The Best Meditations To Release Anxiety
Mindfulness meditation (MM), followed by transcendental meditation (TM), can be the best non-invasive ways to combat anxiety. A patient of anxiety obsessively thinks and feels negative and focuses on a tragic past or a possibly turbulent present. MM brings your mind to present sensations, whereas TM relaxes the brain.
If you or a friend has ever suffered from clinical anxiety, you might have heard of the benefits of meditation for anxiety. Wonder why? One of the chief characteristics of an anxious mind is racing thoughts or concerns mostly about the past or the future. While a normal mind thinks up about 70000 thoughts per day, an anxious mind thinks up an additional negative thought every second! This is where meditation helps. It quiets the mind and centers it in the present. A regular meditator is able to detach from the thoughts of a tragic past or a potentially turbulent future and focus on the now. The two techniques that have been found to help in dealing with anxiety are:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Transcendental meditation
1. Mindfulness Meditation
We often hear people complaining about their unsuccessful attempts at meditation. That’s most often because there is a misconception that meditation involves thoughtlessness; they are trying to quell the thoughts while meditating. Mindfulness is not thinking, interpreting or evaluating. It is mind’s nonjudgmental way of observing the things that happen around it.
Here’s how you do mindfulness meditation
- Choose an ideal location for meditation, where you are least likely to be disturbed.
- Find a quiet time. Start with 5 to 10 minutes of practice, gradually increasing the duration as you get comfortable with the practice.
- Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. You can even take the support of a wall or a pillow to prop your back up if you are not used to sitting upright for long.
- Close your eyes and focus on your breath; pay attention to your inhalations and exhalations. Alternatively, you can chant a mantra and focus on it instead of your breath.
The main aim is to be aware of your thoughts at the present moment.
- It is natural for thoughts to come and affect your concentration. Let the thoughts flow; observe them in a nonjudgmental way without dwelling on them. Label them “thoughts” and let them go. When your focus shifts, bring your mind back to your breath.
- Observe the smells, sounds, and sensations around. Label them “smell,” “sound,” and such like and passively observe them without indulging in them or the thoughts around them.
- Slowly move your attention to subtle body sensations like tingling or itching and let them pass. Similarly, observe your body sensations from head to toe.
- It is natural for emotions to interfere. Simply observe these emotions without judging them. Name the emotions as “happy”, “crazy”, etc in a relaxed manner. At any time your focus shifts, bring your mind back to your breath.
- Stay with the practice as long as you can. Slowly increase the duration as you get comfortable with it.
How Does Mindfulness Meditation Help?
People with social anxiety disorder or SAD are prone to making rash judgments based on their emotions and whatever’s running in their head at that point. They also have a negative self-image. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) methods, of which mindfulness meditation is one, may alter emotional responses. They modify the domains of the brain (cognitive-affective processes) that deal with mental skills and emotions or feelings.
In a study, 16 SAD patients were made to undergo MRI both while reacting to negative self-beliefs and while regulating negative emotions by using breath-focused attention and distraction-focused attention. MBSR improved anxiety and depression symptoms and self-esteem, and those who used breath-focused attention had decreased negative emotions, reduced amygdala activity (that deals with fear and anxiety), and increased activity in brain regions implicated in attentional deployment.
In another study, an 8-week training on mindfulness meditation improved positive affect (that is, the ability to experience positive emotions) and immune function in those who meditated.
In a study by Georgetown University Medical Center, after taking a course in mindfulness meditation, the anxiety patients were found to have reduced stress hormone and inflammatory responses to a stressful situation.
2. Transcendental Meditation
Made popular around the world by Indian yogi Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, more popular as the “spiritual advisor to the Beatles,” transcendental meditation or TM is widely practiced for its ability to tame the monkey mind and to deal with psychological issues like depression and anxiety effectively.
Here’s how you do transcendental meditation
- Choose an ideal location and time, where and when you are least likely to be disturbed.
- Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. If need be, take the support of a wall or a pillow to keep the back straight.
- Close your eyes, slowly move your mind to a mantra you would like to chant. The mantra is chanted repeatedly in your mind only in the beginning of the meditation.
- After a while, you should let go of the mantra and allow it to transform whichever way it changes; louder, softer, faster or slower, the mantra should be allowed to take its course. As a meditator, you take it as it comes, and instead of chanting, you are beginning to hear it being chanted by you.
The basic idea is to let go and let flow and arrive at a point where you are neither aware of the mantra nor your thoughts.
- Allow thoughts to come and go along with the mantra. There is no conscious effort to push them away or indulge in them.
- You may notice the mantra disappearing slowly and the mind beginning to wander. Get the mind back on the mantra by becoming aware that you are no longer hearing the mantra and bring it back to your awareness.
- Slowly stop thinking of the mantra and bring yourself back to the surroundings and gently open your eyes.
- Do this 20 minutes, twice a day.
How Does Transcendental Meditation Help?
In one of the studies on the physiological effect of transcendental meditation, it was found that the oxygen consumption and heart rate decreased during meditation, while the skin resistance increased. Even the electroencephalogram taken during meditation showed that there was increase in alpha waves, which indicates that the brain is calm and relaxed but awake.
Your Doubts Answered
1. Can I Meditate Just Before Sleeping?
You can, but it is probably not the best time of day to meditate as you may be tired. Most people find the early morning the best time to meditate. If you want to meditate before sleeping I’d suggest that might be a good time for your second meditation of the day, but not your main practice.
2. Can I Meditate In Bed?
You can meditate anywhere, but if you want to make this easier for yourself rather than harder, do not meditate in your bed. The best place to meditate is somewhere quiet that is dedicated to just that practice. If you meditate there regularly you will gradually build up a kind of ‘meditation energy’ in that place. This may sound a bit fanciful, but I’ve meditated in places where yogis have meditated regularly for years (in a meditation room, and in a cave) and the difference is amazing. And everyone feels it. This is a real thing. Create your own sacred meditation spot. And do not meditate lying down. You will likely fall asleep and it is difficult to concentrate. The best posture for meditation is sitting straight. This induces concentration. Just like your teacher told you in class. Teachers are smart.
3. What Do You Think Of When You Meditate?
I’ve found that what works best for most people as a focus in meditation is a mantra. Meditation mantras are short phrases, usually in the ancient Sanskrit language, that are especially designed to help you shift into a peaceful meditative state. Mantras work in two ways. First, the sound itself. Sounds affect our moods directly. We experience this when we hear music, or the sound of birds in the trees, or traffic and cars. Sound resonates with our nervous system and our chakras and induces different emotions. Mantras are specially chosen because of the effect that particular sound has on our mind and our emotions. That is why we still use Sanskrit mantras, rather than translating them where the meaning might be the same, but the sound would be different. The second important thing about the mantra is its meaning. In meditation, we are focusing on the mantra and on its meaning. All mantras have a very positive, uplifting meaning. For example, Baba Nam Kevalam, the main introductory mantra I teach, means that everything is an expression of universal love. Which sounds a bit abstract, but you can just focus on the idea that there is an infinite source of love within you. The principle at work here is that whatever you focus on, especially when you are concentrating for a period of time as in meditation, will leave a lasting impression on your mind. If you sit and focus on the love within you every day, that feeling will grow and will gradually become your default mood. That’s why people who meditate in this way find that over time they feel happier and more loving towards other people (and trees and squirrels). This effect, of thoughts and feelings leaving a lasting impression in our minds, is measurable when it is recorded in the brain as a neural pathway. That’s why it is important that the mantra has a very positive meaning. Whatever we focus on leaves a lasting impression, and we want to make sure that is something uplifting and positive.