1. Loving-Kindness Meditation
Metta bhavana, or cultivating loving-kindness, is a way to practice giving unconditional love to yourself and others. As you meditate, consider the tranquillity and happiness of self-acceptance. Think first of yourself, then friends and family, neutral acquaintances, and even enemies with the same love. In the final stage, open your heart to extend peaceful, charitable love equally to them all.
Benefits: Focusing on loving-kindness allows for personal forgiveness and acceptance, as well as releasing irritation and your judgment of others.
Practice: Try this simple traditional meditation: May I be filled with loving-kindness. May I be safe from inner and outer dangers. May I be well in body and mind. May I be at ease and happy.
2. Restorative Yoga
Therapeutic postures such as crocodile (makarasana), thunderbolt (vajrasana), and a simple supported backbend are particularly nourishing and restorative when held for several minutes. Adding restorative poses to your practice can help combat chronic stress symptoms through increased blood flow, gentle breathing, and physical relaxation. Use props such as pillows, straps, and blankets to maximize your comfort and deepen your contentment.
Benefit: Restorative yoga can help relieve acute stress and tension as well as insomnia, headaches, jet lag, and menstrual discomfort.
Practice: Pick up Judith Hanson Lasater’s Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times for a comprehensive guide to restorative sequences of supported poses and breathing practices.
Practicing simple acts of generosity can make you happy, root you in your community, and inspire creativity. Best of all, money isn’t required. Some of the most altruistic acts—offering a kind word or helping hand—involve only time and an open heart. Engaging in random acts of kindness can set off a chain reaction in which others pay forward the generosity you’ve shown and shared with them.
Benefits: Research shows that altruism can improve mental and physical health, lift our love lives, and provide healthful and even financial benefits.
Practice: Send a note of commendation to the supervisor of a helpful public servant. Offer help without being asked. Whatever you do, do it with deliberate kindness.
4. Ecstatic Dance
You know those dances you do in front of the mirror at home? How free would you feel doing them with a large group in a welcoming and peaceful sanctuary? Free-form conscious dancing took root on the Big Island of Hawaii circa 2000 and has been going strong in major mainland cities ever since. This improvisational dance floor meditation is as unique as its practitioners. Gyrate violently or groove slowly to the music—wherever your bliss takes you.
Benefits: A judgment-free space allows you to release pent-up energy, channel your innermost rhythms freely, and tap into your deepest creative reserves. You’ll also get quite a workout if you dance for several hours.
Practice: EcstaticDance.org hosts a list of local free-form dance communities and resources.
5. Sound Therapy
Traditional sound therapy includes nondenominational overtone chanting, shamanic drumming, and Buddhist singing bowls. But contemporary practice is as simple as listening to recorded music embedded with binaural beats—two slightly different tones in each ear produce brain-wave entrainment. You won’t notice the imperceptible frequencies in the songs—just your tranquil state.
Benefits: A 2008 research review in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine found that listening to binaural beats can reduce stress, improve PMS, and lessen physical pain, including headaches.
Practice: Select a CD of binaural beat music to match your specific stress-related symptoms at Hemi-Sync.com. Grammy-nominated composer and sound therapy researcher Steven Halpern’s relaxing, minimalist music is available at InnerPeaceMusic.com.