Family Health How Meditation Helps Your Health By Center for Integrative Medicine, October 15, 2016 Meditation may bring to mind images of Buddhist monks or ancient yogis, but this practice is a proven way to ease stress and anxiety. Simply put, meditation is a practice that helps you refocus attention and calm the mind. The goal is to find a way to let go of disturbing thoughts that activate the stress pathways in your brain. Research suggests that regular meditation trains your mind to become less reactive to stress, resulting in physiologic changes that lower the concentration of the stress hormones in your blood and counteract the harmful effects of stress throughout the day. Here are some other points to keep in mind when you’re learning how to meditate. With Meditation Focus Is Key Most types of meditation start with focusing your attention on something that is readily available, like your breath. In mindfulness meditation, you typically start with a focus on breath and on awareness of physical sensations in your body. Your mind will wander, but simply return to observing sensations without judging yourself. This helps to build concentration and ease the mind and body. Your mind doesn’t have to go “blank” The idea that you must suppress all thoughts is a common meditation myth. Don’t get caught up in trying to make your mind go blank. When you’re trying to calm your mind and an intrusive thought enters, try the following tricks: Focus your attention on a word, phrase, or Take a few minutes to focus on this neutral event rather than any bothersome thoughts. Understand that there’s nothing you can do about certain disturbing thoughts — just try to let them go. Practice makes perfect when it comes to meditation It’s not easy to train your mind to be less reactive to stress, but your mind gets better with practice. Just like playing an instrument or sport, you must practice and repeat these stress-coping techniques to improve. The more you practice calming your mind, the easier and more effective it will become. Having trouble with stress or depression? Want to learn more about meditation? The UPMC Center for Integrative Medicine offers a mindfulness-based stress reduction course in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood. Learn more about the program, including details on enrolling, by visiting the center’s website.