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Decreasing Stress through Mindfulness Practices: Mindful Breathing and Loving-Kindness Meditation

Have you been meaning to start a daily mindfulness routine to decrease your stress levels? I’m sure you’ve heard about the mounting research that suggests mindfulness is an effective way to combat stress, but how should you start?

Below I’ve outlined two popular practices, mindful breathing and loving-kindness meditation, that can help you begin your mindfulness journey. They’re fairly simple, straightforward, and can be easily integrated into your daily routine.  

Mindful Breathing

Taking a few minutes to sit and focus on the breath can make a world of difference. Image courtesy of Medical News Today.

woman sitting and meditating in front of a huge body of water
Taking a few minutes to sit and focus on the breath can make a world of difference. Image courtesy of Medical News Today.

One of the key components of mindfulness practices is focus. When your mind is moving a million miles per hour, finding something basic to focus on, such as your breath, can help decrease your stress in the moment.

Focusing on your breathing is a simple process that you can practice just about anywhere. However, health professionals believe that starting a daily routine of mindful breathing makes it easier to conduct in stressful situations.

To start, find a comfortable sitting or lying position. Many meditation guides, whether online or in person, suggest closing your eyes to facilitate your focus. Once you’re comfortable, turn your attention to the flow of your breath — focus on your natural inhale and exhale.

Personally, I like to do a “one, two” count to help focus on my breathing; one on the inhale and two on the exhale. Other people I’ve meditated with repeat mantras such as “in” on the inhale and “out” on the exhale. There’s no correct mantra — whatever helps you concentrate on your breath is perfect.

Take note of the sensations you experience when breathing. These could be in your throat, nostrils, chest, abdomen, etc. Your mind will start to wonder as you conduct this practice, but don’t get frustrated — it’s completely natural. Identify your wandering thoughts, let them pass by, and then gently return your focus to the breath.

Loving-Kindness Meditation

woman sitting and meditating in front of a sunset
Receive and send love. Image courtesy of Lion’s Roar.

This form of mindfulness practice is one of my favorites — loving-kindness meditation is all about strengthening your connection with those around you. Just like with mindful breathing, begin by finding a comfortable position and close your eyes. Start to focus on your breath; take a deep breath in and then out.

The first step is receiving: With you eyes closed, think of someone who cares deeply about you like your parents, significant other, best friend, etc., and place them on your right side. Take a moment to “feel the warm wishes and love” coming to you from that person.

The next few steps involve surrounding yourself by the same person or various people who cherish you. Once you are surrounded by those who love you, it’s time to send love back to them: Repeat the mantra “May you live with ease, may you be happy, may you be free from pain” three times to the person on your right side.

Now let’s send love and warmth to the person on your left: Repeat the mantra “Just as I wish to, may you be safe, may you be healthy, may you live with ease and happiness” three times.

The remainder of the meditation involves sending love to everyone around you — to all loved ones, neutral people and all living beings. The goal of loving-kindness meditation is to “cultivate an attitude of love and kindness toward everything.”

If these two practices don’t seem to be working for you, don’t panic — many people need to experiment before finding the routine that’s right for them. Take a look at this article, “How to Choose a Type of Mindfulness Meditation,” for more direction.