Zen and the Art of Lowering Your Stress and Anxiety With Meditation

Sure, you’ve heard meditation has a ton of benefits (better sleep, mood, energy, and mental clarity, for starters), but is it really for you? We get why it might feel out of reach, especially nowadays — you’re frantically juggling work, homeschooling, cooking what feels like a million meals a day, and trying to survive a pandemic. But in the name of self-care and self-love, please carve out even five minutes a day to engage in a guided meditation, as this ancient healing practice with its bounty of science-backed benefits will bring you straight back to bliss.

Quiet your lizard brain

The biggest benefit of meditation is its magical ability to instantly calm your anxious mind. It’s not your fault that your brain feels set to panic mode — we come wired with a fight-flight-freeze mechanism when there’s a perceived threat or conflict. The ancients called this “monkey mind,” and modern psychologists refer to it as “lizard brain.” The result is undue anxiety and stress thanks to things like missed opportunities, unnecessary compromises, and analysis paralysis. Research shows that even a modest amount of mediation can help rewire your brain, boosting its ability to regulate emotions, thoughts, and behaviors and focus more intently.

Thoroughly modern meditation

One of the misconceptions about meditation is that it has to be done in a rigid way or according to specific spiritual guidelines. The truth is that from the beginning, personal choice has been a part of the practice. Some gurus found their bliss alone in a cave, while others enjoyed meditating side-by-side with fellow monks. Today the emphasis is less on enlightenment and more on lightening your mental load. With everyone from Oprah and Deepak to athletes, celebs, and business leaders touting the benefits of looking inward, now’s the time to seek out the best type of meditation that works for you.

Pick your practice

There is no “right” way to do it — after all, it’s not about the destination; but the journey. That said, there are three main types of mediation, according to meditation expert and CEO of the nonprofit David Lynch Foundation, Bob Roth. 

Open monitoring or mindful meditation is the most popular and well-known practice, where you bring your mind to the present moment without any judgment. It’s something you can do anywhere, like sitting at your desk, taking a walk, or listening to a guided meditation.

Brain benefits: A much calmer amygdala (lizard brain) for greater cognitive control, emotional regulation, and attention span.

Focused attention is the kind of meditation practiced by Buddhists (known as Vipassana) and uses concentration exercises to clear your mind of thoughts by focusing on objects like breathing or bodily sensations. When your mind wanders, you gently bring it back to the original focus.

Brain benefits: Improved cognitive function, including learning, memory, and perception. Research also suggests it reduces depression and anxiety and improves sleep.

Self-transcending, best known as Transcendental Meditation (Deepak Chopra also teaches a form of this meditation called primordial sound), this easy bliss technique doesn’t require any special mental effort. Designed to see your mind like the ocean — turbulent on the surface (your thoughts), quiet and peaceful at its depths, all you need is a mantra (a sound without meaning) to help you take a deep dive into that restful, calm space of being.

Brain benefits: Studies show transcending techniques can help alleviate numerous mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and even PTSD. Roth also says it “awakens the brain’s default mode network, also known as the ‘imagination network’” — perfect for creative types.

Take it app-solutely easy

You don’t need the CDC to tell you that meditation is the fastest-growing form of wellness in the US – you’ve probably noticed the explosion of 2,000+ apps dedicated to helping you find your Zen. From leaders like Calm, Headspace, Breethe, and Insight Timers to lesser-known apps like the sweet one-minute meditation tool, Pixel Thoughts, you’ve got plenty of options to access calm in one click.

It’s good for your mind and body, period

The mind-body connection is undeniable, and when we have our period, it’s even more apparent how interconnected our physical well-being is with our mental health. Just like yoga provides natural pain relief, relaxation, and release, meditation opens up a safe space for you to navigate feelings of discomfort, achieve a more restful state of being, and feel better about life. It also creates a natural hormonal balance by boosting serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin (the “feel good” hormones), increases your melatonin for better sleep, and even helps level-out your sex hormones. Plus, when you’re meditating, everyone around you gets the message to leave you alone without you having to say a word.

We’ll leave you with this quote from Deepak Chopra: “Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It is a way of entering into the quiet that is already there.”

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