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How to Meditate for Relaxation

Of all the ways to relax, probably the one that evokes the most suspicion is meditation. When you think of meditation, chances are you conjure up images of bearded gents in saffron robes sitting in the lotus position. You feel that this wouldn’t go over well at the office. It’s not surprising that you may be a wee bit leery about jumping in and joining the movement.

Yet, it’s likely that you have already meditated. You may not have been aware that you were doing so, but at those times when your mind becomes calm, uncluttered, and focused, and you’re not processing your day or thinking about a million things — you’re doing something that closely resembles meditating.

Meditation in the West

People in the East — especially those who subscribe to certain religious or philosophical beliefs — have been practicing meditation for literally thousands of years. These practitioners use meditation as a means to search for and find inner peace, enlightenment, and harmony with the universe.

Meditation has not received such ready acceptance in the western world, however. Westerners have tended to view meditation as foreign and remote, and sometimes as religious zealotry. In the ’60s, when the Maharishi — a then-popular guru — came along, westerners began to associate meditation with a somewhat wild fringe group of society.

Researchers have been aware of the positive effects of meditation for some time now. Herbert Benson, M.D., of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, was one of the first to adapt and introduce meditation to broader western audiences. Since then, the principles and practice of meditation have enjoyed widespread acceptance and enthusiasm in the West.

What meditation can do for stress

The benefits of meditation are wide and varied. You’ll notice many of those benefits immediately, but others are less obvious, affecting you in more subtle ways. Most importantly, meditation can help you relax your mind and body and turn off your inner thoughts. Meditating can help you feel less stressed; your body will be less tense, and your mind will be calmer.

With some practice, after meditating you should feel rested, renewed, and recharged. Meditation allows you to develop greater control over your thoughts, worries, and anxieties. It’s a skill that, once mastered, can serve you well throughout your life.

Meditation is harder than it looks

Meditating for a short period of time (like a minute) is pretty do-able. The challenge is being able to meditate for longer periods of time. Westerners in particular have some built-in resistance to meditating. You may share some of the following traits:

  • Westerners like to be busy: You probably like to be active and do things, rather than be passive and let things happen to you. Lengthy periods of immobility tend to elicit feelings of boredom and restlessness.

  • Westerners need scorecards: You may feel a need to evaluate yourself on how well you’re doing. If, after a brief period of practice, you find that you’re doing well, you may rate yourself — and your performance — accordingly. One of the keys to meditation is not rating yourself — good or bad.

None of this should discourage you or deter you from practicing your meditative skills. No, you won’t become an accomplished meditator in 12 minutes. However, you may be surprised at how quickly you begin to see positive results. Stick with it. The results are well worth it.

Preparing to meditate

Here is a step-by-step guide to preparing for meditation. Remember that there are many ways of meditating. These suggestions help you prepare for different types of meditation.

  1. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for a while.

    No telephone, no beeper, no TV — nothing.

  2. Find a comfortable sitting position, like the one shown in the figure.

    Contorting yourself into some yogi-like, snake-charmer squat (albeit impressive) may not be the best way to start meditating. Remember that you’re going to remain in one position for fifteen to twenty minutes.

    [Credit: Illustration by Pam Tanzey]
    Credit: Illustration by Pam Tanzey
  3. Focus on a sound, word, sensation, image, object, or thought.

  4. Maintain your focus and adopt a passive, accepting attitude.

    When you’re focusing in meditation, intrusive thoughts or images may enter your mind and distract you. When those thoughts occur, notice them, accept the fact that they’re there, and then let them go: No getting upset, no annoyance, no self-rebuke.

Try not to get hung up on the timing. Meditate for about fifteen or twenty minutes. If you want to meditate longer, fine. If you find you’re becoming uncomfortable, you can stop and try it again another time. Remember, this is a non-pressured, non-ego-involved exercise.

After you have everything in place, you’re ready to begin meditating. Although you have many forms of meditation to choose from, the most common ones are breath-counting meditation and meditation with a mantra.

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