5 Best Everyday Meditation Exercises
Meditation has many health benefits that are even acknowledged by the medical community. The process of mindful breathing, sitting still, and focusing your mind can boost your immune system, reduce stress, and lower blood pressure.
Charles L. Raison, MD, clinical director of the Mind-Body Program at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, conducted a study that found “people who meditated regularly for six weeks showed less activation of their immune systems and less emotional distress when they were put in a stressful situation.”
So, there are several motivating factors to slow down and breathe deeply! Here are the best 5 meditation exercises that you can easily integrate into your daily routine.
Combining Breathing with Positive Affirmations
Draw your attention to your breath, and inhale and exhale through your nose. Try to elongate the breaths as best you can (usually at least 4 counts inhale, 4 counts exhale). Focusing in on the breath allows gives your mind something to focus on, so you don’t have to fight it to automatically clear out distractions. Combining this mindful breathing with uplifting, relaxing texts packs a powerful dose of clarity.
We especially like this one from The Buddha’s Book of Sleep. It instructs you to read each paragraph (which include peaceful gems like “My mind is peaceful, my body free of tension. I am calm and rested. I feel free”) and pause before moving on; it takes about 5 minutes to read through the entire work, meaning it can be integrated into your morning or nightly routine as a relaxation mantra.
While the positive affirmations can feel a bit silly to some, it actually can have a positive impact on emotional health. Researchers at PLoS One found that self-affirmation improves problem solving under stress! So take a deep breath, tell yourself you are amazing and peaceful and happy, and reap the benefits.
Combining Breathing with Guided Relaxation
A quick search on YouTube or Google will yield tons of guided relaxation audio and videos. They vary in length from a few minutes to even a full hour, so you will be able to find one that fits with your schedule. We suggest finding a quiet place that you feel most safe and peaceful in, closing your eyes as you listen to the guide and try to focus as best you can on on only the guide. Hopefully, this will help you clear your mind for at least a few minutes by focusing on the guide and your breathing!
We like this collection of guided mediation audio from the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University.
In the concentration method, you look at an object while breathing and try to focus all your attention and thoughts onto this object. Many people enjoy using a burning candle or a flower. When you feel like you have focused intently enough on the object, close your eyes and try to see the object with your “inner eye” as clearly and in focus as you can. Try to see the object — the candle or the flower — with your inner mind exactly as it appeared to you when you were observing it previously. When you loose the image or your mind wanders to other things, begin the exercise over again.
The concentration method can help you focus an overactive mind, and is a good form of meditation to try if you are particularly competitive. You can make a “game” out of it, to see how long you can keep the image in your minds eye.
In Loving-Kindness meditation, you assume a seated position, and with eyes closed, conjure in your mind feelings of love, kindness, and compassion. The aim to to first generate these positive feelings towards yourself, then a friend, then a “neutral” person, then a difficult person, and eventually, encompassing all of the world. This comes from traditions in Buddhism, especially in Tibetan sects.
Emma Seppälä holds a Ph.D and is the Associate Director at the Center for Compassion at Stanford University. In this fantastic post, she recaps all of the studies that have found the truly amazing results that Loving-Kindness mediation has on peoples lives. A 2008 study found that for people who practiced this form of meditation for seven weeks experienced “increased love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe.
These positive emotions then produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms), which, in turn, predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms.”
With all these amazing, happy benefits, it’s worth a try! Start by setting aside even just 5 minutes a day, and then work up as your schedule allows.
Mantra meditation is a bit similar to positive affirmation meditation, but the mantra is a shorter, repeated phrase that you say in your mind or softly aloud. The mantra, repeated over and over for the duration of the meditative period, is supposed to be a way to release your mind from wandering and stress.
Many practitioners believe that the sound is more important than the meaning when choosing a mantra. You can make the meaning in your mind, and then strive to connect to the sound. So, even if you choose a traditional mantra from Sanskirt and don’t totally understand the technical meaning of the word, attaching feelings of peacefulness and happiness to the word still give your mantra power and benefit to you.
Some well-known mantra from the Hindu tradition that you can try out include:
“Om” (sound of the universe, representing the birth-death-rebirth cycle)
“So Ham” (pronounced “So Hum,” it means “I am THAT.” Inhale on “So” and exhale on “Ham”)
“Om Mani Padme Hum” (The 14th Dalai Lama explained that “these six syllables, om mani padme hum, mean that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha.”)
Good luck integrating meditation into your daily life! Remember that it is okay to start small — even if you set aside a few minutes each day, your mind and body can still benefit. We especially like this guide to meditation if you are interested in finding out more about different types of meditation!