How to Practice Basic Meditation for Stress Management
Meditation has many health benefits and is a highly effective way to relieve stress and maintain a healthier lifestyle.1 With practice, meditation becomes both more of an easy habit to maintain and more of an effective one as well, given that it builds resilience to stress over time. Putting in the effort to learn and practice meditation can actually transform your experience of stress in your life.
There are many different ways to meditate, and this technique is one of the most basic. With practice, you can use this technique to feel inner peace whenever you need it.
How to Begin a Basic Meditation Practice
Step 1: Get Into a Comfortable Position
Choose where and how you’ll sit. Many people like to sit in a comfortable chair while others prefer to sit cross-legged on the ground. You want to be able to completely relax while still staying awake.
Ensure that your posture is correct. It is easier to stay awake through long meditations if your back is straight. If you begin your meditation practice with this in mind, your body will become used to the position as you move on to longer periods of time.
Tip: Should you feel your shoulders slump while meditating, simply straighten back up. A straight back will also prevent soreness during longer meditations.
If you choose to sit in a chair, sit toward the front of the seat and place your feet firmly on the floor. This will improve your posture and help you concentrate on your practice.
Step 2: Close Your Eyes Gently
When you are in a comfortable position, look into the distance with a soft gaze, then slowly lower your lids. Keep your jaw slack and slightly open as well. You want to relax all of your facial muscles.
Tip: Do not squeeze your eyes tight. If you feel your face tighten, slowly open your eyes, refocus on that soft gaze and lower them again.
At this stage, your goal is to relax every part of your body. If you feel some tension in certain parts of your body, take a deep breath and allow it to relax you.
Step 3: Put Thoughts Aside
While you can’t control your thoughts, you can control how much power they have over you. This doesn’t mean you should ignore or suppress them, but simply remain calm, note them, and then use your breathing to bring you back to the moment. Learning to do this during your meditation practice can help you to let things go in the rest of your life as well.
Tip: If you get carried away in your thoughts, don’t be hard on yourself. Take a moment, without judgement, to observe where your mind went off to and then return to your breathing.
Step 4: Keep Going
That’s it, really! Keep putting aside any thoughts that may pop into your mind. The quiet spaces between thoughts will become longer and more frequent the longer you practice.
Physiologically speaking, stress triggers the autonomic nervous system, leading to a spike in the release of epinephrine and cortisol — the “stress hormones.” Too much epinephrine can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes); too much cortisol can affect our health in numerous ways— increasing blood sugar levels, suppressing the immune system, and constricting blood vessels.
When these hormones are released into the bloodstream, the liver produces more glucose, which is what provides the energy to activate our fight-or-flight mechanism. Consequently, we are hardwired to spring into reaction mode each time this happens, causing an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol levels, all of which disrupts our immune system, energy levels, and sleep. Too much epinephrine can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes); too much cortisol can increase blood sugar levels and and constrict blood vessels.
Everyone’s experience of stress is, of course, different. The extent of our stress largely depends on the demands placed on us and the responsibility we shoulder, and each of us should be familiar with how stress affects us, whether it’s tension in the muscles, tightness in the chest, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, nausea, or dizziness to name a few of the symptoms.
Meditation, Stress, and Your Health
Meditation is a simple technique that, if practiced for as few as 10 minutes each day, can help you control stress, decrease anxiety, improve cardiovascular health, and achieve a greater capacity for relaxation.
Although meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, the meditative technique called the “relaxation response” was pioneered in the U.S. by Harvard doctor Herbert Benson in the 1970s. The technique has gained acceptance by physicians and therapists worldwide as a means of relieving symptoms of conditions ranging from cancer to AIDS.
When our bodies are exposed to a sudden stress or threat, we respond with a characteristic “fight or flight” response. The ”adrenaline rush” we experience is a result of the release of the hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and nor epinephrine. They cause an increase in blood pressure and pulse rate, faster breathing, and increased blood flow to the muscles