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Stress is a universal problem that each of us has personal experience with. Some days we’re less stressed and some days we’re more. Some days we’re so stressed that we lose it emotionally or physically by having outbursts, striking out, disassociating completely, or falling back on bad coping mechanisms, such as addictive behaviour.
Stress can cause our blood pressure to rise and our health to deteriorate. It can take us from sunny to stormy in seconds. And it can mean the difference between having quality of life or not.
So what’s a stressed out person to do besides the recommended check-in with the medical and mental health professionals especially when feeling in over the head? Beneficial strategies include making sure you are getting enough sleep, exercise, and nutritious foods.
Another good strategy is meditation, which is a very effective method for dealing with stress. The problem, most of us don’t understand why meditation is a good thing to do or how to go about doing it.
In the article ‘Be good, be happy’ by D. C. Ranatunga in The Sunday Times, Ajahn Brahmavamso, a world renowned meditation teacher and Buddhist monk from Perth, Australia gives the following explanation for meditation’s effectiveness in reducing stress:
Say I am lifting up this glass of water and you ask me how heavy it is. If I keep holding the glass of water for five minutes, it appears quite heavy. If I continue to hold the glass for half an hour, I will be in quite a lot of pain. If I keep on holding it for two hours, I would be a stupid monk. When it starts to get heavy, what should I do? Put it down—let it go. I don’t need to throw the glass of water away—I just put it down for, may be for 20 seconds. When I pick it up again, it feels lighter because I have rested.
The problem of stress in our modern world is not because we do too much -- it’s because we don’t know how to put our burdens, our responsibilities down for a few minutes and rest and relax. All we need to do is to rest for 15 or 20 minutes in meditation and afterwards we find ourselves so relaxed, we can carry the burdens of life without so much stress. That is what meditation is -- learning how to relax so that you can do more with less stress.
For an effective and basic method, try the Relaxation Meditation from The World Wide Online Meditation Centre:
- Sit comfortably with your spine reasonably straight.
- Allow your eyes to rest comfortably downward, gazing softly, but not focused on anything.
- Without closing your eyes completely, let your eyelids drop to a level that feels most comfortable.
- Continue gazing downward…the act of gazing is your primary focus (rather than the area at which you are gazing). You may notice your breathing becoming more rhythmic.
- It’s ok to let your attention drift a bit. If your eyes become very heavy, it’s ok to let them close. If you notice you’ve come out of your relaxed space, simply bring your attention back to your relaxed downward gaze.
Safety first. Meditation is contraindicated for people with severe mental illness, especially if there is the risk of psychosis. As well, people who have mild to moderate mental illness should check in with their health care providers to get the meditation go ahead and to have their progress monitored.
So if the why and the how-to make sense, the contraindications don’t apply to you, and if your mind never shuts down long enough for you to be relieved from the burden of stress, meditation may be that certain something you are looking for.
And if one type of meditation doesn’t work for you, try another. Meditations can range from focusing on the breath as you breath deeply to practicing moving meditations such as tai chi to doing daily tasks mindfully such as washing the dishes.
Meditation is easy. All you’ve got to do is put down the stress for a short time while you sit, stand, or lie down in a peaceful and mindful way, then carry on with your day.
For more information on meditation check out the following websites:
Worldwide Online Meditation Centre
Audio and text meditations from Learning Meditation
Text of Basic Method of Meditation by Ajahn Brahmavamso
Photo Credit: Ingrid Müller
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