I've been meditating using different types of meditation for years now. I've been feeling a lot of stress lately, and I want to calm down in the ideal way. I've been reading neuroscience studies claiming that breath meditation is the most effective to calm down the amygdala, a key brain region in stress.

However, when I meditate on the breath, I feel somewhat tense. When I meditate openly (without object), I get shivers on my body as if I were getting calmer. During focused breath meditation, this doesn't happen. I'm having a lot of trouble figuring out whether, on the long term, breath meditation is really more calming than an objectless meditation or even of loving-kindness.

How can one know what type of meditation is most calming and de-stressing long-term?


8 Answers 8


Unlike the modern "western" medicine, which often treats the symptoms and superficial causes, Buddhism is all about finding and removing the root causes of dukkha (~suffering) including its subtype we simply call "stress".

If you think about it, and as the Buddha himself said, all of the Buddhist path is about stopping suffering and arresting causes of suffering. Specifically, the group of teachings known as The Noble Eightfold Path is a collection of methods for preventing creation of the causes of stress at all levels, from coarse to subtle and from social to innermost.

It should go without saying, but I will still say it, that you having lots of stress in your life is indicative of gaps in your practice of The Eightfold Path. Why don't you review it and see what you get.

Leaving that aside, when it comes to meditation, suttas explain that meditation goes in progression from basic to advanced. The goal of basic meditation is to learn to focus, because most people are rather scatterbrained and are easily distracted by their own thoughts. The goal of advanced meditation is to identify and resolve emotional and mental hangups that serve as inner causes of stress.

When I say "hangups" I mean a broad class of issues like prejudices, stereotypes, overgeneralizations, internalized misconceptions, and reifications.

The work of advanced meditation is to

  1. notice there's something in the fog
  2. feel through the fog until you can more or less clearly see the issue
  3. focus on the issue and observe it until its inner workings are clear
  4. find the abstract core of the issue - the metaphorical handle you're holding on to,
  5. resolve the issue by letting go of the handle

This process is repeated dozens and hundreds of times, taking whatever next instance of stress that comes to mind and tracing it back to its source in your psyche.

By now it should be clear that basic meditation on single object cannot by itself undo your knots and tangles. You have to work with your actual feelings and their conceptual/preconceptual roots.

Now, what is the role of objectless open-ended meditation and where does it fit in this process. The way I was taught, its role is to serve as the base camp from which the exploration of hangups takes place.

In other words, the objectless meditation, and meditation on breath too, is where you start from, and where you come back to every time you get lost, and after every successful uprooting of a hangup. While having a basecamp is important, if you stay in the camp day after day, your vacation will be over before you climb that mountain and see that bear. LOL, today I'm all over the place with my metaphors :)

I'm sorry to disappoint you if you assumed you can just sit in meditation and it will work by itself. You have to make an actual effort to explore and process your crap. Otherwise you'll just keep churning the same stress over and over.


"There’s a story of a young American monk ordained in Thailand who went to study with one of the famous forest ajaans. He asked the ajaan, “What meditation object is going to bring calm and peace to my mind?” And the ajaan said, “I don’t know. You have to find out.” The young monk hearing, “I don’t know,” thought it meant that “I don’t know anything about meditation.” He ended up disrobing and going someplace else. But that’s not what the ajaan meant. What he meant was that each of us has to find out what’s going to work for us as we meditate. You have to find the object that’s most suitable for you, and the best way to relate to it. The whole purpose of developing concentration is to get the mind to settle down, and the way to get it to settle down is to give it a place where it likes to stay settled. What’s going to work for you is going to depend on your preferences, on your background, on all kinds of factors that are purely personal.

For each of us, the process of developing concentration is an individual thing. So you have to explore. There’s no telling exactly what kind of breathing is going to be good for you, or whether there are times when you need to focus on something else instead: like recollecting the Buddha, recollecting the Dhamma, the Sangha, contemplating of the body, developing thoughts of goodwill, compassion, empathetic joy, or equanimity. It’s really a personal matter which of these is going to work for you.

There’s no one-size-fits-all kind of meditation. Breath meditation comes the closest to a universal object because, after all, we all have a breath, and for all of us it’s an important part of our lives. Ajaan Lee recommends taking it as your home base. It’s the safest of all meditation objects. But there are times when you need to forage around in other areas. You may find yourself way off in left field and have to find your way back to home base. It may require thoughts of goodwill to get back there or it may require contemplation of the body. This is something you have to explore for yourself. You have to experiment. You have to learn how to observe to see what works."

~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu "The Riddle Tree" https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/ePubDhammaTalks_v3/Section0018.html


In practice, stress relief usually comes from good physical habits. Are you eating well, exercising regularly, avoiding too much caffeine, drugs, and alcohol.

Meditation without those habits as a prerequisite is unlikely to do much for your stress levels. It's better than nothing, but you need to get your body right before you can get your mind right.

Once your health is taken care of, whatever type of meditation you find the most enjoyable is the one to go with.


Transcendental Meditation (TM) is shown by extensive scientific research to reduce stress indicators such as cortisol. Numerous studies show reduced anxiety among TM meditators. In a study by the American Heart Association TM significantly lowered blood pressure, indicating reduced stress.

Rev. Oshima, a Japanese Buddhist monk and teacher of TM, has taught it to thousands of Buddhist monks in Thailand and Sri Lanka, with good results. Top Buddhist monks from Nepal and Tibet also practice TM and have said it produces unique and valuable experiences and benefits.


Well Samatha meditation will only cover up the defilements that cause you stress. It's a temporary way of being free from stress.

In the long run its ofc not suitable.

It would be better to start practicing vipassana meditation.


While the recommendation in this answer is good for the long term and solves the root cause of the problem, body sweeping or body scanning meditation as suggested below, can be a quick temporary fix.

From pages 17 - 18 of the book "The Art of Disappearing" by Ven. Ajahn Brahm:

I’ve found that body sweeping is a useful technique for people who are restless. It was one of the meditations I introduced at a recent retreat and the meditators loved it. They were mainly executives, very busy people. They were so restless that giving them something to do proved very beneficial. Slowly noticing the feelings in the body from the toes all the way up to the head really calmed them down. It was an active meditation but it was focused in the moment. There was not much thinking that could go on, and so by the end of the sweeping they were actually quite calm— surprisingly so. Of course, those who knew how to go further carried on from there, and I was pleased that some people got into very nice meditation for the first time.

It’s always a great joy as a teacher when students understand what meditation is like for the first time. It is marvelous when someone says, “It was so easy and I got so focused. I couldn’t hear anything. I was just really inside myself. It was so nice.” The people who get deep meditation are sometimes the ones I least expect it of. It’s truly wonderful, and sometimes it all starts with body meditation.

Having seen those results, I want to encourage this sort of practice. When you’re meditating, don’t just sit there and do nothing or fall asleep. Don’t just sit there and say, “present-moment awareness,” and then start thinking about all sorts of things. Try to develop the body meditation. It’s not about understanding the nature of the body. That’s a type of body contemplation that I don’t think is very useful until after you get into deep meditation. Instead, just be aware of the feelings in the body. Give yourself another technique in your meditation repertoire to use during a long retreat day.

I found a Youtube video here on body sweeping meditation guided by Ajahn Brahm.


It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it. That's what gets results. Breath meditation, brahma viharas, those are very fundamental tools all good meditators should have and use regularly. That said, I don't think it's easy to find genuine instructions on how to practice correctly according to how the Buddha taught in the suttas. Most teachings I've seen are some combination of watered down and/or over complicated by LBT (late buddhist teachings) that tend to add more tension than relaxation.

If breath meditation is making you tense, you're almost definitely not practicing it according to how the Buddha taught, or you have some physical health problems that need to be addressed first or concurrently.

  1. Expert - Breathing
  2. Intermediate - Walking
  3. Beginner - Walking with chewing gum

Starters - Lift weight - It will power you up.

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