Stress will come and go, from overstuffed schedules to ambitious hopes for your future. Yet how you handle the challenges can mean the difference between emotional chaos and clarity. But relax: Recent research suggests that calming yourself, redirecting frustration, and viewing life from the brighter side are habits you can practice. In other words, we can all learn to live happier lives every day.
Trending relaxation techniques are more than just hype. Far from its roots in the Indus Valley in 5,000 B.C., meditation has become “mental housekeeping” for everyone from yogis to busy parents and executives alike. The research is there: Studies show deep breathing and clearing the mind can reduce stress, obsessive thinking, and anxiety and improve memory and slow aging of the brain. Plus, it promises to increase your efficiency and ability to multitask, as well as brighten your day on the spot. Find your favorite form of this stress-melting practice to get more out of life.
WHAT IS IT?
The gist of meditation is the practice of sitting in a cross-legged or seated position, breathing deeply, and allowing your body and mind to relax. However, it comes in countless forms the world over—from well-known ones like Zen and Transcendental Meditation (made famous by the Beatles) to others like Mindfulness Meditation, or even yoga, which is often viewed as a moving meditation.
According to the Institute of Noetic Sciences, there are four om-filled umbrellas: concentrative meditation (returning your focus as it drifts to a single object, sound, image, or breath), open awareness (being present and aware of whatever happens in and around you), mindfulness (a combo of concentration and open awareness that can even extend to everyday tasks like eating, driving, or housework), and guided meditation (any form of meditation that can be guided by a teacher or audio recording that elicits certain imagery). “Meditation is personal, and it’s important for people to find a practice that is comfortable for them. Luckily, there are so many types,” says Krystal L. Culler, M.A., a certified brain-health gerontologist and the Nathan and Lenore Oscar Endowed Director of the Center 4 Brain Health, in Beachwood, OH.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Taking time out of your day for deep breathing, concentrating, and visualizing “impacts our frontal lobes, which are responsible for higher-order thinking processes, such as problem solving, memory, language, judgment, and impulse control. Many of the positive effects of meditation practice can be attributed to function in the limbic system, or emotional, area of our brains,” says Culler. It also affects the brain’s neurotransmitters, including serotonin (happiness), cortisol (stress), GABA (calm), endorphins (feel good), and melatonin (sleep).
5 SIMPLE STEPS
1) Set aside time daily
Start by trying to set aside 10 minutes a day, which you can split into two segments: five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night. The amount of time is not as important as simply doing it regularly. You can sit in a chair or lie down, whichever feels most comfortable.
2) Use a mellow-out mantra
Maybe you want to use a mantra. Try one of personal affirmation like “I am loved” or “I am at peace” or a more popular mantra like “om” to focus on while you meditate. Just repeat your mantra on both the inhale and exhale
3) Focus on your breath
Your breath is the most important tool and is also important for stress reduction. Try using four counts on your inhale and eight counts on your exhale. Your breath should not be forced or strained in any way, so don’t be concerned if it takes you some time to work up to eight counts.
4) Don’t worry about your mind wandering
It’s completely normal for the mind to wander while you’re meditating. So when you notice this happening, simply bring your attention back to your breath.
5) Try guided meditation
You may be one of the many people who prefer to meditate when someone else guides you on the meditation journey. The Mentors Channel provides a host of guided meditations and resources for those who prefer it, or see Hers’ top app picks below.
Sometimes you need a little sound cue to help you cool your jets.
Try listening to meditative music, or, more specifically, the sound of Tibetan singing bowls. It’s a low-cost prompt to find your bliss that’s backed by research showing the sound can boost mood and enhance feelings of connectedness.
For a more communal experience, look for a “sound bath” in your area. “This type of meditation offers a ‘body massage’ through sound vibrations that participants are able to feel,” Culler says. Picture yourself in a room with great acoustics, either sitting cross-legged or lying on your back, while a sound- bath musician gently plays one or many Tibetan singing bowls and bells as you breath, meditate, and/or relax into sleep. “The vibrations alter alpha brain waves that promote deep relaxation,” Culler says. “Participants may experience increased focus and awareness, enhanced sleep, and inner peace.”
SING IN A CHOIR—OR GIRL BAND!
Research from the University of Oxford, in the United Kingdom, shows heart rates can sync up during group singing, which may explain why singing together sometimes feels like a guided group meditation. Belting a tune with the choir has also shown noticeable reductions in the stress hormone cortisol, and limited studies show that hormone levels of oxytocin, which helps you feel more bonded to others, can rise during group singing. Plus, singing may help lessen depression.
GET APPS FOR THAT
Setting aside the fact that your constant connectivity may be to blame for the bulk of your stress, research shows there are mood-elevating effects of using one of the plethora of apps and videos available today to guide you through meditation on your handheld devices, according to Frontiers in Psychology. Cute, bright graphics; user-friendly interfaces; calming scenes; friendly challenges; instant communities (even Russell Simmons has a meditation app); and reams of guided meditations in a single online space mean you can finally get some peace from your phone! Here are a few of our favorite tension tamers (pictured above from left to right):
We love the access to more than 2,000 free guided meditations, music, and more from teachers all over the world, plus instant community. (Free: iOS, Android)
Includes a simple timer, plenty of free guided meditations, community sharing if desired. (Free: iOS, Android; five-, seven-, 14-, 21-day challenges for a fee)
Guided breathing and meditation, nature scenes and sounds. (Free seven-day program and breathing guide: iOS, Android)
Meditation for those who don’t want the spiritual aspects but instead want a gym for the mind. (Free 10-day program: iOS, Android)
More than 200 guided meditations and courses by diverse teachers, plus help for sleep and confidence boosting.
BY CAT PERRY