Relaxation & meditation exercises

Relaxation and meditation exercises are easy to learn and use, and can be remarkably effective in addressing anxiety, stress, test or other performance anxiety, insomnia, phobias, panic episodes, and other similar concerns. Many relaxation and meditation exercises take about 10 minutes, and there are several websites and smartphone applications which offer free, downloadable audio recordings with instructions.

    • The UCSD Counseling & Psychological Services website offers free, downloadable, MP3 file audio recordings of a range of relaxation and meditation exercises in several different languages. Just click on the iRelax tab of their iFlourish & Self-Help Tech webpage, which is included under their website’s Resources heading.
    • The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center also offers several free, downloadable, audio recordings and transcripts of guided meditations in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and several other languages.
    • The UCSD Center for Mindfulness also offers several free, downloadable, audio and video recordings of guided meditations.
    • The New York Times offers a detailed, step-by-step guide on How to Meditate; the guide includes detailed instructions and free, downloadable audio recordings.
    • Search the “app store” on your smartphone for applications that offer relaxation and meditation exercises–use the keywords “relaxation,” “meditation,” “stress,” or “anxiety.” Ten Percent Happier, Headspace, Calm, and Meditation Studio are examples of popular apps; each offers limited free resources and more extensive ones for a fee.  There are also apps which integrate religious practice with meditation–for example, Hallow is an app designed for Christians interested in prayerful meditation.
    • I’ve recorded audio instructions for what is known as a “progressive muscle relaxation exercise.” Anyone can listen to the instructions directly from this webpage or download the MP3 file onto their own computer or smartphone. 

Listen to a few different relaxation and meditation exercises, find one you like, and then practice whichever exercise you prefer at least once or twice a day. Expect your ability to relax to improve as you continue practicing, and expect to practice two or three weeks before you become genuinely proficient. Once you learn how to do one of the exercises, you may no longer require the recorded instructions, and you can tailor the exercise to your own liking.

Here are some tips for developing your relaxation and meditation skills:

  • Avoid practicing immediately after engaging in vigorous exercise.
  • Sit quietly and in a comfortable position, with your legs uncrossed and your arms resting at your sides. This is especially important when you are first learning the exercise.
  • Adopt a calm, accepting attitude towards your practice. Don’t worry about how well you’re doing or about possible interruptions. Instead, know that with repetition your ability to relax will grow.
  • When you are ready, close your eyes, begin listening to the recording of the exercise, and follow the directions.
  • As you work through the exercise, you can expect your mind to wander a bit—when this happens you can simply redirect your focus back to the recording.
  • Once you’ve finished, stretch, look around and remain still another minute or two.

As you become skilled with a relaxation or meditation exercise, try applying it to specific situations that might otherwise be anxiety provoking, such as difficult social situations, tests, oral presentations, job interviews, and so forth. You might also do an exercise just before bedtime to improve sleep, or first thing in the morning to feel “centered” as you start a stressful day.

To learn more about relaxation and meditation exercises you might consider signing up for a program at UCSD’s Center for Mindfulness. The center’s broad range of workshops and classes are open to anyone, and offer expert guidance in mindfulness and meditation.  You can also learn more about meditation, relaxation exercises, and other effective ways of managing stress and anxiety by reading The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook (7th ed.), by M. Davis, E.R. Eshelman, and M. McKay, published in 2019 by New Harbinger Publications.