Feel like you just need a minute of quiet? You might be more right than you know; research shows that taking a moment for yourself by meditating is a great antidote to stress – and has other benefits, as well. Brain-wave studies have shown that people who meditate are more efficient cognitively and less susceptible to anxiety.
The first step down the path to enlightenment is choosing the type of meditation that suits you best. Instructors recommend starting with a formal course, but once you are oriented, it is easy to practise most meditation techniques at home. Here’s a peek inside two of the most popular practices.
Transcendental meditation (TM)
In transcendental meditation, you settle into a unique state in which your body is deeply rested, as if asleep, while your mind is completely alert. You let your thoughts flow; every so often, you will silently say a mantra, selected for you by an instructor at your initial orientation. After four days of individual and group sessions, you begin to practise on your own, twice a day, for about 20 minutes at a time. Many people meditate in the morning and then again after work, to erase the strain of the day. Diane Field, a TM instructor in Toronto, used to practise meditation while riding the subway en route to her night classes at York University. “I felt like I had a real advantage over everyone else in the class,” she says. “I was alert and putting my hand up, and everyone else was kind of droopy and spaced out.” And research suggests that transcendental meditation can help people with type-2 diabetes manage insulin levels.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a bit like a grown-up version of a time out – when you’re stressed out, you take a step back figure out what is going on for you in the moment and what you want to do about it. In MBSR, you pay attention to everything that occurs in your mind and body – every breath, every thought, every feeling. Most people start with a weekly course of at least four sessions. That teaches you how to allow yourself to be deeply aware of your experience in each moment – whether painful or pleasurable – and let that awareness roll around inside until you know what the thought or feeling means to you: Is it a passing idea or experience or something worth staying with a little longer? The end result: You’ll overcome what Buddhists call our “monkey mind” – the swirling thoughts that contribute to stress – and focus on what really matters to you. Also, there is some evidence that MBSR can help boost the immune function and quality of life of women who were recently diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.