There are many different techniques – from mindfulness and kindness-based practices to transcendental and Zen approaches, and many more besides. But essentially, most teach similar skills – that is to find a calm centre within yourself and to observe your thoughts and emotions while recognising that these are not who you truly are. “When I got that there was a part of me that could watch all these churning thoughts and feelings, it was a revelation,” says a client of ours called Emma. “I realised that there was more to me than my physical, mental or emotional aspects and that was deeply liberating.”
Dr Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, finds that mindfulness meditation can be especially helpful for those suffering with stress, anxiety and frequent worries. “Mindfulness teaches you to recognise, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that – a thought, and not a part of my core self,’” she says.
When it comes to stress reduction, meditation certainly seems to be effective. A 2014 review looking at the impact of meditation on healthy people found that: “Of the 17 studies, 16 demonstrated positive changes in psychological or physiological outcomes related to anxiety and/or stress”.1 An earlier review – which included 47 trials with some 3515 participants – found that mindfulness meditation can also ease pain, as well as anxiety and depression.2 Researchers concluded: “Clinicians should be prepared to talk with their patients about the role that a meditation program could have in addressing psychological stress.”
Compared to standard types of relaxation, studies have found that kindness-based meditation can reduce negative and increase positive emotions.3 Meditation can also reduce age-related cognitive decline,4 while further research finds it helpful for reducing insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder and fatigue. It can even have a positive effect on infant behaviours born to mothers who meditate while pregnant.5
The best way to learn is from an experienced teacher. You’re likely to find classes in most areas (look for adverts in health food shops, or ask around local yoga teachers for a recommendation). Find someone whose philosophy appeals and that also has their feet firmly on the floor. The ideal outcome is to feel more grounded, aware and calm – and not spaced out – after you meditate. One of my favourites is Sally Kempton whose book, Meditation for the Love of it, is available from Amazon. She also has excellent audio meditations, leading you deeply into meditation, online at her website www.sallykempton.com.
Visualise a calming energy boost
Using visual imagery to focus your mind is another form of meditation and can be a useful tool to help you relax. There are a huge range of themes to choose from and numerous recordings you can download from the internet or buy on CD to listen to and guide you. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you can also make up your own, using calming images that you find particularly meaningful or restful. The trick is to stay focussed on the exercise and not let your mind wander into areas that re-trigger stressful feelings (recalling an argument, difficulties at work, your overwhelming To Do list etc). If you find that happens, take a deep breath and return to your image.
Here’s a visualisation exercise many of our clients find useful.
- Sit down somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed and make yourself comfortable, then close your eyes.
- Now picture yourself standing on a beautiful beach. No-one else is around so the only sound you can hear are the waves gently rolling back and forth at the water’s edge. The sand beneath your toes is soft and golden and you can feel the warm sunshine on your face.
- You see a comfortable chair placed at the water’s...