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Introduction to Meditation

Meditation has a long history in the religious practices of Budhism and Hinduism, but has only recently achieved widespread adoption in the West as a way to invoke the body's natural relaxation response. Meditation also is a powerful stress reliever that can be harnessed to help achieve a state of relaxation, and to control stress in your life.

Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation is particularly effective at relieving stress, anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions. The goal of mindfulness meditation is to experience and focus on the present, without concerning yourself about the past or future consequences. You engage in the present without analyzing the experience, by concentrating on your thoughts, emotions, sensations, and your surroundings. The challenge is not to be bored and allow your mind to wander, and not to be distracted by any one of the sensations or thoughts you experience.

Over time, you should become aware of your emotions without reacting to them. Mindfulness techniques include:

  • Body scan
  • Waling meditation
  • Mindful eating

You can use mindfulness meditation in the middle of a hectic day, for example, while sitting at a traffic light. Many people find it best to devote a regular time to this meditation, and adopt a traditional meditation pose in a quiet room free of distractions.

Transcendental meditation

In transcendental meditation, the practitioner sits in a meditation pose, closes the eyes, and repeats a mantra silently. A verbal mantra is a word or phrase that means something to you that represents a goal that you will attain, and that you can repeat over and over again. It should be a positive affirmation of a state that you wish to be true.

The classic mantra is "OM" , but you can also choose another word for your mantra - such as "calm", "peace", or "love." Some people choose more focused goals for their mantra, such as "the promotion is mine" or "I have a strong and faithful marriage"

Guided imagery

This is a form of meditation in which you imagine a peaceful scene where you have let go of all your anxiety and stress. You should pick a scene that is based on your experience and that is memorable to you. Examples might include lying on a beach in the tropics, resting in an alpine meadow after a hike, sitting in a quiet glen in the forest, or resting by a waterfall.

Close your eyes and imagine being in this scene. Look in your mind at all the details of the scene to make it real. Visualize the sights, the sounds, and all your sensations as you re-experience being there.

Another approach to guided imagery is to follow a guided meditation script. These are available as audio recordings on CD, or you could make your own recording from a script you write for yourself.

Repetitive prayer

For those who are religious, repeating a prayer over and over can induce a relaxation response. Whether it is repeating "The Lord is my shepherd" or "Peace" or "shalom" or the rosary, as long as the prayer is meaningful to you, it will have the desired effect.

A beginners' meditation technique

To get started with meditation, try the following technique

* Sit comfortably
* Let your hands go loose with the palms up, one on top of the other, with your thumbs touching
* Keep your head upright. You may close your eyes if you wish. If they are open, focus on something nearby, or your hands
* Count slowly to ten as you exhale, then breathe in naturally
* Repeat this breathing exercise at a slow and natural pace, for 10-15 minutes

The length of time may vary according to your personality and style. But if you want to achieve benefits, it is important that you find time at least once each day for meditation.

Learning more about meditation

It may be quite helpful to have a guide, or a guru, to help you get started with your daily practice of meditation, but it is not required. There are countless books on the topic, so feel free to explore the many methods and techniques of meditation to find what works best for you.