Meditation – The Stress Buster

November 15, 2009 at 7:21 am Leave a comment

When we are under stress it often seems impossible to get out from under it. Stress, anxiety and fear are often so overwhelming that we find ourselves at a loss to overthrow the trauma we face. In a stress response, our bodies are tense and jangled because of the rush of fight or flight hormones coursing through the body, which upset the nervous system. Our mind gets exhausted trying desperately to cope with the tangled and obsessive thoughts that swirl swiftly and endlessly around our brain, It’s no wonder that people in stressful situations try to temporarily obliterate themselves through drink or drugs, hoping to induce a state of oblivion. Anything to stop that mental tumble dryer that seems to leave us no peace of mind. Unfortunately, once that drug induced high has worn off, the situation is still there, but now the body and mind are more tired, with even less energy to cope. A dreadful downward spiral takes place.

Is it possible to find a non-medicinal way of transforming the stressed body and mind so that we can return to a state of relaxation? One way which has been effective for thousands of years in the East, and which has made significant inroads in the past 50 years in the West, is meditation. What is meditation and how can it help?

Meditation is a means of gaining control over the mind by quietening it and slowing it down. Since the mind and body are a unity, any change to the mind will have a corresponding change in the body. Meditation can lead to a relaxation response, the diametrical opposite to the stress response. Just as stress speeds up the nervous system, breath and heart beat, and consequently revs up the mind, so each change brought about through meditation leads to a slowing and calming of the body/mind: slowing the breath and heart beat, calming the nervous system, and relaxing the mind. It has been shown that meditators have a slower heart beat and less hypertension than the general population.

How can people in stress use meditation? Meditation is not solely a breathing technique, its aim is greater than that, but breathing is an essential component of meditation. The breath is the link between the body and the mind. When the breath is harmonious, the mind is calm. When the breath is agitated, the mind is upset. We can use this link, since breathing is the one physiological function that is both involuntary and voluntary. That is, we normally breathe unconsciously and automatically, but we can also consciously control the breath, It is this conscious control, used in meditation, that anyone can use as a tool for stress reduction. At its simplest, a person suffering stress can consciously use their breath to calm the body and mind, thereby inducing the relaxation response. Once this slowing down begins, a positive feedback takes place, leading to a general slowing of body and mind, and allowing a more normal functioning to take place. It does not take long to induce this state and there is no complicated technique in achieving it.

People often associate meditation with yogis sitting in the lotus posture, chanting ‘OM’, but meditation can be undertaken while walking, lying down or sitting. The aim of any cross-legged posture is to keep the back straight, but it is not difficult to keep the back upright while sitting in a kitchen or desk chair. Try it: Sit at the front of your chair, feet flat on the ground (about 12 inches apart), and keep your back straight. Now relax your arms and jaw, close your eyes and mouth, and begin to breathe normally through the nose. Do this for a number of breaths and try to ‘look inside’ to feel the breath entering and exiting your body through your nose. If thoughts arise, which they will, try not to respond to them, but just let them come and go. As you get into the rhythm of the incoming and outgoing breath, feel your body begin to relax. Your nervous system and heart will begin to slow down and your mind become calmer. The longer you sit the calmer you will get, but your mind will continue to bombard you with thoughts. Continue to allow them to just pass through. If you do not respond to them, then your mind and body will sooner or later find a state of peace.

Besides reducing stress, this technique gives the sufferer a tool which they can use at any time. It is quick to use and easy to do. Initial success in reducing stress can give the person the confidence that they have in themselves the ability to gain control over their situation. This sense of confidence and personal ability, once learned, is empowering: it is an extension of personal power. In that relaxed state, space can be created in the mind for new insights and perspectives which can lead to a new way of confronting and solving problems, including those that created the stress.

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Entry filed under: Thoughts.

Meditation Opens The Heart From My Journal – June 2007

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