How it works
Meditation is possibly the closest thing to the opposite of stress. Its function is to restore the body to a state of calm and helps it repair some of the damage from physical stress. There are many different styles that can be practiced in different settings. Its benefits come from the fact that it is free and a very effective short-term stress reduction tool, which holds long-term health benefits.
What it could help:
Anxiety, depression, fatigue, high blood pressure, pain, insomnia.
There has been continual positive research into the beneficial effect on health and stress of meditation. Most significantly, it has been shown repeatedly to reduce blood pressure and anxiety levels and to be a useful addition to post-operative care in hospitals. It has also been shown to increase ‘feel good’ brain chemicals called endorphins and to reduce a harmful stress response in people who meditate regularly.
What to expect:
It is one of the most flexible therapies for stress as it is possible to teach yourself or practice with a teacher, both alone and in a group. The main idea is sitting for as long as you need, focusing on something specific such as your breath, or a sound or movement, according to the style of meditation, and clearing your mind. Longer sessions are thought to bring greater benefits, but building them up slowly can help maintain the practice long-term, until you can do it anywhere. It can be religious or secular, the main thing is that it is personal and a time to be at peace.
Meditation is generally very safe and does not pose any risks. It can take a while to master so requires some discipline and commitment, particularly at first, so you may wish to begin with a teacher. The range of styles means it’s wise to research what might suit you before you commit yourself to a course, and ask for a trial session.
Find out more:
You can teach yourself for nothing using tapes or books, take individual or group lessons privately or at public leisure centres. Private classes cost from about £10 to £60. Some spiritual organisations suggest a donation, others like the Maharishi Foundation, which teaches Transcendental Meditation, charge from £100 to £600 for a six-month course, depending on your income. Combined yoga and meditation group classes can be cheaper.