Last updated on October 8th, 2019 at 06:22 pm
Meditation was developed at a time when stress was nowhere near the epidemic it is today. Yet, it’s one of the most effective ways to deal with stress because it trains the mind to better handle our reaction to stressors.
With the medical establishment urgently looking for solutions to combat stress, meditation has become a hot topic for researchers in recent years who have produced a growing body of evidence pointing to meditation’s many health and well-being benefits (though there are of course some contrary opinions).
Although techniques to relax and reduce stress can be incredibly helpful, meditation was developed for purposes greater than solving a specific problem. Though some newer forms of meditation may transmit all the original intentions of meditation, with the emphasis on the readily available benefits, it’s easy to miss the larger picture. For that reason, it’s a good idea to meditate for whatever reasons you find important but to keep an open mind to what meditation is really about.
The following list includes seven meditation methods that also double as effective stress relieving activities, all of which are suitable for beginners and are open to people of any religion or no religion at all. Most of these can be readily found around the world.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
Given the name it sets up quite the expectation, and according to the many studies done on it, it pretty much manages to live up to the expectations. Started by Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn at the University of Massachusetts in 1979, the majority of the tens of thousands of MBSR participants report the following benefits after doing a course: improved ability to relax and deal with stressful situations, reduction in pain, improved self-esteem and increased energy.
MBSR is typically taught as 8-week courses (one 2.5 hour class per week and one full day) though there are also intensive and online options. Courses consist of guided mindfulness meditation exercises, individual instruction, mindful yoga and stretching, group discussion and home assignments. Look for courses at your local health centre, hospital or clinic or click the link below to find a course near you.
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Not as specific as MBSR for the purposes of reducing stress and relaxing, but it has the same effect. Based on the teachings of the Buddha, Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh developed this easy-to-learn practice for people of all religions and walks of life. This approach is towards meditation in everyday life, by developing practices such as mindful walking and mindful eating.
There are community groups, called sanghas, all over the world that typically meet on a weekly basis for a couple of hours. In these sessions, sangha members do a variety of mindfulness practices, such as silent sitting meditation, guided meditation, walking meditation, readings of Buddhist teachings and group discussion. There are also retreats, ranging from one day (Day of Mindfulness) to weeks long. Thich Nhat Hanh and other Dharma teachers lead the retreats.
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For those who are more body inclined this is right up there with yoga because it’s all about observing the interconnection between mind and body. Rediscovered by the Buddha 2,500 years ago, Vipassana has a long history and has become quite popular since many clearly see the benefits it brings to health and well-being, and ultimately, realizing Vipassana, which means to “see things as they really are.”
Vipassana is generally taught as 10-day silent retreats (though there are shorter ones). With the intense nature of these retreats it’s recommended for those who are intent on doing hard, serious work, as the courses involve many hours of sitting meditation every day. Vipassana is an ancient tradition so is not restricted to any one organization. The links listed below are for Vipassana as taught by S.N. Goenka since they have meditation centres worldwide.
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Transcendental meditation (TM)
With over 350 studies to date, TM is one of the most widely studied forms of meditation and one of the most widely practiced, making it a good choice for the skeptic. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, “The TM® technique is twice as effective for stress and anxiety as other techniques,” and has a bunch of other benefits as well. TM is a mantra meditation that produces a state of restful alertness and is practiced in 20-minute sessions, twice a day.
Founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the mid-50s in India, Transcendental Meditation has since spread, with practitioners, meditation centres and teachers all over the world. There is a significant cost to sign up to this course, though their website states: “Our goal is to make the TM technique available to everyone. Each local TM Center offers a payment plan (above), as well as grants and scholarships for those facing financial hardship.”
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Yoga is highly misunderstood as it’s a complete path and way of living in itself. Though it’s become associated with the postures (asanas), these are just one out of the eight limbs of the yogic path. There are various kinds of meditation in Yoga, but for those who are more connected to their bodies, asana can make for a great stress-busting meditation (read this report), particularly when poses are held for a long time and done slowly and consciously (though dynamic practices like Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga Yoga can also be a good form of moving meditation).
Yoga studios are popping up on almost every block nowadays. Add to that Yoga festivals, Yoga camps and Yoga conferences and it seems like Yoga is never too far away. Some Yoga teachers also do house calls to make it even more convenient to get in your regular practice. Do an Internet search on Yoga + your city to find a studio near you.
A form of call-and-response chanting of mantras and hymns, kirtan is best suited to those who connect through their heart as it’s a devotional practice (though it doesn’t require following any particular religion or believing in deities). For those who can connect in this way, it’s the kind of practice that can produce a blissful state, making it effective at releasing stress. A particular form of kirtan, Kirtan kriya, was found in this study to effectively reduce stress levels for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia when practiced for just 12 minutes a day.
Kirtan has been gaining in popularity in recent years so it’s possible to join groups in most major cities. Ask around or do a search for kirtan at your local yoga studio, Hindu temple or Sikh gurdwara. There are also sacred music festivals focused on kirtan like Bhakti Fest.
When starting something new it’s nice to have a guide. Though meditation is inherently an internal practice a lot can be gained by having a track set out for you in a guided meditation. Whether it is via live teacher or an audio recording, guided meditations are great for those new to meditation because there’s a voice guiding you along that helps keep your concentration intact.
Plenty of audio files can be found online and with so many to choose from, you can find ones that are specifically geared towards reducing stress. Guided meditations can also be found for the aforementioned meditation practices either through the links listed or through separate websites.
Have you used any meditation methods that have really helped you relax and deal with stress? If so, add them below along with any other comments.