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 method you can use to refocus your attention and calm your mind.
The goal of meditation 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. Less reaction results in physiologic changes that lower the concentration of the stress hormones in your blood. This can counteract the harmful effects of stress throughout the day.
Here are some other meditation benefits to keep in mind when you’re learning how to meditate.
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With Meditation, Focus Is Key
Most types of meditation start with focusing your attention on something that is always readily available to you — 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 your focus to observing sensations without judging yourself. Pulling your focus back in 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. You can get the same meditation benefits without blanking out your thoughts.
If you’re calming your mind and an intrusive thought enters, try the following tricks:
- Focus your attention on a saying — a word, sound, phrase, or affirmation. For example, you might try repeating the universal mantra “Om” out loud. Or, if you prefer to be silent, try repeating to yourself a phrase like, “I am enough” or “May I be happy.”
- Take a few minutes to focus on this neutral saying rather than on any bothersome thoughts.
- Understand that there’s nothing you can do about certain intrusive thoughts. Just forgive yourself for wandering and steer your thoughts back in.
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 will get better with practice.
Just like playing an instrument or a 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.
Learn Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
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.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
The UPMC Center for Integrative Medicine combines traditional medical practices with natural healing practices. We incorporate evidence-based therapies to complement traditional treatment. Services include acupuncture, massage therapy, reflexology, and yoga therapy. We aim to provide complete care of mind, body, and spirit.