.
Meditation is a useful and practical relaxation technique. To use it, sit in a comfortable place, close your eyes, relax your body, and focus your concentration on something for a period of time.
By meditating, you rest your body, allow stress hormones to subside, and occupy your mind so that unpleasant, stressful thoughts do not intrude.
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Read the next article in this series, and find out how to relax with Self-Hypnosis
Learn how physical techniques can help you relax
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