While there are many different meditations that are effective, each brings something unique, and some meditations may feel more comfortable for you than others. The meditations that feel right are the ones to try, as those are the ones you will continue to practice. The following are some of the most popular, effective, and enjoyable meditations try several and see what type of meditation works best for you. Then practice regularly and let your chosen meditations transform your life.
- Mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation is a mental training practice that involves focusing your mind on your experiences (like your own emotions, thoughts, and sensations) in the present moment. Mindfulness meditation can involve breathing practice, mental imagery, awareness of body and mind, and muscle and body relaxation.
Some people do it for 10 minutes, but even a few minutes every day can make a difference. Here is a basic technique for you to get started:
- Find a quiet and comfortable place. Sit in a chair or on the floor with your head, neck, and back straight but not stiff.
- Try to put aside all thoughts of the past and the future and stay in the present.
- Become aware of your breath, focusing on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body as you breathe. Feel your belly rise and fall, and the air enter your nostrils and leave your mouth. Pay attention to the way each breath changes and is different.
- Watch every thought come and go, whether it be a worry, fear, anxiety or hope. When thoughts come up in your mind, don’t ignore or suppress them but simply note them, remain calm and use your breathing as an anchor.
- If you find yourself getting carried away in your thoughts, observe where your mind went off to, without judging, and simply return to your breathing. Remember not to be hard on yourself if this happens.
- As the time comes to a close, sit for a minute or two, becoming aware of where you are. Get up gradually.
- Loving-kindness meditation
Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) is a popular self-care technique that can be used to boost well-being and reduce stress. Those who regularly practice loving-kindness meditation are able to increase their capacity for forgiveness, connection to others, self-acceptance, and more. The technique is easy to practice and can provide a sense of calm in minutes.
- How to Practice Loving Kindness Meditation?
There are different ways to practice this form of meditation, each based on different Buddhist traditions, but each variation uses the same core psychological operation.
The following is a simple and effective loving-kindness meditation technique to try.
- Carve out some quiet time for yourself (even a few minutes will work) and sit comfortably. Close your eyes, relax your muscles, and take a few deep breaths.
- Imagine yourself experiencing complete physical and emotional wellness and inner peace. Imagine feeling perfect love for yourself, thanking yourself for all that you are, knowing that you are just right—just as you are. Focus on this feeling of inner peace, and imagine that you are breathing out tension and breathing in feelings of love.
- Repeat three or four positive, reassuring phrases to yourself. These messages are examples, but you can also create your own:
- May I be happy
- May I be safe
- May I be healthy, peaceful, and strong
- May I give and receive appreciation today
- Bask in feelings of warmth and self-compassion for a few moments. If your attention drifts, gently redirect it back to these feelings of loving-kindness. Let these feelings envelop you.
- You can choose to either stay with this focus for the duration of your meditation or begin to shift your focus to loved ones in your life. Begin with someone who you are very close to, such as a spouse, a child, a parent, or a best friend. Feel your gratitude and love for them. Stay with that feeling. You may want to repeat the following phrases or similar ones that bring about feelings of loving-kindness within you:
- May you be healthy, peaceful, and strong
- May you give and receive appreciation today
- Once you’ve held these feelings toward that person, bring other important people from your life into your awareness, one by one, and envision them with perfect wellness and inner peace. Then branch out to other friends, family members, neighbors, and acquaintances. You may even want to include groups of people around the world. Extend feelings of loving-kindness to people around the globe and focus on a feeling of connection and compassion.
- When you feel that your meditation is complete, open your eyes. Remember that you can revisit the wonderful feelings you generated throughout the day. Internalize how loving-kindness meditation feels, and return to those feelings by shifting your focus and taking a few deep breaths.
- Music Meditation
Music has many wonderful benefits for stress management and overall health. It can help you calm your physiology without making a conscious effort, and that can alleviate stress from your mind. Music can also lift your mood, slow your breathing, and create other stress-inducing changes.
Meditation is also one of the most popular stress management strategies for good reason—it brings short-term benefits like a calm mind and body, and it can build resilience toward stress over time. Combining music with meditation can deepen the positive effects of both, and bring you greater stress relief. As an added bonus, for many people who are beginners to meditation, or who are perfectionists, music meditation can feel simpler and less stressful than many other forms of practice. Therefore, it’s a stress relief technique that I recommend to just about anyone. With regular practice, this meditation can help you to better manage whatever stress comes.
- Instructions for Music Mediation
Get into a comfortable position and relax. Many people think they need to sit with their legs crossed a certain way or use a meditation cushion, but really, whatever position you feel is comfortable is the position you should try. Some people avoid lying down because they fall asleep this way if they’re tired; you can experiment and decide what’s right for you. Once you’ve found your position, close your eyes, loosen your muscles, and breathe through your diaphragm. Let your shoulders, your belly, and even the muscles in your face relax.
Stay focused on the music. If you find yourself thinking about other things (or even thinking thoughts about the music), gently redirect your attention to the present moment, the sound of the music, and the feelings in your body that the music evokes. Try to really feel the music.
Continue this practice for several minutes, until your time runs out. As thoughts come into your head, gently let them go and redirect your attention to the sound of the music, the present moment, and the physical sensations you feel. The goal of this practice is to quiet your inner voice and just ‘be’. So just ‘be’ with the music, and fully immerse yourself, and you’ll feel more relaxed fairly quickly.
- Body Scan Meditation
When you’re feeling stressed, it’s common to “carry stress in your body” in the form of tense shoulders, a stomach “in knots,” through shallow breathing, or in other ways. When people carry stress in their bodies, they’re often not even aware of it! When we’re really stressed, we may be feeling physical discomfort but not connect it with our emotions. A body scan meditation is a practice that can be performed daily or even several times a day and can help you learn to identify what you are feeling and where you’re feeling it, and learn to release the stress in your body and mind.
Research shows that there are physical and psychological benefits of relaxing the body and relieving tension. Relieving physical tension, for example, has been shown to lead to a decrease in psychological stress, even when no psychologically-based stress relief efforts are made. Tension relieved in the body can lead to lower stress levels and lower reactivity to future stress, which can, in turn, lead to less physical tension as a result of stress.
- Get Comfortable
Sit in a comfortable place and fully relax your body. You don’t need to be lying down, but it helps, particularly if you’re doing a body scan meditation before you fall asleep. Try to get into a position that is comfortable enough for you to fully relax without becoming so comfortable that you may fall asleep if you’re not able to nap or sleep at the moment. Let your breathing slow down, and start breathing from your belly instead of from your chest, letting your abdomen expand and contract with each breath. If you find your shoulders rising and falling with each breath, focus more on breathing from your belly, as though a balloon is inflating and deflating in your abdomen with each breath. For more practice on this, try these breathing exercises.
- Notice Where Tension Lies
Starting with your head, bring your awareness to your body and notice any tension you’re feeling as you practice your body scan meditation. Do you feel a feeling of tightness in your shoulders, back, neck, or anywhere else? What about sensations of pain, either sharp, dull, or subtle? Do you have a feeling of concentrated ‘energy’ around a certain area? Sit with it for a minute and notice what you’re feeling in your body. You may want to start at the top of your head and systematically focus on each area of your body on your way down–scalp, ears, cheeks, neck, shoulders, chest, solar plexus, etc.–and really notice what sensations you have in each area. This becomes easier and more automatic with practice to the point where you’ll be able to do this with very little effort.
- Zero In On Tense Areas
If you notice any uncomfortable sensations, focus your attention on them. Breathe into them, and see what happens. Visualize the tension leaving your body through your breath and evaporating into the air. (Many people notice that the feeling becomes more intense first, and as they continue their body scan meditation and keep their focus, the feeling dissipates.) Keep your awareness on that feeling for a little while, just staying present. Give yourself a little massage in that area if you want to. Move on when you feel ready.
- Continue, and Breathe
After starting with your head, move down to your neck and beyond, and repeat these body scan meditation steps. Notice if there’s any tightness, pain or pressure, and continue the process. Breathe into the areas you notice, and stay with the feelings. Gently massage your neck if you wish. Let the energy relax and your muscles become slacker.
- Scan Your Entire Body
Continue this practice with each area of your body, moving from head to toe. Notice how you feel, where you’re holding your stress, and what sensations you’re experiencing as a result. Breathe, meditate, massage and relax. This can help you release tension in your body now, and be more aware of it in the future so you can release it then, too.
- Mindfulness Meditation
There are many, many mindfulness meditation techniques that can be effective for stress relief and relaxation. Really, any activity that you perform where you stay fully present, completely and non-judgmentally rooted ‘in the now’ can count as a mindfulness meditation technique and, when practiced regularly, can bring the benefits of meditation to your life.
One effective mindfulness meditation technique involves focusing mindfully on the sounds in your environment. While many people believe that a quiet environment is vital for a successful meditation session, it’s actually useful to have environmental sound when incorporating into your practice the mindfulness meditation technique of focusing on sound. In addition to using environmental sound as a focus for mindfulness meditation, music can be a useful focus as well and can bring additional benefits to music.
Physical sensations can provide another focus for mindfulness meditation techniques. Paying focused, non-judgmental attention to sensations you feel in your body, both from the inside and the outside, can provide a deep meditation experience, and can be useful in coping with emotional stress as well in some instances. Though this can be done anywhere, one mindfulness meditation that incorporates sensation is this bath meditation; give it a try.
One of the main hindrances that people experience when they are new to meditation is the inability to completely clear their mind. It’s often difficult to stop the steady stream of thought flowing in and out, and when people first sit down to meditate, their thoughts often get louder before they quiet down. That’s why it’s often best to label the thoughts that come to your mind, rather than engaging with them—this can make it easier to let them go. This, of course, can be done virtually anywhere and at any time, too.
Breathing is one of the few completely constant things in life. Regardless of what else is going on, there is always breath in, and breath out, and the repetition of these two activities. The awareness of this process has been used by countless people as an effective mindfulness meditation technique. The very act of being aware of one’s own breath can lead to ‘better’ breathing, which can lead to physical and emotional relaxation. The breathing meditation is a classic and often-used meditation for these reasons.
When stressed, people often instinctively use their sense of taste as a stress reliever—through mindless munching or satisfying sweets cravings that can be brought on by cortisol—but the sense of taste can be used in a healthy and effective way through mindfulness exercises. Using your taste buds to become immersed in the present moment is an enjoyable and simple way to explore mindfulness and relaxation, but this technique can also be useful in learning overall healthy eating-mindful eating has been used effectively by many people who are trying to stop overeating and really savor their food. Here’s a chocolate meditation you can try.
Each of these mindfulness meditation techniques can be used regularly for greater relaxation and stress relief, as well as for other benefits as well. The key is a regular practice.
- Meditate With Aromatherapy
There are many different ways to meditate, and as long as a meditation technique provides the opportunity to quiet the mind and relax the body, there are many benefits of meditation for health and stress relief. The following technique combines the benefits of aromatherapy with the simplicity of focused meditation to create an easy form of meditation even for those who are new to meditation or find the practice to be challenging. Practice this as regularly as you can, and you’ll feel less stressed in the present moment, and build resilience toward future stress.
Get into a comfortable position and light a stick of incense according to the directions.
As the trails of smoke curl and waft upwards, just focus on watching. Let yourself become immersed in the different paths and patterns the trail of smoke begins to take.
If other thoughts come into your head, gently bring your attention back to the trail of smoke left from the incense. Just stay in the present moment and enjoy the simple and elegant display.
Maintain this process for as long as you’re able to (taking into account the time you have available and your ability to focus). You may want to spend only five to ten minutes a few times a week at first, and as your ability to focus and remain present grows, lengthen your sessions and try the practice more often.
One stick of incense (I like Maroma’s lavender stick incense from Whole Foods.)
While the main idea of this meditation is to stay in the present moment, your thoughts will wander at first. As this happens, rather than being critical of yourself for losing focus, congratulate yourself for noticing that your thoughts have crept in, so you can again redirect your focus to the present.
According to many experts in aromatherapy, the best scents for relaxation are lavender (for calming properties), sage (for cleansing abilities), and peppermint (for mental focus), but you can use any scent that resonates with you.
Because the scent from stick incense is distributed via smoke, be careful not to get the trails of smoke too close to your face. If you are in a well-ventilated room, there should be no problem from the incense itself as long as you’re not directly inhaling its smoke.
If you have problems with burning incense (due to respiratory problems, for example), try a different type of meditation.
- Mantra Meditation
Mantra meditation is one of the simplest and easiest-to-learn meditation techniques. Like other forms of meditation, it can change your stress levels at the moment with a single session or can change the way you manage stress from now on with repeated practice. And it has the benefit of being simple to learn and customize to meet your specific needs for stress management.
With mantra meditation, you may feel less stressed after one session. With repeated practice, you may find yourself less reactive to future stress. Practicing mantra meditation is easy. Here’s how:
- Set aside a few minutes and get into a comfortable position.
At first, it’s best to have a quiet room, free of distractions. With repeated practice, you may find yourself able to practice mantra meditation anywhere and under more chaotic circumstances.
- Choose a mantra for meditation.
A mantra is a word or phrase that you repeat to yourself. It can be a more classically significant spiritual word like the Hindu, ‘Aum,’ (aka Om) or it can be a word or phrase like, ‘Calm’ or ‘I am at peace.’ The words or sounds you choose aren’t important as long as they are simple and comfortable for you to repeat.
- Close your eyes and repeat your mantra to yourself.
As you do so, try to focus only on the sound and feel of your mantra and nothing else. If you find other thoughts creeping into your head, thank yourself for noticing, and gently redirect your attention to your mantra.
- Continue for several minutes.
That’s it. Just continue to repeat your mantra and focus on the sound and the way it feels to make the sound. Redirect your attention away from distractions, and back to your mantra. You can start with 5- or 10-minute sessions and work up to 20 or 30; with mantra meditation, any practice time is better than none.
8.5 ‘5-Minute Meditation’
Surprisingly, many people don’t try meditation because they believe it’s difficult to practice or only effective with regular, lengthy sessions. Not true! Meditation can be practiced in many ways, so there is bound to be a collection of techniques that resonate with each individual, and with each person’s situation.
Just five minutes of meditation actually can bring quick stress relief. So if you only have five minutes for meditation, here’s how to make them count:
- Steps for a Quick Meditation
- Set aside time. Set a timer for five minutes, so you can relax and not worry about staying in meditation for ‘too long’, missing appointments. (If you have an iPhone, the Healing Music application can be used as a timer, though the regular timer that comes with most phones can also be useful.)
- Relax your body. Just close your eyes and relax. Take a few deep breaths from your diaphragm and release the tension in your body. Try to visualize the tension leaving your body from your head to your feet, either as imagining that the stress is literally draining from you through your toes, escaping your body with every breath, or simply melting away.
- Clear your mind. When you work on clearing your mind of thoughts, rather than focusing on ‘thinking of nothing’, focus on ‘being’, and when thoughts enter your mind, gently acknowledge them and let them go, returning your focus to the present moment again. If you focus on how well you are doing this, that becomes the focus. If you accept that constantly bringing your mind back to the present moment is the meditation, it will be much easier to keep your mind still.
- Keep going. Continue this for five minutes, and return to your day feeling more relaxed and refreshed. Simply focus on the sensations you are feeling in your body, focus on your breath, or focus on letting go. Try this meditation regularly, and you should feel less stressed overall.
For best results, try to fit in longer meditation sessions (like 20 minutes or more) a few times per week. Then, you will be more practiced with meditation in general, and these 5-minute sessions will have more of an impact when you need them!
Meditation is something everyone can do to improve their mental and emotional health. You can do it anywhere, without special equipment or memberships. There’s a great variety of styles too, each with different strengths and benefits. Trying out a style of mediation suited to your goals is a great way to improve your quality of life, even if you only have a few minutes to do it each day.