It’s not often that a study comes along endorsing the benefits of a one-off endeavor. After all, while a single salad or workout can be a great starting point, it typically takes more than that to see results. But according to recent research presented at this year’s Experimental Biology conference in San Diego, people who deal with anxiety may experience psychological and physiological benefits from a single introductory mindfulness meditation session. Seems like a good reason to get Zen, right?
After participating in an hour-long guided intro session to mindfulness meditation, 14 study participants with high levels of anxiety experienced lower resting heart rates and other cardiovascular risk markers—and reported feeling less anxious—compared to the start of the study. And the effects seemed to have staying power: Even one week later, the participants reported anxiety levels that were lower than the levels noted pre-meditation.
“This study is different because we examined the effect of a single mindfulness meditation session on anxiety and cardiovascular outcomes, while other studies have examined the effect of several days or weeks of mindfulness meditation,” lead study author John Durocher, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological sciences at Michigan Technological University, said in a statement. “The results suggest that a single mindfulness meditation session may help to reduce cardiovascular risk in those with moderate anxiety.”
According to experts, even those who aren’t afflicted with chronic anxiety can benefit from a focused self-care session. “In the world we live in, we are constantly giving ourselves away—whether it be to work, family, friends—that we rarely prioritize ourselves,” says Fitbit Local Ambassador Kevin Ng, a Seattle-based yoga instructor and mindfulness coach. “As a result, we end up in a cycle where all we’re doing is running from one task to another. It can become so unconscious that we begin to lose who we are in the process.”
The beauty of mindfulness is that it does the exact opposite. “It connects us to the current moment where life is happening,” says Ng. “That certainly doesn’t mean we forget about our past or future, it just means we pause and notice our thoughts in the current moment. This enables us to ask ourselves if there is any truth to that thought, or if we’re judging ourselves based on something that happened in the past or something we are trying to prevent in the future.”
How To Start Seeing Benefits—Stat
While it may sound like an advanced practice, mindfulness really just means becoming aware of where you are, what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it, withholding any judgement, and paying specific attention to breath. In this particular study, participants meditated for 20 minutes before being led through a 30-minute “body scan” (similar to progressive muscle relaxation) where they were instructed to focus intensely on one part of their body at a time. They ended the hour with 10 minutes of self-guided meditation.
Even if dedicating a 20- or 30-minute block of time to mindfulness sounds impossible, taking a few small steps can still lead to success. “Start by allowing yourself to meditate for any amount of time that you feel comfortable in any position you feel most comfortable,” says Ng. “Removing the constraints of time and posture can help you reduce judgement and expectation on yourself, making it easier to trust in the process that is happening. Allow whatever thoughts that may arise to flow without attaching to a single one. Although the thoughts will be overwhelming initially, I assure you that they will calm if you continue to have patience with your meditation practice.”
Ready to get started? Here are some tips:
- Use Fitbit Relax. Sixty-seven percent of people who use the personalized two-minute or five-minute guided deep breathing sessions experienced a decrease in heart rate, according to Fitbit data. Separate research also shows that deep breathing for just 30 seconds can help lower blood pressure and heart rate.
- Reframe your idea of “meditation”—you don’t have to sit motionless on a pillow to properly meditate. Just finding moments of gratitude and awareness in your day can be a great start.
- Schedule in a few minutes every day. Consider it your daily appointment with yourself to get centered.
- Meditate while you eat. Mindful eating is a way to slow down, pay attention to your food, and learn to listen to your body.
- Stop multitasking. Even if you can’t find five spare minutes to solely dedicate to a meditation practice, try doing your everyday tasks more mindfully by focusing on one to-do at a time.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.