A new study in the journal Consciousness and Cognition suggests that one session of meditation can help reduce your body's response to anger. Occasional anger can be normal, and even healthy, but constant and frequent anger takes a toll on your body and mind. Anger and frustration cause us to be stressed, activates our sympathetic nervous system, and produces shallower, faster breathing, a rapid heart rate, and raises blood pressure.

The new study found that just one session of meditation reduced the physical signs of anger, even in people new to meditation. Researchers examined 15 people new to meditation and 12 experienced meditators and measured their physical responses, including blood pressure, breathing rate, heart rate. Both groups were asked to relive experiences that made them angry.

Anger in people who were new to meditation raised their heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. But after only 20 minutes of meditation, people who had never done meditation before had a much calmer and more relaxed physical response when asked to re-experience anger.

In people with dozens of hours of meditation experience, thinking about an angry experience did not elicit much of a physical reaction. Their heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate remained relaxed, both before and after meditation.

This study adds to the growing evidence than meditation, both short-term and long-term, can help protect our bodies and minds from the harmful physical stress of anger.  It is possible that people who are who choose to do meditation long-term are more likely to be less reactive in the first place. But, as this study suggests, the ability to be less reactive—on a physical and emotional level—is something we have the power to change about ourselves, regardless of our level of experience.

Repeated, consistent practice of meditation enhances our ability to cope and sit with negative emotions like anger without reacting. As Tara Brach says, through practice, we are able to learn to respond, not react. This study show that meditation—even a short one-time session—can help us along that path.

Try a short, simple meditation (20 minutes) similar to the one in the study:

  1. Find a comfortable seated position.
  2. Close your eyes (or if you want to keep your eyes open slightly, you can stare at the ground a few feet away from you.)
  3. Rest your hands on your thighs.
  4. Focus on the area a few fingers below your navel.
  5. Take a smooth, slow breath in and count each inhale and exhale, from one to ten and then back down to one. (Example: inhale - 1, exhale -2, inhale - 3, and so on)
  6. Let thoughts come and go. Do not hold onto any particular thoughts.
  7. If you a thought interrupts your counting, come back to your breath, and restart your counting again at 1.

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