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Mindful Meditation Practices for Stress Reduction

Mindful Meditation Practices for Stress Reduction

There are many well-known remedies for stress relief, with one of the most accessible options being mindful meditation.聽

When you think of meditation, the first image that might come to mind is of a serene, cross-legged Buddhist monk living in a remote temple. While meditation did begin as a religious practice in ancient India and China, it鈥檚 proven to be a powerful stress-relieving tool for anyone who needs it.

Unlike other stress relievers, mindful meditation can be practiced anywhere, at any time. Learn how to practice mindfulness meditation in a way that fits your lifestyle, and discover why scientists and meditators alike are singing its praises.聽

Understanding mindful meditation

Definition and core principles

So what is mindfulness meditation?聽

It鈥檚 actually quite simple: it鈥檚 the intentional mindfulness practice of bringing awareness to your senses and surroundings, without reaction or judgment. Everyone is capable of practicing mindfulness, but by meditating regularly, it becomes more second nature.

Mindful meditations can be practiced in many different ways, but these key principles remain the same:

  1. Exploration of the present moment
  2. Self-awareness
  3. Non-judgemental observation

Mindfulness meditation practice is not about forcing your mind to be blank, or to only think positive thoughts. Mindfulness practice teaches you to approach thoughts neutrally, with gentle kindness. The goal is to do nothing but observe as your thoughts come and go, like a bystander.

Science behind mindful meditation聽

If practicing mindfulness is just about being more aware, does it really have the power to treat serious conditions like acute or chronic stress? The short answer? Yes.

Recent studies have shown that a consistent mindfulness meditation practice can change the way your brain thinks by enhancing your attention. Not only do mindfulness exercises help you process more sensory information, they help you direct your focus on important tasks and avoid distractions.聽

In addition to boosting productivity and managing stress, mindful meditation has been used to effectively treat a swath of mental health conditions, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic pain
  • Addiction

There are two main types of mindful meditation used specifically for treating these conditions:

  1. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)
  2. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)

Both are therapeutic interventions that are supervised by instructors and therapists. While some recommend mindfulness beginners attend MBSR group classes to develop the habit of meditating, you can start practicing mindful meditation right now. Literally.

Getting started with mindful meditation聽

Creating a quiet space

The first step to any mindful meditation practice is to find a space where you feel safe and comfortable to be alone with your thoughts for a few minutes.聽

One of the benefits of mindfulness is that it helps you ignore distractions, but when you鈥檙e first learning how to meditate, it鈥檚 best to eliminate as many distractions as possible.聽

Your space doesn鈥檛 have to look a certain way: plush cushions, zen gardens, burning incense, etc. If that鈥檚 what helps you get in the meditative zone, go for it, but you can choose any seat in any room you find most comfortable:

  • A yoga mat in your living room
  • A supportive chair at your desk
  • Lying down on your bed

If you need a little extra help quieting your mind, try playing some relaxing music or white noise.聽

Basic mindful meditation techniques

With any type of mindful meditation practice, everything comes back to your breath. Your breathing is what centers you while you spread your awareness and observe your inner thoughts and emotions.聽

Deep breathing, though it may feel unnatural, is essential to lowering stress and anxiety. It allows your lungs to fill fully, taking in more oxygen which will help reduce your heart rate and blood pressure.

Mindful meditation can be as simple as counting your breaths. But if you need more structure to feel present, here鈥檚 an easy guided meditation you can try called a full body scan:

  1. Lie on your back with your legs outstretched, or find a comfortable seat with your feet on the floor.聽
  2. Draw awareness to your feet and notice any physical sensations there without trying to interpret or judge what you feel.聽
  3. After a moment, draw your attention up to your ankles and continue to notice any physical sensations.聽
  4. Continue this process of observation until you reach the crown of your head. If you feel like it, start again, this time starting from your head and moving downwards.聽

If you still feel like you need a little more guidance, look for a meditation class near you, or explore the many guided meditation videos available online.聽

Integrating mindful meditation into daily life

Mindful breathing exercises

How many different ways are there to breathe deeply?

In the world of mindful meditation, there are quite a few. Here are two breathing exercises you can try while you meditate:

  • Box breathing 鈥 Also called square breathing or 4x4 breathing, all you need for this exercise is the ability to count to four. Breathe in for four beats, hold at the top for four, breathe out for four, and hold at the bottom for four. Box breathing lowers stress by resetting your body鈥檚 fight or flight response. Watch Dr. Dave explain how he uses the Apollo wearable in conjunction with box breathing.
  • Belly breathing 鈥 Belly breathing is a great way to activate your diaphragm and get more air into your lungs. Most people tend to breathe shallowly into their chest, and that shortness of breath increases feelings of stress and anxiety. To make sure you鈥檙e expanding your diaphragm fully, rest your left hand on your chest and your right hand on your stomach. Work on keeping your left hand still while using your breath to raise your right.聽

The great thing about mindful breathing exercises is that you can do them whenever you want, even when you鈥檙e in public. This makes it an accessible and discrete way to manage daily stress.聽聽

Make deep breathing a daily practice by incorporating it into your morning or evening routines. Even a few minutes of deep breathing a day will make a difference.

Mindful walking and movement

Being mindful is anything but stationary. Your chest rises and falls with your breath, your heart beats steadily.聽

But if you鈥檙e itching for more movement, you can combine mindful meditation with physical activity. This practice can make you more aware and accepting of your body and how it moves.聽

Let鈥檚 start with mindful walking:

  1. Find a space where you can walk freely for a dozen or more paces.
  2. Relax your arms at your sides, or clasp your hands together to avoid swinging your arms.聽
  3. Take a step forward, noticing how you feel as your foot leaves and returns to the ground.聽
  4. Continue to take slow, even steps, returning to the physical sensations if your mind wanders.聽

This exercise is just one of the many ways you can seamlessly incorporate mindfulness into your daily life.聽

Overcoming challenges in mindful meditation

Dealing with a restless mind

Mind wandering and daydreaming are natural parts of mindful meditation, just as they are in daily life.聽

Instead of scolding your mind for drifting off, take notice and gently redirect yourself back into the meditation.聽

Some people find it helpful to take a few minutes beforehand to jot down any important thoughts that come to mind, like appointment reminders or dinner ideas.

Consistency and Patience

In order to receive the maximum benefits from mindful meditation, you have to stick with it. Typical MBSR classes run for eight weeks, and most studies look at long-term results after six months.

Meditating once can offer immediate relaxation, but you won鈥檛 see big changes unless you鈥檙e patient and consistent with your practice. If you need a little help with this, try:

  • Going to a group class led by an instructor
  • Listening to guided meditations online
  • Keeping a journal to track your time meditating

As when forming any positive habit, it takes a while to make it stick. If you find yourself slipping, remember why you鈥檙e doing this: reducing your stress for your overall well-being.

Mindful meditation and stress reduction

Stress reduction benefits

You don鈥檛 need to be told how stress negatively affects the body. You鈥檝e likely experienced it yourself: the racing heart, the anxious thoughts, the physical and mental exhaustion.聽

Does being mindful really treat all of that?聽

The goal of mindfulness-based stress reduction is to make you feel connected to the present moment. Turning to mindfulness in times of stress enables you to let go of negative thoughts and emotions and helps you focus on the present instead of future uncertainties.聽

Scientific studies and evidence

In 1982, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program based on numerous studies conducted at his stress reduction clinic. Since then, research has continued to prove the stress-relieving effectiveness of Zinn鈥檚 program and mindful meditation as a whole.聽

Research has looked specifically at mindful meditation鈥檚 effects on people with depression and anxiety, finding that MBSR and MBCT programs are comparable to antidepressant use, and can actually reduce rates of depressive relapse.

Embracing mindful meditation for a stress-free life

When you are constantly bombarded by stress and overstimulation, it can be hard to see a way out of your suffering. With mindful meditation, all you have to do is breathe and be present.聽

Mindful meditation is a thoroughly researched and well-trusted treatment for stress and anxiety, among many other health conditions. It鈥檚 a versatile practice that can be done at any time or place and can be easily adapted for any lifestyle. After just a few weeks, you鈥檒l start feeling more focused and more at ease.聽

Looking for more ways to reduce stress? Experience the calming vibrations of Apollo Neuro鈥檚 wearable device. Discover how you can use Apollo for stress, and learn all about the science behind our breakthrough stress-relieving tech.聽

Sources:聽

Mindworks. A Brief History of Meditation. https://mindworks.org/blog/history-origins-of-meditation/

Mindful. Getting Started with Mindfulness. https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/

American Psychological Association. Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress. https://www.apa.org/topics/mindfulness/meditation

聽Harvard Medical Publishing. Can mindfulness change your brain? https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-mindfulness-change-your-brain-202105132455

The Harvard Gazette. With mindfulness, life鈥檚 in the moment. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/less-stress-clearer-thoughts-with-mindfulness-meditation/

Harvard Medical Publishing. Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response

Cleveland Clinic. How Box Breathing Can Help You Destress. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/box-breathing-benefits

Mindful. Walk This Way. https://www.mindful.org/walk-this-way/

Mindful. The Science of Mindfulness. https://www.mindful.org/the-science-of-mindfulness/