Meditation Techniques and Apps to Try
Meditation is the process of relaxing your body and training your mind to stay in the present moment. In short, mediation is the process of soothing your mind and body. While the most common association with meditation is someone sitting cross-legged on the floor and breathing with their eyes closed, meditation comes in a variety of forms.
Types of Meditation
Breath awareness is the most common meditative practice. This practice encourages awareness of breath and mindfulness—the only guideline is to focus on your breath. To do this practice, start by getting comfortable. You may be sitting in a chair, sitting cross-legged, or lying down. The goal is to be in a position that you can stay in for at least five minutes with little discomfort. Once you are comfortable, close your eyes and began breathing in and out through your nose. Focus on your breath. You may notice your thoughts start to wander to to-do lists, stressors, or daily events. If this happens, simply redirect your attention back to your breath. If may be helpful to focus on your breath by repeating the words “in and out” as you breathe or to pay attention to how the air feels coming in and out of your body.
It is recommended that those practicing breath awareness start with five minutes a day and increase the length of time from there. It is often helpful to set an alarm for five minutes so you can stay invested in the practice without the need to check the time.
Progressive relaxation is a meditation practice that is particularly effective for promoting sleep and easing bodily tension. To start progressive relaxation, it’s recommended to lie down (you can do this before bed!). From there, close your eyes and start at your toes. Imagine a wave washing over your toes, then your feet, and up towards your ankles. Progressively work your way up your body, imaging waves washing over each part of you until the waves wash over the top of your head. While doing this visualization, breathe deeply and relax each part of your body as the wave washes over it.
This practice can last as long as you need—or until you fall asleep.
Mantra or affirmation meditation
A mantra is a word without any set meaning—in meditation, the word om is often used. An affirmation is a phrase intended to reinforce positive traits or to promote growth. For this meditation, pick either a mantra or an affirmation to focus on. Once you have chosen your word or phrase, get into a comfortable seated position and close your eyes. Breathe deeply and repeat the word or phrase, either aloud or in your head. By focusing on the word or phrase, you train your mind to not wander and reinforce what you are repeating.
This practice can be done anywhere and is often helpful during stressful times with family or work. If you are uncomfortable closing your eyes in public, you can simply repeat your word or affirmation to yourself in your head until you experience stress or anxiety relief.
Loving-kindness meditation is intended to promote peaceful relationships and a sense of contentment. While there are a few different versions of loving-kindness meditation, we suggest starting simple. Think of three people: someone you love, someone you are neutral towards, and someone you are struggling with. From there, close your eyes and focus on the person you love. Imagine that person and repeat the following sentence (or a variation of it that suits you) in your head, “May you be safe, may you be healthy, may you be happy.” Repeat this sentence several times while focusing on your loved one. From there, do the same with the person you feel neutral towards. Eventually, imagine someone you are struggling with or not getting along with and repeat the meditative phrase while imagining them.
By wishing for the health and happiness of all beings around you, you can calm internal judgments and ease negative reactions to individuals. This meditation can be particularly helpful during relationship troubles or stressful interactions with others. It will ease your mind, promote a sense of community, and lower reactivity.
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is known for its positive effects, including reduced stress and more peaceful sleep. In the 1970s, Harvard researchers coined the term, “relaxation response.” This response followed meditation and reduced activity in the sympathetic nervous system, promoting ease and wellbeing. This response was able to turn off an individual’s fight or flight response and engage their parasympathetic nervous system instead. This activation of the parasympathetic nervous system has numerous benefits, including:
- Lower cortisol levels
- Decreased anxiety
- Positive emotional health
- Increased self-awareness
- Longer attention span
- Improved sleep
- Lower blood pressure
- An overall sense of wellbeing
Meditation Apps to Try
If sitting alone in silence and meditating is not for you, that’s okay! The rise of technology brought mediation apps intended to help individuals who need a little extra support on their meditation journey.
Headspace’s mission is to improve the health and happiness of the world and with millions of users, they are well on their way. Headspace offers quality guided meditations for a variety of concerns and is user-friendly. With hundreds of guided meditations ranging in length, individuals can easily find a guided meditation to fit into their day.
Stop, Breathe & Think
Stop, Breathe & Think is a free app with over 50 guided meditations. In addition to the variety of meditations, you can also track your meditation process and customize chimes and sounds to your taste. The app is designed to have users stop to think about how they are feeling, to meditate, and lastly, to reflect upon how they feel post-mediation.
10% Happier is meditation for “fidgety skeptics.” 10% Happier offers video courses about meditation along with a variety of guided meditations. In addition to offering new content every week, 10% Happier is designed to be easy to use and easy to apply.
The Breathing App
The Breathing App is designed to use the breath to decrease anxiety and promote calm. This app allows you to set a timer for how long you want to work on your breathing and what ratio you want to breathe at. After choosing how long you want to breathe and how long you want each breath to be, you start the session. Calming music plays and you watch a white ball inflate as you breathe in and deflate as you breathe out. By calming and lengthening the breath, blood pressure and cortisol levels decrease and are replaced by a feeling of calm and relaxation.
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