Feeling anxious is normal, but sometimes worried thoughts can begin to disrupt your life. Meditation techniques are one way to help quell anxiety – from belly breathing to mindful eating.
Anxiety can crop up at any time – whether you’re ruminating over work issues or concerned about a family member. Studies show that regular meditation practice is an effective technique for reducing anxious feelings. We’ve put together the best meditation techniques for anxiety. So next time your stomach starts churning and your mind begins to wander, give one of these methods a go.
If you’re interested in going on a meditation retreat and based in the US or the UK, why not check out Culture Trip’s own range of meditation retreats, based in the Hudson Valley, Lake Tahoe and the UK’s Thames Valley.
Alternate nostril breathing
This yogic and ayurvedic breath (called nadi shodhana pranayama in Sanskrit) is believed to balance, calm and settle the mind and body, making it a popular meditation for anxiety and stress relief. Guided meditations are particularly helpful here. Using one hand, close the right nostril with your thumb, inhale through the left nostril, close both nostrils, release the right nostril and exhale through it; then repeat in reverse, and so on. Anyone with breath-related medical concerns (such as asthma) should talk to their doctor first.
Also known as diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing, deep belly breathing is the foundation for most types of meditation. It is also one of the most accessible meditation techniques for managing anxiety. Belly breathing engages the important diaphragm muscle at the bottom of your ribcage, instead of breathing only with your chest (a common modern-day habit). Sitting or lying comfortably, with one hand on the chest and the other below your ribcage, slowly breathe in through the nose (stomach rises) and out through the mouth (belly relaxes). Step-by-step meditation apps can guide you through the process.
Often incorporated into yoga and meditation classes, body scans bring awareness to different parts of the body by mentally scanning yourself from head to toe. This can help manage stress, anxiety and other mental health problems. Starting with your head and neck (eyes closed), take a few seconds to check in with each part of your body, all the way down to the toes. You’ll notice the physical effects of your mental state, especially in relation to tension, discomfort and pain (which you can imagine leaving your body), but also what feels comfortable today.
Anyone starting their explorations of meditation for anxiety will find guided meditation (where an experienced teacher leads the practice) especially rewarding. Mindfulness apps such as Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer offer an array of expert-led sessions to help reduce anxiety, from body scans to guided sleep meditation, while the Calmer You app focuses exclusively on a full anxiety-tackling toolkit.
100 breaths technique
An ancient Buddhist brain-strengthening meditation that combines deep, purposeful belly breathing with mindful breath counting, aiming to root the mind in the present. Practised independently, the 100 breaths technique revolves around counting down from 100 to zero, in time with the natural breath while comfortably seated. If distracting thoughts surface as you inhale and exhale, simply return to the breath and count.
Originating in Buddhism, meditative walking anchors the mind in the present moment by bringing our focus to the rhythm of our active movement (rather than the breath) and shifting our attention to what is around us (instead of, for example, texting while strolling). The beauty is that it can be practised anywhere; set out at a leisurely pace, check in with how your body feels and use your senses to note sounds, smells and sights. Many practitioners meditate seated, then continue into walking meditation.
Also highly recommended in discussions about how to meditate for anxiety, mindful eating focuses on why, what and how we eat, encouraging us to enjoy cooking and eating, appreciate each mouthful, consider where our food comes from and listen to our bodies. The idea is to eat slowly (without distractions), stop when full, engage all senses and notice how different foods affect overall wellbeing, rather than pay attention to existing anxieties around food. A better understanding of our natural eating habits can help develop confidence and reconnect the mind and body.
A warm, soothing shower (or bath) makes an ideal calming space for meditation. Visualising the water washing away negative thoughts or infusing you with energy, or simply bringing your awareness to the breath for a few minutes, can help lower anxiety. You can add in relaxing scents (perhaps lavender or jasmine) with candles, essential oils and bubble baths, and tie in other meditation techniques such as a body scan or the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 method.
The 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 method
Typically used for overwhelming anxiety attacks (and also helpful as a regular anti-anxiety practice), this five-step meditation technique grounds you in the present moment by engaging both the breath and all five senses. Taking deep, slow breaths, purposefully identify five things you can see nearby; then four things you can touch; three you can hear; two you can smell; and one you can taste, allowing yourself to enjoy the final moments of calm before moving on.
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