The Power of Meditation

Worry, anxiety, and stress can be more than distractions. Continually replaying in your mind daily problems and fears can affect your mental and physical health.

By controlling your attention as you meditate, you begin to feel more relaxed and at peace. And this peacefulness usually lasts far beyond the meditation itself, so that when stress appears hours later, you have the psychic resources to deflect it.

Meditation allows you to become more awake and more deliberate about your actions. It teaches you how to respond, rather than react, to situations in your life.

Although meditation sounds simple, it takes discipline to remain still in body and mind, blocking out the world around you and quieting your thoughts. You also need to practice at least 20 minutes a day to get the most out of your meditation.

Health care providers include meditation as part of the treatment for many conditions. Among some of the benefits of meditation are: lower blood pressure, decreased pain, improved function of the immune system, and improved mood and brain function.

There are a number of theories about how meditation may improve your physical and mental health. One hypothesis is that it reduces activity of the sympathetic nervous system, leading to a slower heart rate, lower blood pressure, slower breathing, and muscle relaxation.

Three categories

Meditation can be grouped into three categories:

  • Mindfulness. This zeroes in on your thoughts and images as they appear to you.

  • Concentrative. This focuses on your breathing, repeating a phrase or sound, or contemplating certain imagery.

  • Transcendental. This develops a balance of your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual sides.

For best results, try to meditate every day for 20 to 30 minutes.

Mindfulness meditation

In mindfulness meditation, you focus on an awareness of the present moment. You start with a single focal point, such as your breath, and then expand to include thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you meditate:

  • Find a quiet place with few distractions. Sit in a chair or on the floor.

  • Become aware of your breathing, focusing on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body as you breathe. Feel your belly rise and fall and the air enter your nostrils and leave your mouth.

  • Watch every thought come and go. When thoughts come up, don't suppress them, but simply note them and return to your breathing.

  • As the time comes to a close, sit for a minute or two, becoming aware of where you are. Get up gradually.

Moving meditation

Fitting an additional 20 to 30 minutes of meditation into your already busy day may be difficult. An alternative is to try a form of exercise that combines fitness with meditation. Yoga, for instance, focuses on breathing, movement, and posture to help you relax and control stress. Tai chi is a form of meditation that combines slow, gentle movements and deep breathing. Some people do a walking meditation; with this method, you slow down your walk so that you can focus on your steps and the movement of your legs and feet.