19 Jul How to Meditate to Reduce Stress
Meditation is a powerful tool that can change your body chemistry, improve your mood, reduce anxiety, improve blood pressure, increase pain tolerance and even bring your body rhythms into sync with each other. Meditation not only helps to reduce your stress while you meditate but it can also make your body more resistant to the effects of stress over the long term.
Did you know that practicing meditation and mindfulness can even slow down the aging process? Our cells contain little structures called telomeres which are at the ends of our chromosomes. When a cell multiplies the telomeres become shorter – once telomeres are too short the cell can no longer duplicate itself. New cells are needed to replace damaged cells and keep our organs healthy, so the length of telomeres is important to our health. Research has shown that prolonged and excessive stress which is called distress, can shorten telomeres prematurely. People who have chronic distress have shorter telomeres than those who are effective at managing their stress. Meditation has been shown to help preserve the length of telomeres.
So why is it that so many of us struggle to incorporate a meditation practice into our daily lives?
In modern society we have become accustomed to being on the move from the time we wake up in the morning until the time we go to bed. Meditation is more about “being” rather that “doing”. Setting time aside to “do” nothing may seem daunting, boring, or perhaps even intimidating to many of us who juggle demanding schedules. But this is exactly what science is telling us we need to do.
When we imagine someone meditating, we usually picture them in a dark yoga room, legs crossed, their mind completely blank while incense burns behind them. While this is indeed a wonderful way to meditate, it’s not the only way. There are a number of different types of meditation. Some use concentration, which means having a focus on one thing such as a mantra. Others exercise mindfulness, where the focus is on awareness of everything in the present moment. There are also moving meditations like Tai Chi and yoga or even eating meditations.
The following are a few ways to meditate that you can start practicing now whether you have experience with meditation or are just getting started.
Find a quiet environment with minimal distractions. Sit in a position you find comfortable, rest your hands gently on your knees and take a few deep, cleansing breaths. Close your eyes and focus on breathing gently. Inhale, slowly. Then exhale, slowly. If outside thoughts begin to creep into your mind that’s okay. Gently acknowledge them and then bring your focus back to your breathing. Mindfulness is about being rather than about doing. Try doing this for a minimum of 10 minutes each day.
Our thoughts are a large part of what determines how happy or how stressed we are. Focusing on gratitude allows you to open your mind to the things in your life that are good. In one study psychologists had a group of people write down five things they were grateful for each week for ten weeks. Another group was asked to write down five burdens from each week, and a third group was instructed to simply list five events. The gratitude group was shown to be 25 percent happier than the other two groups. Perhaps gratitude helps us to push past our ego and feel more connected. Whatever the reason may be, it’s a helpful practice.
Gratitude meditation is quite simple. Each night as you lay in bed review five things for which you are grateful. They don’t have to be major; it could be something as simple as a beautiful sunset, or that companionship of a pet. You can combine this with a breathing exercise for a relaxing way to complete your day.
For many North Americans, their relationship with food is a complicated one. As a result of our busy lives many of us have become accustomed to inhaling our meals with hardly a second thought.
Try turning mealtime into a mindful experience. Sit down comfortably with your plate. Take a moment to look at all the different colors in front of you. Smell the different aromas. Pick up a fork full of food, bring it to your mouth, and hold it there for a moment. See if you can already taste it. You will likely begin to salivate. Put it into your mouth and chew slowly. Feel the texture. Notice yourself salivating and chew twice as long as you normally would. Once you have swallowed wait a moment to decide which morsel of food you’re going to pick up next.
Continue this process with every bite until you’re full and then reflect on the meal. How did it feel to eat this way? Was it more satisfying?
If you don’t have time to do this for the entire meal, at least eat part of the meal mindfully. It may change your opinion of the food. You may notice that processed foods don’t taste as good or have a chemical after-taste.
Walking is an excellent way to connect to nature and makes for a wonderful form of meditation. You don’t need to go for a long hike to partake in this, just a short stroll will do.
Focus intently on each step you take. Note how it feels as your heel meets the ground and the weight rolls forward to your toes. What’s happening to the rest of your body? Observe the sensations and movement in your ankles, knees, hips, all the way up to your shoulders and arms.
What’s happening around you? Be aware of the messages you are receiving from all of your senses. Perhaps you can feel a breeze on your face, hear leaves crunch beneath you, smell the scent of someone barbecuing, or see a cluster of brightly colored flowers in a garden.
Chew on this
Don’t judge yourself if it doesn’t feel completely natural in the beginning. Like anything, with time you will improve and it will become more second nature. The benefits of meditation do not come only to those who have mastered it, they come throughout the process of being mindful of your thoughts. There are endless ways to meditate; the key is finding what works for you. Any moment in your life can become mindful if you clear your thoughts of the daily clutter and attend to it.
Using both the data of modern science and the time-proven traditions of complementary medicine, Dr. Heather Tick M.D. has helped tens of thousands of patients manage their pain and reach their peak levels of health. For over thirty years Dr. Tick has blended the precision of Western medicine with research-based complementary treatments to forge an innovative approach to healthcare. A multiple-book author, including the highly acclaimed Holistic Pain Relief - An In-Depth Guide to Managing Chronic Pain, Dr. Tick empowers her patients to live free of pain and full of life.
As the first holder of the prestigious Gunn-Loke Endowed Professorship of Integrative Pain Medicine at the university of Washington, Dr. Tick incorporates functional medicine in her practice for gentle treatment and long-term results.
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