Relaxing the mind and body has been the foundation of contemplative practice for millennia. When stressed and anxious, it can be difficult to concentrate, accomplish tasks, attain your goals, and enjoy the positive circumstances that are present right in front of you. In neurobiological terms, relaxation techniques activate the parasympathetic nervous system, thereby undermining the natural but often overactive physiology of the body’s stress response through deliberately engaging slow, deep breathing. 

The following exercises offer guided instruction in techniques that are best applied in quiet environments (headphones can help), whether sitting up or lying down. These teachers provide a full set of instructions, so it is easy to ease right in. After becoming familiar with these meditations, you can apply them whenever you notice stress or anxiety increasing. The key is to remember that you can always take a few deep breaths.
Please note that for trauma survivors, practices focused on the body and breath are not necessarily the most effective modes of generating relaxation (ease). Many meditation professionals are developing trauma-informed contemplative practices to better serve this population. For example, in Trauma Healing: Start Where You Are, Megan Kirk, Ph.D. directly speaks to survivors, presents affirmations towards healing and skillfully working with one’s trauma history, and offers a trauma-sensitive guided meditation.

*Note that for ideal functionality, it is best to link to the recordings in this playlist via the Insight Timer app on your mobile device rather than through the Insight Timer website.

Mary Waldron, LCSW
You can use this brief practice at any time to  relieve stress and anxiety or to pause before reacting during any difficult or provocative situation. Whether parked in the car, seated in the classroom or office, or meditating more formally at home, this simple practice can reestablish a ground of calm by means of the breath. It is particularly recommended for those new to meditation, as it can be quickly learned and applied as needed with or without the audio instructions. One UVA student familiar with this resource said, “I enjoyed this. It is easy and effective with high quality audio. Breathing is also one of the simplest mindfulness practices. I can see students using this because of its short and simple nature.”

Megan Shirley
Useful whenever you need a break, this guided meditation includes  counting through several deep breaths before progressing into simple affirmations. This one is especially good for beginners or those unfamiliar with contemplative practice because the instructions are deliberate and easy to follow from start to finish.

Andrew Johnson
The title may be a little misleading in that this is not a practice for relaxing the stomach specifically but rather incorporates belly breathing to shift attention away from running thoughts and into the naturally settled ground of the body. The instructions are straightforward and, unlike some other breathing practices that are more abstract, this one focuses so viscerally on the physical body that it can easily help calm an overactive mind. The teacher employs the power of positive suggestion to remind the listener “to be good to yourself.” This exercise is best done while lying down with eyes closed and can also be used to settle restless thoughts to fall asleep. He also offers the very popular course, 8 Essential Life Skills.

Beth Kurkland, PhD
This exercise proceeds through a progressive relaxation process that includes deep breathing, flexing and relaxing the muscles from feet to head, and descriptive imagery of the beach. Kirkland then asks the listener to visualize a journey to a safe place engaging each of the senses and to leave all their worries in a box by the entrance. While oriented towards kids,  this practice also provides a playful and creative reprieve from adult responsibilities.

Tom Evans
With gentle instructions backed by soothing music, Evans encourages the listener to lie down and fully relax through a body scan and counted breathing techniques. If you begin to fall asleep, Evans says to just let it happen. The introductory remarks on  meditation more generally are very suitable for beginners. If you enjoy his style and wish to work towards developing more mindfulness in your life, check out his 30-day course, Mindfulness for Busy People, which features guided instructions in 10-minute segments that easily can be applied during breaks in an otherwise busy day.


Related Content
CSC's Insight Timer webpage
CSC-curated Insight Timer Playlists