Most of us lead busy, fast-paced lives. We have too much to do and too little time, and may be dealing with career pressures, family difficulties, or financial problems on top of everything else. Doctors have known for some time that there is a direct link between stress and a variety of health problems including headaches, stomach problems, heart problems, skin conditions, and high blood pressure, as well as depression and anxiety. While we can't eliminate all stress from our lives, we can take steps to reduce its effects, and meditation is a wonderful way for you to calm down and regain your balance.
Meditation has been used for centuries as a way for people to reflect, relax and connect with their inner selves, but it is not some mysterious ancient art that requires years of study. At some time in your life, you have probably experienced a meditative state, a feeling of peace and serenity, simply by walking through the woods, or enjoying a beautiful piece of music. With just a little practice, you can achieve that peaceful state whenever you wish, and feel refreshed and ready to take on life's challenges.
Try to Meditate Daily
Pick a time that works for you. If you have children, wait until they are in school or napping. Many people meditate in the morning as a relaxing way to start the day, while others like to meditate before bed. The time of day is not important, nor is the amount of time you spend meditating. Twenty to thirty minutes is good, but even if you can only spare 5 or 10 minutes you will still benefit from it.
Choose a quiet place with few distractions. If you like, you can light incense or a scented candle, but it isn't necessary. Some people find it helpful to listen to relaxing music or nature sounds while meditating; others prefer complete silence. You can sit cross-legged on the floor, or sit in a chair with your back supported. The important thing is that you are comfortable. Place one hand on each thigh, or cup your right hand under your left in your lap. You do not have to stay still to meditate! It's ok to move or scratch an itch! Don't feel that you have to shut out the world completely to get the benefits of meditation. If the phone rings, or there is some other brief interruption, just take care of it, then go back to meditating.
Keep your spine straight, but not stiff, as this allows you to breathe deeply. Breathing deeply helps you to relax and concentrate because more oxygen is getting into the bloodstream. And deep breathing actually slows your heart rate. When you have found a comfortable position, begin focusing on breathing deeply. Follow each breath as it enters your nose, goes down into your lungs, and then out your nose again. Feel it on your upper lip as you exhale. Breathe in to the count of 4, and exhale to the count of 4. Feel the muscles in your body beginning to relax.
Don't be concerned if you find it difficult to relax in the beginning. Trying too hard to relax can be stressful in itself! You may find yourself thinking about work, or all the things you need to take care of that day. If so, just acknowledge the thoughts that come into your head, but then let them go and focus again on your breathing. You may also want to start with shorter periods of meditation and work up to longer sessions.
Visualization is a great tool to help you relax. Imagine yourself in a place that you find peaceful, for example, the beach. Think about the sounds you would hear there: the cries of the seagulls, and the sound of the waves on the shore. Imagine how the sun feels on your skin, and the smell of the salt air. You might choose to visualize being in the woods, or in the mountains. Whatever you choose, imagine every detail as if you are actually there.
Meditation is only one of the ways to reduce the stress in our lives. Eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep and exercise are also very important. Take a look at your lifestyle and decide whether you need to make other changes, but try meditation, too. It is a great way to relax and reduce the negative effects of stress, and you will feel the difference immediately.
Louann Vertrees is an entrepreneur and freelance proofreader and editor. She has also worked as an English teacher and counselor, and holds a Master's degree in Educational Psychology. Among her many interests are Eastern philosophy and holistic health care and disease prevention. Visit her website at http://azproofreader.com