To reduce stress, improve focus, and increase resilience
Meditation has been shown to enhance well being and performance in many ways. In the 1970’s, Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard discovered that meditation triggers what he coined as the “relaxation response”, which counterbalances the harmful effects of the stress response.
More recent research has uncovered benefits of mindfulness meditation, which trains the attention to be aware of present moment experience instead of being distracted by the past or future. This kind of attention training increases self-awareness so you avoid emotional hi-jacking and respond with more skill and purpose to stressful situations.
Some of the most interesting research on mindfulness meditation has found that a regular practice causes the brain to “rewire”, increasing activity in areas responsible for executive functioning, decision-making, creativity, and overall happiness. Most studies are based on a minimum of an 8-week practice, but some show results in as little as one week.
For someone beginning a meditation practice, it helps to have a good guide. Below are some resources for mindfulness meditation and for eliciting the relaxation response. If you begin with guided meditations from a web site or an app, it helps to try a variety until you find a voice that is not distracting to you. It also helps to keep things short and simple so you can experience the benefits of a consistent practice.
“Mindfulness” by Mark Williams & Danny Penman
This book teaches an 8-week course with corresponding audio meditations online. These audio files can be downloaded to mp3. Most of their meditations are 10 minutes or less, and their 3-minute Breathing Space meditation can be squeezed into a busy day.
Daniel Goleman online
Daniel Goleman, a pioneer in the field of emotional intelligence, has a collection of 5 meditations on iTunes called “Cultivating Focus – Techniques for Excellence” for under $5 as of this posting.
UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center
You can download these meditations for free from iTunes U or from the MARC web site. For an introduction to mindfulness meditation that you can practice on your own, turn on your speakers and click on the “play” or “download” links. If you are new to meditation, start with the 5-minute Breathing Meditation. For a more in-depth class experience, take the 6-week Online Classes.
Meditation and Mindfulness Apps
There are dozens of meditation and mindfulness apps, and I found too many have features that distract from the simplicity of a meditation practice. However, one that I find similar to Danny Penman and Mark Williams is by the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Center, called StressFree. It’s free on Apple’s App Store.
Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School discovered the many health benefits that accrue from a regular meditation practice. His web site lists 6 simple steps for eliciting what he coined the “Relaxation Response” at www.relaxationresponse.org/steps/. The relaxation response is the physiological opposite of the stress response and counteracts many of the harmful effects of chronic stress.