Five Meditation Techniques to Tone Down Holiday Stress

Maybe you’ve meditated for years and are starting to get a little bored. Or, despite the mounds of research about its benefits (stress reduction, better memory, lower blood pressure, greater creativity to name a few), you’ve just never been able to get into it. As we enter the season of increased expectations and expanding to-do lists, a short time-out may be the best gift you can give yourself. Maybe one of these approaches will offer just the right fit with no waiting in line, no crowds and no need for a gift receipt. 
 
  1. Loving-kindness meditation
This is a great place to start if you are not accustomed to meditating and is especially well-suited to the over-sized expectations of the holidays and pressure of New Year’s Resolutions looming around the corner. Loving-kindness meditation starts with the concept expressed by Buddha that, unless we treat ourselves with love and compassion, we cannot show it to others. Some studies have indicated that loving-kindness meditation helps regulate the limbic system that processes emotions and empathy.
 
Because this practice relies on selecting phrases from specific scripts, it can be easier to do if you feel too distracted to let your mind simply rest. It also provides novice meditators with the comfort of having a plan to follow.
 
To prepare, place yourself in a physically comfortable environment and position and eliminate distractions. Choose about three to five phrases to say aloud, first directing them to yourself, then to someone or a pet you love, next to someone you know only casually, and finally to someone you find difficult. As you repeat each phrase three times in each situation, picture the person you are sending the messages to and cultivate a sense of warmth and love toward them. Some commonly used phrases include:
May I be peaceful.
May I be well.
May I be happy.
May I be safe.
May I be free of suffering.
May I find deep joy.
 
  1. Guided imagery
Picturing certain images in your mind is a part of many meditation practices. In guided imagery or guided visualization meditations, mental images move to the fore. “Guided imagery is a focused practice that involves each of the five senses to ignite positive health messages through the mind and body,” according to the website Headspace.
 
As with other techniques, you will get into a comfortable position in a distraction-free environment. You can start by re-constructing a pleasant memory, such as a day at the beach, tuning into all of your senses. You can even focus on an inner light moving through your body. Or, simply picture yourself in an ideal and calming location. The mind will wander, as it does, and other thoughts will intrude. Just keep bringing your focus back to the imagery you are creating.
 
It can also be helpful to listen to someone else describe a specific scene and experience. These offerings from Dartmouth College provide several options to explore.
 
  1. Walking meditation
If you feel more comfortable up and about, there’s walking meditation. You can do this indoors even in a small space if you can walk about 10 to 15 paces. You can also do it outside as long as you won’t be disturbed or feel strange if observed.
 
Start by picking a fairly peaceful place. Walk about 10-15 steps along the route you’ve chosen, pause, and breathe for as long as you’d like. When ready, turn and walk in the other direction to your predetermined end point. It helps to identify starting and stopping points so you don’t have to keep counting your steps or worry about how far to go. The key to engaging in walking meditation is to focus fully on the very act of walking; lifting one foot, moving forward a bit, how you place the next foot, how you shift your body weight and how the cycle starts again.
 
Just as in other forms of meditation, it helps to focus your attention on the body and sensations you might not normally notice. That could be your breathing, heartbeat, or movement of your legs and arms. When your mind inevitably wanders, bring it back to those sensations in your body. As you get more practiced at walking meditation, you can even incorporate it into your daily life at any speed.
 
  1. Mindfulness meditation 
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and author of the best-selling book Full Catastrophe Living, has perhaps introduced more people in the United States to the concept of mindfulness and meditation than anyone else. In the early 1970s, he developed an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. It remains the clinical and scientific standard today according to a scientific review of meditation published in the Harvard Gazette.
 
Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness meditation as, “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” That’s the powerful combination of mindfulness meditation. The first part is doing what Kabat-Zinn describes as being able to “actually stop and drop into the only moment that we ever have to be alive in,” instead of “blasting through to get to some better moment at some future time when we get stuff off our desk or off our to do list.” Then that’s followed by letting go for a moment or two of filtering everything through our likes, dislikes, wants or aversions, he says.
 
He cautions this practice will not lead to a constant state of mindful awareness. It’s more of a process and moments of grounding yourself in simply being, aware of the present moment as you’re experiencing it. The meditation typically starts with gaining an increased awareness of your body, typically by focusing on the breath. Numerous videos are available online in which Kabat-Zinn provides a brief overview of mindfulness meditation or guides viewers through a practice.
 
  1. Kirtan Kriya meditation
For those especially interested in brain health, this ancient form of meditation, practiced just 12 minutes a day, has been shown in clinical research to improve cognition and activate brain centers related to memory. For that reason, it’s recommended by the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation.
 
It involves a prescribed singing or chanting of specific sounds combined with repeated finger movements. You repeat the sounds Saa, Taa, Naa, Maa while pressing your thumb to each finger in succession. It’s much easier to do with an audio or video guide to lead you through the sounds, finger motions and performing the chant both out loud, as a whisper and silently.
 
The benefits of meditation make it worth trying to find a practice that might work for you. The worst that’s likely to happen is you will sit down for a few minutes while your mind wanders. And that has its benefits too.
 

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