Meditation for Anxiety & beyond: how to meditate for anxiety, Stress & health
Throughout the ages, mankind has endeavored to find ways to quiet the mind, achieve inner peace and connect with something greater than ourselves.
Very few methods have stood the test of time and helped more people reach this state of inner peace than meditation.
Meditation and mindfulness practices can be found in almost all of the world's religions and spiritual disciplines.
But there are also plenty of practices free of an association with religion or spirituality. Many modern practices use meditation for anxiety, reducing stress and healthier living.
If you're new to meditation, you may imagine sitting for hours on end in uncomfortable postures while listening to a meditation teacher or guru.
While these are stereotypical images associated with meditation – meditation is much more than that.
We can begin meditating without the need of a teacher or guru, sitting in a comfortable chair for as little as 10 mins a day.
This means there really is no excuse not to meditate.
The ability to reduce attachment to our thoughts, quiet our minds and achieve inner peace is something I’m sure all of us (especially if you're struggling with anxiety) would love to achieve.
The term “meditation” can be slippery to pin down because it is so broad and refers to a large variety of techniques.
Meditation, in the way we will be discussing it – is any practice or technique that allows us to turn inward, create space (detachment) from our thoughts and become more aware and present in the moment.
We will be going over many of these practices in more depth so you can get a better sense of the practice that best suits you.
And since the focus of this website is to help us overcome anxiety – we will be providing recommendations for the best meditation practices for anxiety.
This article is extensive and goes in-depth to provide you with a comprehensive guide to meditation so that you can arrive here as a complete beginner and leave here knowing exactly how to meditate for anxiety and the knowledge to begin a daily practice.
With our constant distractions from technology, the daily onslaught of information we receive and our ultra fast-paced lifestyles – perhaps no other time needed this practice more.
We hope you enjoy as we dive deep and explore meditation for anxiety and beyond!
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A Brief History of Meditation
We believe the earliest documentation of meditation to have been written over 3500 years ago (1500 BC). These were the Hindu scriptures of the Vedas – in ancient India.
Although this is the earliest recorded record of meditation – many scholars believe meditation could have been around thousands of years before the Vedas.
Different forms of meditation developed in China (Taoism) and India (Buddhism) around the 6th to 5th century BC. While roots of Buddhist meditation go back as far as the 1st century BC.
Meditation spread to Japan in the 8th century AD. The first “sitting” meditation instructions (Zazen) were written several hundred years later in Japan (1200 AD) – as well as the first community of monks.
Although meditation (in the way we generally describe it) began in the East – the history of meditation is not limited to Eastern traditions.
Different forms of meditation have roots in most religious traditions as well.
We can find Christian meditation – or contemplative prayer – as far back as the 10th century AD in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Christian contemplative prayer typically involves the repetition of a mantra such as the Jesus Prayer, the repetition of the name “Jesus” or words such as “God” or “Love.”
Meditative exercises and contemplative prayer can be found throughout the Christian tradition.
Forms of meditation or contemplation are especially prominent with the Christian mystics, such as Saint Teresa of Avila; and in Christian writings, such as “The Cloud of Unknowing.”
In the early 11th century the Jewish esoteric tradition of Kabbalah developed their own forms of meditation which are still practiced to this day.
Other religions had early meditative practices as well – Islamic Sufism has Dhikr or remembrance of God through the repetition of words. Dhikr was systematized in Sufism in the 11th and 12th centuries.
In the West, writers and other intellectuals developed an increased interest in Buddhism, Hinduism and meditation in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
It wasn’t until the late 1950s and early 1960s that meditation began to truly take off in the West – specifically here in America.
This period brought many charismatic writers and teachers to the forefront of an American culture ready to learn.
Many popular writers of the 1950s and 1960s helped increase interest in Buddhism early on. Numerous teachers from the East taught Americans meditation practices as well as teaching Buddhism and Hinduism.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced transcendental meditation (TM) in the 1950s. The popularity of TM flourished, in part, due to the famous meeting between The Beatles and Maharishi in 1967 and Maharishi's meetings with other famous celebrities.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, meditation retreats and centers amassed a large following.
Many popular books were published on the topic.
Large numbers of Americans even traveled to countries like India to learn meditation directly from yogis, monks and other established teachers.
In 1979 Jon-Kabat Zinn created Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Zinn created MBSR as a science-based approach to meditation for reducing stress and anxiety and creating greater self-awareness.
Through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, the popularity of meditation and mindfulness continued – as did research into the possible benefits of meditation.
Other forms of meditation became popular in the Western world including Vipassana, various forms of Yoga meditations and Qi-gong.
The popularity of meditation and mindfulness has also grown significantly in the past two decades as it was presented to the mainstream public by popular television personalities like Oprah Winfrey – charismatic teachers like Deepak Chopra – immensely popular books such as “The Power of Now” – and many many others.
Support for meditation from the mainstream public combined with its effectiveness in our over-stressed modern world has mad “mindfulness” and “meditation” common household words.
We can find classes on meditation and mindfulness in almost any city or town.
Meditators include those of us from all walks of life and all ages.
Even corporations and businesses are hiring meditation teachers to teach their employees mindfulness and meditation to reduce stress and improve concentration and performance.
The rise of the internet has also had a significant impact on meditation's popularity.
Today you can learn meditation directly from knowledgeable teachers without leaving your home – through online meditation courses and training.
There are also meditation apps, technology-based programs such as brainwave entrainment and meditation groups across the internet.
The Purpose of Meditation
Why Should We Meditate?
The goal of meditation is to allow us to detach from our constant involvement with our thoughts (“the monkey mind”) and reconnect with a more natural (unified) state of being.
Meditation aims to expose us to our truest nature – beyond the constant worries, anxieties and judgments of our overactive minds.
It can allow us to rediscover (re-experience) the peaceful, and even blissful state that is our truest self.
Most of us are never taught how to turn our awareness inward – to discover who we are. We were never taught how to simply “be” – without judgment, without trying to control or change things, without obsessing over the past or worrying about the future – just being what we are in the present moment.
It seems strange if you think about it.
Our most natural state – simply being in the present moment – turns out to be incredibly difficult for most of us.
We always want to change, plan, adjust, judge and alter things.
We are always looking to the past or looking to the future. We are always running and avoiding inside.
Constantly trying to control.
The purpose of meditation is to correct this way of living/thinking and move to a more natural state.
Meditation allows us to rest our overactive, exhausted minds while increasing our awareness of the present moment (developing presence).
Almost all forms of meditation have peace and greater awareness as their goals. Some practices focus more on freedom from anxiety and stress. We will be discussing both.
Benefits of Meditation
Over the past few decades, meditation has received a vast number of studies and research. These studies have outlined numerous health benefits, which we have listed below.
Benefits associated with daily meditation and mindfulness practices:
Practicing meditation regularly can also improve our ability to focus, multi-task, and even think creatively and retain information.
Meditation not only improves our health and overall well-being, but it can also improve our social lives.
While meditation is one of the most independent and internally focused things we can do; it allows us to become more compassionate and socially connected to others.
Meditation also increases emotional intelligence and can decrease the sense of loneliness.
There are a vast number of meditation practices available for us. A few of these practices – such as Yoga meditations – have been practiced for thousands of years.
While it's beyond the scope of this article to go into depth on every form of meditation there is – the list below is a good overview of some of the most popular practices from many different traditions.
Regardless of our beliefs, philosophies or religions – there is a form of meditation right for all of us. There are also meditations that fit our particular goals and experience level.
Keep in mind; you can practice most of these meditations without following a particular tradition. We don't need to be Buddhists – for example – to practice a Buddhist meditation (such as Zen).
That being said – some practices are better suited for those of us that follow the particular tradition.
For example – if you’re not a Christian – Divine Reading wouldn't be the best choice for you because it involves reading of the Bible.
Thanks to the internet, we now have access to nearly every meditation practice known to man at the press of a button (or a few mouse clicks).
Information on these practices can be found freely across the internet and can be done without even leaving our homes.
Which is another reason why there really is no excuse not to start a meditation or mindfulness practice
A popular meditation practice that focuses on mindfulness of the breath and present experience; with the goal of insight into the true nature of reality; heavily influenced all Mindfulness-based meditation practices
Comes from the Zen Buddhist school; primarily focuses on the breath and breathing; concentration usually held on the diaphragm or “counting breaths”; proper posture is important; also influenced Mindfulness practices
A heart-based meditation with focus on our own hearts, developing love, compassion and selflessness; practice involves sending love, kindness and safety to ourselves, friends, family and the world; can be used as a primary practice or to complement other practices
Usually a sitting or lying practice; involves paying attention to the present moment as it is; not trying to eliminate thoughts but letting them come and go without judgment; borrows heavily from Vipassana
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
A heavily researched and science-based form of mindfulness with a focus on stress and anxiety reduction; created by Jon Kabat-Zinn and taught at the University of Massachusetts Medical School; influenced by traditional Mindfulness practices and Vipassana; techniques include mindfulness meditations, body scan, relaxation techniques and yoga; MBSR includes effective meditations for anxiety
A form of mindfulness practice that focuses on bringing awareness to everyday “mundane” tasks and experiences as they occur in the present moment: such as driving, eating, listening or walking; can be used as a primary practice or as a complement to other mindfulness or meditation practices
A form of mindfulness and relaxation where focus is placed on the body from toe-to-head or head-to-toe starting with one particular part of our body and moving up (or down) to the next; can be used as a primary practice or as a complement to other practices
Hindu (Vedic) Meditations
Yoga isn't a single meditation but various meditations forming the oldest meditations known; nearly all yogic meditations have Self-Knowledge and/or union with Universal Consciousness as their goal; practices include Chakra, Tantra and Kundalini meditations; Pranayama (breathing exercises) comes from Yoga practices as well; the traditional term “Yoga” is a broad term related to a vast history of Yogic practices; different forms of Yoga tend to focus on different aspects, such as Bhakti Yoga which focuses on worship of a God, or Hatha Yoga which focuses on physical and mental strength
A form of concentration meditation with a focus on mentally or verbally repeating a specific mantra (phrase or word); one of the most popular mantras in Hinduism is “OM” (the primordial sound); mantras are used to focus the mind; the vibration of the sound through the mind and body is essential; can be used as a complement to other meditation practices as well as a primary meditation on it's own
Transcendental Meditation (TM)
TM is a popular form of Mantra meditation reported to lead to inner peace; developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1950s; known for its expensive cost to join and it's popularity with celebrities; has been the subject of much research and study; participants typically meditate while repeating a personalized mantra given to them by a guru or teacher
Christian Contemplative Practices/Meditations
Lectio Divina (Divine Reading)
A contemplative practice where one reads the Bible or other sacred text in a slow conscious manner to understand the message being given by God in the moment; generally used with silent prayer and contemplation during the process; the purpose is to hear the word of God through the text
Based on the mystical tradition of contemplative prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church; those who practice seek to experience God directly, through quieting of the mind and uninterrupted prayer
A form of meditation and contemplation popularized by Father Thomas Keating in the 1970s; centering prayer is generally done by letting go of thoughts through repetition of “sacred words” or sitting in silence; the goal is to experience God's presence within us, resting in God's presence
More than meditation, Qigong is a holistic system that includes movement, meditation and breathing techniques designed to balance the energy in the mind and body; there are various styles and forms including Taoist, Buddhist and Medical Qigong; in China, Medical Qigong is viewed as a medical technique
There are numerous Taoist meditations related to the philosophy of Taoism, which is living in harmony with the Tao or “the source of everything that exists”; practices can be similar to Buddhist meditations; practices include the Emptiness Meditation, Breathing meditations and Visualization meditations
Found in Qigong, Taoist Practices and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM); the Microcosmic Orbit is a powerful meditation in its own right and can be used as a stand-alone technique; the practice is done through meditation, breathing and visualization; typical practice is done but breathing in – moving energy up the spine starting from the pelvic floor up the back to the crown of the head – then breathing out while the energy moves down the front of the body – repeating multiple times; it's believed to clear energy blockages and offer clarity of mind
Guided Meditations & Meditation Technology
(Binaural Beats/Isochronic Tones)
A process of synchronizing the brain to specific brainwave frequencies using external stimuli; most commonly used products are audio tracks featuring binaural beats or isochronic tones; many audio tracks put the user into brainwave frequencies associated with relaxation, meditative states, increased creativity or other benefits; to learn more you can read our article on brainwave entrainment and anxiety HERE…
Guided Audio/Video Meditations
Guided meditations in the form of audio tracks or videos; typically the participant listens to a coach/teacher as they guide them into states of deep relaxation or meditation using traditional meditation, mantras, or breathing techniques; other techniques include using guided imagery or even music; becoming increasingly popular with many audiobooks, online courses, podcasts and group meditations available online
Apps used on a mobile device to help the user develop a meditation or mindfulness practice, learn how to meditate for anxiety, improve relaxation or reduce stress; techniques used for particular apps can vary but tend to include guided meditations, mindfulness techniques, support from a teacher and/or traditional meditation practices
Dhikr (Mantra Meditation)
Similar to Christian contemplative prayer, Dhikr is remembrance of God through the repetition of divine words such as “Allah” or “Allah hu”; can be done in a meditative posture but is meant to be focused on and repeated throughout the day with the ultimate goal of establishing a continual awareness of the Divine Presence
Muraqabah (Watching Over)
Muraqabah isn't necessarily a technique in itself but refers to meditation in the Sufi tradition; it is detaching oneself of worldly concerns for a time, and focusing inward, with the goal of connection with God; Muraqbah means watching over and refers to the watching over of our mind to keep it from straying from God
Meditation vs Mindfulness
We often hear the words “meditation” and “mindfulness” used interchangeably – which may cause some confusion. While these terms can be used to mean similar things they are not inherently the same.
“Meditation” is a broad term used to describe many different practices (such as the list above) or the actual practice of meditating.
To say “I meditate” or “I practice meditation” gives a general idea of what we mean but doesn't provide the specific type of meditation we are referring to.
From the outside, something like Loving-Kindness meditation may look similar to something like Vipassana meditation – but the goal, techniques and internal experience can be very different.
So the term meditation can use be used to describe dozens of different styles, techniques and postures – including mindfulness meditation.
The term “Mindfulness” can refer to various things depending on the context.
Mindfulness can be a type of meditation practice. These practices may differ slightly in technique but they all tend to have the same focus – greater awareness of the present moment (thoughts, feelings, sensations, the breath, etc.).
Mindfulness can also be an experiential state when we bring our awareness to the present moment with open receptiveness or it can be the quality of a meditation, such as being mindful of the breath.
In some instances, we use the term “mindfulness” to describe meditation because the term has become very popular – especially in the US. Even though the actual meditation may not necessarily be a strictly mindfulness-based practice.
Meditation is well known for its postures (or poses). The most well-known pose is probably the full lotus – which is achieved by crossing the legs and resting the ankles on the opposite thighs.
But are these poses essential to meditation?
While some forms of meditation put a strict focus on a particular posture, it really isn't the essential part of meditation in my opinion.
Our sincere intent to meditate and having an established daily practice is much more important than enduring a posture that is uncomfortable.
In addition – some of us have health issues that may prevent us from holding some of these poses.
If you have knee, ankle or back issues, or have poor flexibility – many of the traditional poses may be too uncomfortable to hold for extended periods of time.
Instead of insisting on the perfect form or trying to convince you to suffer through discomfort – I will provide a few recommended poses and layout the 3 essentials for proper meditation posture.
If you are healthy and you don't have any physical limitations, I recommend trying a few of the traditional poses to find out which one works best for you.
Bear in mind – some postures may be slightly uncomfortable to start but most postures will begin to feel more natural with practice.
The Burmese pose is a popular posture that tends to be more accessible for beginners than the Lotus pose.
To perform the Burmese pose begin by sitting on a cushion, rug or blanket with an erect spine. You could also use a Zafu (meditation pillow) for more comfort.
Bend your legs so that one leg is resting in front of the other with the tops of the feet touching the floor. Rest your hands on your thighs or in your lap.
Likely the most well-known meditation posture, the Lotus pose is also one of the most difficult. It may require some practice for beginners. If you have hip, knee or ankle issues the lotus pose is not a good choice.
To perform the Lotus pose start by sitting on the floor with an erect spine. Using a small pillow or zafu under the butt at the base of the spine is recommended to help incline the pelvis.
Cross the legs so that the feet are resting on the opposite thighs with the soles of the feet facing upwards and the heels turned inward to the abdomen. Knees should be touching the floor, or as close to the floor as possible. Hands should be resting in the lap or on the thighs.
An easier alternative is the Half Lotus – where one foot is placed on the opposite thigh while the other leg is bent and rests on the floor.
In Japan, Seiza, is the traditional (formal) way of sitting. Although less common today, it can still be found in many of the martial arts from Japan – such as Aikido. It is also a popular meditation posture, particularly in Zen meditation.
To perform the Seiza pose: kneel on the floor or on a mat, folding the legs under the thighs so that your butt is resting on your heels. The ankles should be turned slightly out forming a “V” shape. Sit up straight and erect with the hands in the lap or on the thighs.
The Seiza pose can be uncomfortable after long periods of time when first starting out. It can be hard on the knees or you may find your legs falling asleep. It generally goes away with time or you can use a stool or cushion as described below.
Seiza with Stool/Cushion
Using a stool or cushion during the Seiza pose can be a far more comfortable posture, especially when meditating for extended periods of time.
Using a stool or cushion can take a lot of pressure off of the knees and ankles and keep the legs from falling asleep.
This was my personal favorite meditation posture that I used for years before moving to a basic chair meditation.
To perform the Seiza with Stool or Cushion pose simply sit as described above in the traditional Seiza pose but instead of resting your butt on your heels, your butt will rest on a stool or cushion. Your legs/ankles will go on either side of the stool/cushion or under the stool (depending on the style of stool used).
Sitting upright in a chair is one of the most popular postures for meditation. It's actually the way I've personally been meditating for the past 5 or 6 years. Prior to sitting in a chair, I spent nearly 15 years in various postures such as the ones pictured above.
For those of us with health issues or poor flexibility – or those who simply prefer being comfortable over having the right posture – sitting in a chair is probably the best option.
You can use any straight-back chair – sitting towards the front of the chair with your legs forming a 90-degree angle at the knee (your knees should be even with your waist or slightly lower). If you have back issues you can sit back allowing the chair to support your back.
Sit up straight and aligned (see tips below) and rest your hands on your thighs or folded in your lap. Your feet should be placed firmly on the ground about shoulder-width apart.
Meditation can be done lying down. This can be a good choice for those with back pain and other medical issues or for those who simply prefer this style of meditation.
The downside to lying meditation is the urge to fall asleep. Lying down in a relaxed, comfortable position for extended periods of time can often lead to dosing off. Typically, this becomes less of an issue as we practice more and more.
For this posture, you can lie flat on your back with your legs straight out (without your ankles or legs crossed) and arms to your sides or slightly out with palms facing up. Try to practice this posture on the floor or other flat surface and not in your bed unless you have no other option.
3 Essentials for Proper Meditation Posture
1. Proper Body Alignment
The alignment of our body can be key to proper meditation. Having the proper alignment promotes alert present awareness and energy.
- keep your back and neck straight – with your chin parallel to the floor or slightly lowered/tucked in
- do not hunch or slouch
- if sitting in a chair – your knees should be even with your waist or slightly lower (thighs parallel to the floor) with your feet shoulder width apart placed flat on the floor
- if lying – your legs should be extended straight out, your back straight and flat, and your arms down at your sides or out slightly with your palms facing upwards
- when sitting – you can try pushing your chest out slightly if it helps straighten your back
2. Relaxed Posture
An alert sense of relaxation is important. You're not trying to fall asleep nor should you be tense or uncomfortable.
- allow your muscles to become relaxed – especially the muscles of your shoulders, neck, face and arms
- your arms should be still and relaxed in a comfortable position
- relaxed breathing – breathe through your nose, not your mouth unless it is part of the meditation; if your properly relaxed you can breathe deeply and naturally; breathing deeply can help relax the body as well as the mind
- some people find that having a gentle smile during meditation can help relax the muscles, especially in the face and neck muscles
3. Feeling Grounded
When in a meditative posture, you should feel your body supporting itself and the support of the chair or floor.
- keep your body as symmetrical as possible – legs and feet evenly spaced, arms and hands in identical positions, body upright and straight (not slouching to either side)
- you can feel the floor beneath your feet or under your butt supporting you
- through proper alignment and symmetry, your body should naturally support itself during the meditation
- relax into the floor or chair while allowing your body to support itself through your upright posture
The Breath & Breathing
The breath plays a vital role in nearly every form of meditation. It can be seen as our vital life force, the means to relaxation, a point of focus for quieting the mind or our life essence.
The breath is the central focus in many meditation practices.
Simply focusing on the breath is an excellent way to learn how to meditate for anxiety.
In Zen – for example – we practice focusing on the breath or even counting the breaths as a way to develop concentration and reign-in the anxious monkey mind.
The breath is also the source of greater awareness and insight as we use awareness of the breath to anchor us directly to the present moment. This is found in most Mindfulness and Vipassana practices.
In more energetic practices – such as Qigong – the breath is used to move vital energy in the body. Removing stagnation and blockages and freeing up life energy.
For most meditative practices we do all of our breathing through the nose and not the mouth.
However – some practices may call for breathing out through the mouth or performing deeper or longer breaths.
Simply follow the instruction given for the specific technique.
Simple Tips For Breathing During Meditation
- relax and surrender to the flow of breathing
- there is no need to force, change or control the breath in most meditations unless the meditation calls for it
- notice how breathing happens naturally, almost like the breath is breathing you
- having the proper posture, body alignment, relaxed pose, and being grounded (see tips above) can dramatically help with deep natural breathing from the diaphragm
- when doing a practice where awareness is placed on the breath – try to simply watch the breath as a curious observer – your body breathes on its own 24/7 – there's no need to interfere – simply observe the breath as it occurs
How to Develop a Daily Meditation Practice
We can achieve the many benefits of meditation once we develop a daily practice. So how do we begin a daily meditation practice? Below is a step-by-step guide!
Step 1: Start Small
If you're new to meditation, begin with a small amount of time you know you can commit to daily. It could be 10 to 20 minutes of meditation each day where you only focus on your breathing.
There's no need to force yourself into hour-long meditation sessions when your first starting out.
By starting with a shorter practice you are more likely to stick to it as it becomes part of your daily routine.
Over the following weeks, you can make adjustments to your schedule to increase your time spent meditating.
Step 2: Find the Best Time of Day
Find the best time of day where you can be alone and free from distractions of any kind. This could be first thing in the morning, in the middle of the day or before bed.
The important thing is having time completely to yourself without distractions for the duration of your meditation.
It's also important to have a time you can stick to daily so you aren't constantly shuffling around trying to find time to meditate each day.
This can help eliminate forgetting or excuses and cement meditation as a daily habit.
Step 3 - Have a Designated Space
You don't have to have a room dedicated to meditation in order to get the benefits of the practice – but having a designated chair or spot in the house can make a difference in the quality of your meditation.
Regardless of where you choose to meditate – choosing somewhere that you won't be disturbed and is quiet is essential.
You could purchase a meditation cushion or chair or use a chair you own that you can reserve for meditation.
Over time, this location or chair will become associated with mindfulness and meditation and it will become more natural to meditate when you sit in that spot each day.
Step 4 - Find Your Posture
As mentioned above, finding a posture you can maintain comfortably is more important than trying to force yourself into uncomfortable positions.
Unless you‘re doing a meditation practice with a strict focus on posture – your intention, commitment and ability to be present is far more important.
That being said – try to sit in a position where your back is straight and your arms are unfolded, such as on your lap.
If you find it difficult to maintain an erect posture for long, you can use a straight-back chair or purchase a meditation cushion.
If you have a medical condition or injury preventing you from sitting upright for extended periods of time, you can practice meditation lying flat on your back with legs straight and arms to your sides.
Step 5 - Gradually Increase Your Time Spent Meditating
Work up from short 10 to 20 minute meditations by gradually making your sessions longer and longer. You could add 5 to 10 minutes after each week as an example.
The goal is to meditate at least 30-60 mins per day.
Everyone should be able to find some time out of their day to meditate.
If you are truly limited on time or having trouble sticking to longer meditation sessions – you could try dividing your meditation into separate sessions. For example, 20 mins in the morning and 20 mins in the evening.
Many of us claim we simply do not have the time to meditate.
However, if we take a look at how we spend our time, it can be surprising to discover how much time we spend doing things like watching TV, clicking through Facebook or randomly browsing the internet.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with these habits, it may be worth cutting back on these things to make room for something that can truly improve the quality of our lives.
Meditation & Anxiety
We wouldn't recommend something if it didn't serve our purpose of reducing anxiety – this is a website dedicated to overcoming anxiety after all.
This article was written to show you how to use meditation for anxiety and stress.
So what improvements in anxiety can we expect to see with a daily meditation or mindfulness practice?
If you’ve read this article up to this point, you know of the many benefits of meditation, not only for anxiety but the many positive benefits for our minds and bodies.
Beyond the scientific studies and biological benefits, such as reduced cortisol levels and reduced blood pressure (which directly affects our anxiety levels), there are clear, concrete, subjective benefits that most people report after taking up a meditation or mindfulness practice.
These subjective benefits are ones I have also experienced directly and have been fundamental in helping me to overcome my anxiety.
Subjective benefits of meditation for anxiety
While these benefits may seem mild to some, they are actually pretty profound and can be life-changing – as they were for me.
When we develop space between ourselves and our thoughts – and begin to view our thoughts with detachment – we open the path to freedom. We are no longer bound to our worries – constantly caught in the middle of the storm of anxiety. Instead, we can step back and watch our thoughts and realize they can not harm or control us. This is true freedom from anxiety.
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Our Recommended Meditation Practices For Anxiety
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR was created by Dr. Jon Kabatt-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School – as a way to help those with medical issues such as chronic pain, anxiety, stress and illness.
Through cultivating greater awareness (mindfulness), those who have gone through the MBSR training, report reduced stress and anxiety, improved overall well being and increased ability to handle stressful situations.
This has been my experience as well.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is more than just a “meditation practice,” it is a system of practices and techniques tested in a clinical environment to determine what worked for their students and patients.
MBSR combines meditation, mindful living, yoga, body scan and increased awareness, with methods for handling stress that are meant to be integrated into the challenges of everyday life.
We will be diving into MBSR in an upcoming article but if you would like to learn more you can check out the links below.
To learn more about MBSR, or to register for an in-person MBSR class, you can visit the website for Umass Medical School below:
UMass Medical School: Center For Mindfulness (umassmed.edu)
To register for the official MBSR Online Course, you can find it at Sounds True through the link below.
Sounds True: “The MBSR Online Course” (soundstrue.com)
Brainwave entrainment is the process of synchronizing the brainwaves with an external stimulus.
The most popular way of doing this – and the way that we recommend – is through audio tracks embedded with binaural beats or isochronic tones.
Our current brainwave patterns highly influence our current state.
For example – Beta brainwaves are associated with normal waking (task-oriented) consciousness, Alpha brainwaves are associated with relaxation and creativity, Theta with intuition and dreams and Delta with deep dreamless sleep.
Using an EEG, scientists discovered that meditators can increase the number of Alpha brainwaves – thus increasing creative thinking abilities, entering states of greater relaxation and reducing anxiety and depression.
Advanced meditators (Zen monks) were found to increase not only Alpha brainwaves but Theta and Delta as well – promoting inner peace, calm and healing.
Brainwave entrainment – using binaural beats and isochronic tones – gently brings the listener into these deep brainwave states without any “effort” on the part of the listener. And without years of meditation practice.
While you can enter these deep meditative states using binaural beats or isochronic tones – I still recommend combining this technology with a traditional practice.
This has a much more powerful effect as you consciously develop the ability to focus your mind and increase your awareness (mindfulness) versus only listening to audio tracks.
If you'd like to dive deeper into brainwave entrainment you can check out our article here:
If you'd like to check out the brainwave entrainment program we use, click the link below and try out a free 40-min demo.
iAwake Technologies: “iAwake Demo” (iawaketechnologies.com/free-tracks)
Awareness of Breathing (Anapanasati)
Anapanasati is not necessarily a meditation “practice” in the larger sense of the word – but a meditation technique that is found in almost every form of meditation or mindfulness practice.
Awareness of breathing (Anapanasati) – forms the core practice of Mindfulness, Vipassana, Zen and many other meditation practices.
The simple practice of awareness of breathing can be a powerful meditation on its own. It promotes mindfulness and can help calm and center the mind in the present moment.
If you're just starting out, practicing breath awareness on its own can be an excellent place to begin.
The 5-minute meditation below is an excellent example of this practice.
Simply follow the meditation for 5 minutes each day and begin extending your sessions to 10, 15 and 20 minutes per day.
In time you can add deeper practices such as MBSR, Zen, Vipassana meditation or Qigong.
Energy and anxiety go hand in hand.
When our energy is erratic, excessive or trapped in the head – we feel stressed out or anxious. When our energy is balanced and centered in our body – we feel calm and grounded.
Qigong is the best practice I have discovered for balancing internal energy.
Like many of you with anxiety – my energy tends to center in my head (thinking, analyzing, obsessing, worrying).
Qigong is profound in it's ability to center the energy in the body – resulting in feeling more grounded, centered and alive.
Although not as often discussed as practices such as Mindfulness, Qigong is a powerful meditation practice in its own right. Combining meditation, breathing and movement into one effective system.
Qigong is also fun to practice. If you prefer a meditation practice that involves moving versus sitting – Qigong could be a great alternative to more traditional seated meditations.
Qigong could also be used as a powerful complement to a traditional practice – which is how I use it.
It's a great way to clear energy blockages and get out of our heads and reconnect to the vital life force energy in our bodies.
We will be going more in-depth into Qigong in an upcoming article.
If you're interested in learning an effective Qigong practice I highly recommend the programs of Lee Holden.
His practices are very accessible to newcomers, but deep and effective for those who already have experience with Qi-Gong, meditation or any other energy practices.
I have been professionally trained in both Traditional (Taoist) Qigong and Medical Qigong but I really like his programs which combine elements of both.
I still practice Qigong using his programs to this day.
You can check the program I use and recommend below – it's a great course and an easy way to get started with Qigong.
A Simple 5 Minute Meditation: Breath Awareness
This article is long and jam-packed with information. But it's time to take action.
Information is great – when we become better informed we can make more informed choices – but in the end, it doesn't amount to much if we don't apply what we learn.
We need to take action to see real results!
At this point, you should have a pretty solid understanding of meditation. Why not take a few minutes to apply what you have learned so far?
Below I will guide you through a simple 5-minute meditation where we will be bringing our awareness to the breath.
This technique forms the foundation of most meditation and mindfulness practices and can be a powerful practice on its own.
Before we begin:
- Set aside a few minutes where you won't be disturbed
- Find a comfortable spot to sit quietly without distractions
- You can try sitting in one the poses described above or you can simply sit in a chair with both feet on the floor and your hands in your lap
- Take a minute to settle into your position
- Take a few deep breaths to center yourself
- Close your eyes and begin turning your awareness inward
- All breathing will be done through the nose
- The mouth should be closed and the tip of the tongue placed on the roof of the mouth near the back of the top teeth
- Begin by placing your awareness on the breath
- Notice where your attention seems to naturally go when focusing on your breathing
- You may feel the sensation of the air flowing in and out of the nostrils, or you may notice your stomach expanding on the in-breath and contracting on the out-breath, or feel the shoulders rising and falling in line with your breathing
- Pick one of the areas to focus your attention on as your breath naturally flows in and out
- There is no need to try and control or change the breath in any way – simply observe as the breath happens on its own
- You may notice thoughts coming and going – there is no need to change or control these either – simply notice them and gently place your awareness back on the breath
- Continue to focus your awareness on the sensation of breathing as your awareness remains on that one area you have chosen
- You may find that you aren't aware of the breath as it is occurring now but instead are thinking about breathing or imagining yourself breathing – the goal here is to place your present awareness on the direct sensations, feelings and experience of breathing as it is occurring now
- Continue to hold your awareness on the breath – gently guiding yourself back whenever you find that you are distracted by thoughts or thinking about breathing
- When you are done simply open your eyes
My Experience With Meditation For Anxiety
I first discovered meditation as a teenager when I was looking for ways to calm my mind. At the time I was extremely anxious, with obsessive worrying thoughts and suffered from panic attacks almost daily.
I decided to practice meditation for anxiety and purchased a book to learn how to meditate.
I began my practice by counting my breath as I sat in a meditative pose. The initial results were mixed at best.
In the beginning, I could barely get further than 3 or 4 counts before I would get lost in my thoughts – worrying, planning, remembering – I would repeatedly have to bring my attention back.
A typical session would go something like this:
inhale “1” – exhale “2” – inhale “3” – exhale “I can't believe what happened earlier”, “Is she mad at me?”, “I need to call her”– inhale – CRAP
Over and over I would get lost in my thoughts. This went on for weeks.
Slowly I began to notice I was doing better. I could do 6, 7, 8 counts without losing my focus.
I saw subtle changes in my everyday life as well. My focus and ability to “pull my mind” back from getting lost in my thoughts began to improve.
As much as I was improving it was slow and I wanted to get “there” faster. Wherever “there” was.
I tried a few other meditation practices and then discovered brainwave entrainment with binaural beats. This was a game-changer for me.
My ability to meditate exploded. I received greater benefit from a few weeks with binaural beats than I had with several months of traditional meditation.
For a while, my meditation practice was simply to sit back and listen to the audio tracks. This in itself was effective.
It greatly reduced my anxiety, I was having fewer panic attacks and I developed greater self-awareness and insight.
While these were great benefits, it wasn’t until I took up a traditional practice (this time Vipassana/Mindfulness practice) – and combined it with brainwave entrainment – that I understood how truly life-changing meditation could be.
I have been meditating in this style for over 20 years now.
I’ve tried other practices over the years and attended countless meditation retreats and seminars but Vipassana and Mindfulness meditation combined with brainwave entrainment has been my staple practice.
Over the past two decades, I have added or changed a few things as I have found them to work for me, either temporarily or for the long term.
- About 6 or 7 years ago I changed my preferred brainwave entrainment program to iAwake and still use their programs daily.
- I began practicing Qigong about 10 years ago, since then I have been trained in Traditional Taoist Qigong and Medical Qigong and practice around 3 times per week in addition to my daily meditation.
- A few years ago I discovered MBSR and it greatly impressed me. I added a few of the techniques from MBSR – such as the Body Scan to supplement my daily practice. I was already practicing Mindfulness meditation so the core practice complimented my own
My Current Practice Looks Something Like This
(My "core practice" represents Mindfulness meditation combined with iAwake's Profound Meditation Program)
Monday: 60-mins meditation in the evening; core practice
Tuesday: 30-mins Qigong in the morning: 30-mins core practice in the evening
Wednesday: 60-mins meditation in the evening; core practice
Thursday: 60-mins meditation in the evening: body scan (from MBSR)
Friday: 30-mins Qigong in the morning: 30-mins standing yoga (from MBSR)
Sunday: 30-mins core practice in the morning: 30-mins Qigong in the evening
This may look overwhelmingly to you if your new to meditation but bear in mind I've been practicing for over 2 decades now. Meditation has been part of my daily routine for years – like brushing my teeth.
I also know what techniques work for me and when I need them.
My practice isn't set in stone or especially rigid. I'll mix things up on some days or just take a day off.
If I'm overly busy or have something scheduled I simply won't meditate that day and shoot for the next day.
I don't beat myself up over missing sessions – the point of mediation is to become more present and aware of life – why not enjoy the fruit of our labors by actually living our lives?
On average, I tend to practice some form of meditation for 5-6 days per week with at least 30 mins per day.
Again, if you're just starting out – go for 10 to 20 minutes each day and work up to a reasonable time you can commit to. There's no need to jump into hour-long meditations from the start.
Meditation can be a extremely effective for stress and anxiety – which is why I've dedicated so much time and energy to this article. I know that it works.
I know this not only from my own experience over the past 20 years, but through the experiences of other meditators, and the increasing amount of scientific studies that prove it's effectiveness for everything from anxiety, stress and OCD to PTSD and depression.
The positive benefits of meditation and mindfulness go beyond just stress and anxiety.
A daily meditation practice can lead to overall healthier living and a richer more present experience of our lives.
When we increase our awareness (mindfulness) – we are able to live more in the present moment – which reduces the amount of time we spend replaying the past and worrying about the future.
For those of us with anxiety, this can be huge – as we spend a large part of our lives stuck in the past or obsessing over future worries and fears.
These practices also provide much-needed space between ourselves (our awareness) and our thoughts. This creation of space is possibly the most powerful aspect of meditation for anxiety sufferers.
When we are anxious, or worse – in the midst of a panic attack – we become fused with our thoughts. We forget for a moment that these are just thoughts and we become entangled in them. We believe our thoughts to be real and that we are our thoughts.
We react to our thoughts as if they were truly happening – as if they were us.
But they are just thoughts, they aren't us and they can't hurt us.
The ability to create space between ourselves and our thoughts – so that we aren't reacting to life with automatic “knee-jerk” responses or getting trapped in our worries and fears – is an essential skill everyone should have.
These are life practices that should have been taught to us in school. For the majority of us, they weren't. We can learn to practice now, regardless of where we are in life. All it takes is 10 minutes to start.
Set aside 10 minutes out of your day, choose a practice that suits you and sit. That's all. After a week try 10 mins. Just commit to meditating daily. The results can be profound.
If you'd like to learn more about the meditation programs we recommended in this article, you can check out their respective websites below:
- Yoga Journal: Breathing Lessons
- Medical Daily: Mindfulness Vs Meditation
- Science of People: 14 Benefits of Meditation…
- Live & Dare: 23 Types of Meditation
- NCCIH: Meditation In Depth
- Positive Psychology Program: 22 Mindfulness Exercises…
- Mental Health Daily: Types of Meditation
- NCBI: A Comprehensive Review of Health Beneifts of Qigong…
- Harvard Medical School: Mindfulness Meditation May Ease Anxiety…
- UMass Medical School: History of MBSR
- The Contemplative Society: Centering Prayer
- Healthline: 12 Science-Based Benefits of Meditation
- Tricycle: What Exactly is Vipassana Meditation?
- NCBI: Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness for GAD
- Psychology Today: Alpha Brain Waves Boost Creativity
- Psychology Today: How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation