How To: Meditation for Stress Relief

Jennifer finds zen after Troy left her for Jim

Decreased stress, increased creativity, and improved focus. Those are just a few of benefits of meditation.

Researchers are only just beginning to discover why it works. In a 2009 study, scientists theorized that meditation changes pathways in the immune and neuroendocrine systems that are relevant to disease progression.

Put more simply, researchers think that meditation soothes our nerves for periods of time that extend way beyond the meditation sessions. Meditation appears to dampen the “fight or flight” instinct that’s often on overload during tense situations and replaces it with calming feelings of safety. Some research has indicated that meditation can literally change the way the brain works.

What is Meditation?

Meditation can take several forms, and most of them have nothing to do with the religious origins of the practice.

There’s transcendental, or directive meditation that involves repeating words, phrases, or sounds as mantras, combined with breathing to calm the mind.

There’s nondirective meditation that also incorporates breathing techniques but simply lets the mind wander. Researchers have found that this type of meditation activates the brain’s “resting network,” increasing activity in areas that process feelings, memories, and thoughts.

Mindfulness meditation, which has gained popularity across the country, is a form of nondirective meditation that involves sitting straight-backed and focusing on each breath. Soon, ideas and thoughts will bubble up. The idea is to examine the thoughts without criticism and learn something about yourself. The end result is seeing the world and yourself with greater clarity.

How Long Does It Take?

The great news for those who already are stressed about trying to fit one more thing into a chaotic schedule: the change doesn’t take long. The 2009 study involved 61 people who saw a difference after a six-week class.

The daily routine doesn’t take long either. Some doctors say that 20 minutes twice a day will help relieve problems such as insomnia and irritability, two byproducts of stress. Participants in other studies have averaged 27 minutes a day, and researchers have been told anecdotally that as little as 10 minutes helps.

How to Meditate

The great thing about meditation is that there’s no particular way to do it.

Though many mindfulness practitioners prefer the sitting position and the straight back, it’s not required. Some meditators will lie on their backs rather than sit. Some meditate with their eyes open, others with their eyes closed.

Inside or outside? It doesn’t matter. Complete silence or ambient noise such as neighborhood children or passing traffic? Either will work.

The key is finding a place that’s comfortable and where you won’t be disturbed or feel self-conscious. Some meditators also recommend creating a set schedule, particularly at first as you cultivate the new habit.

Though getting the hang of meditation does take a bit of time, research has shown that in as little as six weeks you’ll see benefits. It’s a habit that will serve you well, not only as you go through college, but as you travel through life.


Written by Ashford University staff

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