If there’s one thing true of life, it’s that stress is free.
But thankfully, the antidote won’t cost you a penny, either. Yes, we’re talking about meditation, the health benefits of which are backed by some promising research.
The perks of meditation include helping to calm anxiety, lowering blood pressure, balancing gut flora, and positively influencing the immune system. All of this is fueled by the fact that meditation helps our stress response and, in turn, wards off the downstream effects of chronic or extreme stress.
Prolonged stress results in consistent waves of the stress hormone cortisol running through the body, with substances like cytokines, which can promote inflammation, following close behind. This constant stampede leaves damage in its wake, throwing off normal communication between our cells, and potentially shoving our hair follicles right out of their growth phase.
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Before you start
Choosing a calm, tranquil environment for meditation can be helpful to get you into a clear headspace. Find a quiet corner of your space or pop on some headphones and peaceful music. Incense or calming essential oils can also be helpful for getting your mind into a meditative mode.
But the beauty of meditation is that nothing fancy is needed to get started — and there’s no wrong way to do it. It’s all about finding a technique that works for you. Even washing the dishes can be turned into meditation.
The goal of meditation isn’t to clear your mind completely, but to avoid being pulled away from the present moment. So when something pops into your head, acknowledge the thought, resist the urge to attach an emotion to it, and allow it to drift away. This takes practice, so be patient with yourself. Having a mental mantra, such as “in, out” with the rhythm of your breath, can be helpful to pull you back into the moment.
Four Square Breathing Technique
- Get into a calming, still position and close your eyes.
- Start by taking a slow, deep inhale, counting silently in your head up to four.
- Now pause, counting again slowly up to four.
- Then allow yourself to slowly and deliberately exhale, counting again to four.
- Pause once more, allowing yourself to stay in this transition moment to a count of four.
- Start again with another inhale and repeat this process for a total of four rounds.
- Find a peaceful space where you can walk about 10 steps undisturbed.
- Stand at one end of your walking path with straight but relaxed posture and your arms in any comfortable position.
- Start by deliberately lifting one foot and moving it slightly forward at a distance that feels natural and easy.
- Allow this heel to touch the ground and slowly shift your weight onto it. Gradually push the weight of your body into the whole foot as it flattens to the ground.
- Gently lift the heel of your other foot off the ground until only your toes are in contact with the floor.
- Then lift that entire foot and move it slightly forward as you did with the first foot.
- Let your heel make contact with the ground first and gradually shift your weight onto this foot as it flattens.
- Continue with this cycle of mindful walking until you’ve reached the end of your path or have counted a total of 10 steps.
- When you’re ready, turn around and begin by lifting each foot in turn again. Continue for a set of five total journeys along your path.
Blue Sky Meditation
- Start in a seated position with your back straight and hands rested loosely on your lap.
- Close your eyes and begin with a few deep, intentional breaths.
- When you’re ready, allow your mind to visualize a clear blue sky.
- Hold on to this image, deepening its detail as you’d like. If it’s soothing, picture a warm breeze to accompany your calming sky.
- Now picture the sun. Imagine its warm, golden light pouring down on you.
- Associate these rays of sunshine with nourishment, health, and healing. Allow them to wash over you, evaporating your worries and fears. Focus on this healing, revitalizing light for as long as is useful.
- Whenever you’re ready, slowly allow yourself to come back in tune with your body, taking a few more calming breaths before gently opening your eyes.