Insight Meditation: Benefits and How-To

Start Using Insight Meditation for Stress Relief Now

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What Is Insight Meditation?

Insight meditation, also known as vipassana meditation, mindfulness meditation, and non-concentrative meditation, has its roots in Buddhist teachings, but can be practiced by anyone, as is compatible with all spiritual beliefs (including non-belief). It's also a wonderfully effective tool for stress relief.

Benefits of Insight Meditation

Psychological stress cognitions, particularly assessments of threats that one may be facing in life and ruminative thoughts, can lead to prolonged states of reactivity.

In contrast, mindfulness meditation techniques appear to shift these mental evaluations (or "cognitive appraisals") from threat to challenge, which can make everything feel less stressful, and can help you to access feelings of empowerment rather than fear in dealing with the challenges you face.  This type of meditation can also decrease ruminative thought, and reduce stress arousal, meaning the body stays more calm and your thought process contains less negativity and intensity. Mindfulness may also directly increase positive arousal states like positive affect.

How To Practice Vipassana/Insight Meditation

There are several ways to practice vipassana meditation.  The main goal is to stay in the present moment, breathing deeply and calmly.  There are a multitude of ways to achieve this simple goal, however.  

  • First, sit comfortably and set a timer for yourself so that you can fully relax physically and psychologically.  (When you know that you will not take more time for your practice than you have available, you can fully relax in the moment without worrying that you are forgetting something.)  What you do next is a choice.  Here are some options.
  • Focus on your breathing.  Notice the air going in and out of your lungs. (Read more about breathing exercises here to know what the proper form is for relaxed, diaphragmic breathing.)
  • Try counting.  You can count each inhalation and exhalation.  You can count quickly to ten with each inhalation and exhalation, or count to six on the inhale and ten on the exhale to relax your breathing even further.  You can repeat each number over and over while you inhale and exhale ("one, one, one, one, one; two, two, two...") and start at one again each time you notice that you've lost count.  Whatever works to keep you focused on the present moment is the best technique for you.
  • Label intrusive thoughts, and let go.  If you find yourself thinking about what you need to do later in the day, label it "schedule," for example, and then let go, refocusing your mind on the present moment.  If you find yourself thinking about an argument you had earlier, label it "conflict," and then let go.  You can use whatever category names feel appropriate for you, but the point is to quickly recognize and release each thought and return to meditation.
  • Focus on a sensation.  One technique is to let an itch go un-scratched, and simply notice the physical sensations that go along with this.  (This is an interesting meditation technique because it keeps you focused in your body and guides you along, in a way.  Also, these opportunities present themselves randomly throughout the day, creating a constant reminder to meditate.)  Another sensation-focused option is to focus on how your body feels pressed into the chair you are using, the feeling of hunger or satiety you feel in your body, as well as the way the air feels moving in and out of your lungs.

    There are many other ways to focus in vipassana meditation, but these are some of the simplest and most popular.  Play with it, and see what works best for you.

    Additional Meditation Resources

    The following are additional resources for getting started with meditation:

    Epel E, Daubenmier J, Moskowitz JT, Folkman S, Blackburn E. Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, August, 2009.

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