One of the main reasons many people are attracted to meditation techniques is to combat stress. Stress distorts our reasoning, causes us to overindulge in alcohol, stimulants and depressants, lowers our immunity, causes sleeplessness and damages relationships. It’s virtually impossible to feel happy when we are overstressed. Through meditation and mindfulness we begin to respond rather than react. We begin to understand the interconnectedness of our body, mind and emotions.
Meditation is not an escape from life’s pressures but rather a way of addressing stress through introspection. Learning to listen to our minds and bodies helps us to recognise our habitual stress patterns. We learn to be more present enabling us to respond calmly rather than react irrationally. Each day presents us with many opportunities to look within.
In my last post we talked about Mindfulness and how we can apply this practice to any task or action we are performing at any given time. In this practice we rise above the ever chattering mind and its preoccupations giving every moment our full attention to the task or action at hand. When totally absorbed in and fully focused on any activity we feel alert and calm. There is no room for stress. Our body has responded to our quietened mind so when stress does rear its ugly head it’s alerting us to the fact that we are not present. Stress lets us know well and truly that our busy thinking mind is running the show and that we’re lost in some past or future scenario which is definitely not making us feel good.
I love it when science backs up what ancient sages knew and spiritual leaders continue to tell us. Much scientific research has been done in the area of thought and the affect it has on our bodies and emotions. In the Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living for example author Amit Sood MD MSc. States:
“Your brain and mind work very hard to keep you stressed.
Your brain is wired to escape the present moment into a default of mind wandering…..We crowd our memory banks with unresolved fear and unfulfilled wants. Fears and wants in toxic overload generate stress.”
He says that when the mind is on auto pilot and unfocused (when we are physically here but mentally elsewhere) we are in what he calls default mode. He endorses “training our attention and refining our interpretations” which is in essence what Mindfulness is.
The best time to address stress is when we first become aware of its onset. Not always practical I know however addressing it sooner than later is optimum. If you can, breathe deeply through your nose for at least three or four breaths. We all shallow breathe particularly when stressed. The body naturally responds to the breath and begins to relax. Our body is the barometer of our thinking pattern and any feelings of unease are always accompanied with thoughts. When you do find an opportunity to grab a few undisturbed moments, breathe as outlined in Meditation 101 and tune into the sensations you are feeling. You may catch the associated thoughts enabling you to bring your awareness to them. Release the thoughts (don’t bury them, your awareness is enough) and the feelings will soon dissipate. If unable to identify the thoughts, which is quite natural at first, breathe deeply and send the breath to the area of the body harbouring stress or unwanted emotions. Concentrate on your breath and release any further thoughts as they arise. With enough practice you will be able to do this anywhere and anytime you feel an emotional charge.
The above exercise is for our everyday reactions to stress. For a deeper understanding of the nature of our unwanted emotions, it is helpful to practice meditation. Our intention during our meditative introspection is to understand our stress. Our focus is on the way it makes us feel and what thoughts arise. We will be exploring this more thoroughly at a later date.
By practising Mindfulness in our daily activities and body awareness when we react negatively, we become increasingly alert to the onset of stress. We may not be able to change the factors that surround us but we all have the ability to change the way we feel and react. Tuning into our body gives us the opportunity to learn more about ourselves and begin healing our lives. When we are able to identify recurring thoughts and feelings that accompany stress we can begin to resolve them. We can’t fix something we don’t know about.
I really hope you enjoy and benefit from the above practice. Try to incorporate it into your life because overcoming stress is the first step in achieving a happier, calmer, balanced and more fulfilling life.