Scientists are starting to study the physical and mental health benefits of meditation practices more closely. Along with other healthy lifestyle practices, meditation may reduce blood pressure, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression, and insomnia, with practically no side effects.
The best part about meditation: it’s free and you can do it almost anywhere, at anytime! It sounds simple, but it’s called a “practice” for a reason. If you’ve ever tried to sit alone with your thoughts, without judging or chasing them, you know that it’s anything but easy. Below are some of the most common techniques for wrangling your brain. Try them out for 1-5 minutes at a time, and build from there.
- Basic Breath meditation:
- Sit upright in a comfortable, supportive position with your hands in your lap or on your knees.
- Close or soften your eyes.
- Bring your attention to your breath moving in and out. Do not manipulate or deepen your breath, just pay attention to it.
- If a thought enters your mind, label it as “thinking” but don’t hold on to it. Let it go. (It will be there later, I promise ;)
- Chanting: Follow steps 1 and 2 above, but instead of focusing on the breath, repeat a mantra quietly or in your mind. A good go-to is “So Hum,” which roughly means “I am that” in Sanskrit.
- Guided: If you can’t get your mind quiet, call in some help! There are tons of free guided meditations on YouTube and many yoga studios offer group options. Having a guide can keep you focused and help build up your mindfulness muscle.
- Ask Alison Bonus: Balloons! When a million thoughts are running marathons in my brain, I use the balloon technique. It’s whimsical and it works. Even my kids can do it! When an icky or nagging thought bubbles up, I pretend I'm writing it down and putting into a helium balloon. Once it is safe inside, I release the colorful balloon into the sky. I repeat as many times as needed until the thoughts slow down or cease completely.
Roger Walsh & Shauna L. Shapiro (2006). "The meeting of meditative disciplines and western psychology: A mutually enriching dialogue". American Psychologist. American Psychological Association. 61(3): 227–239. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.61.3.227. PMID 16594839.