Stress is a fact of modern life! It is often a result of our current fast-paced life-style. When stress becomes chronic, it robs us of peace and tranquility and can negatively affect our health and well-being. So how do we go about creating a life where stress is managed in such a way that we are healthy and productive, relaxed and happy?
Stress Increases Your Health Risk
Stress is a normal part of living. However, when stress becomes chronic and we find ourselves in a never-ending stress response, we get into trouble. The stress response, also referred to as “fight, flight or freeze” response, is characterized by compromised digestion and blood circulation and increased heart rate and blood pressure. Long-term activation of the stress response puts us at increased health risk. Some of these risks are:
- Sleep disturbances
- Heart disease
- Digestive problems
- Memory impairment
- Skin conditions
Mindfulness Practice Helps You to Reduce Stress
Many kinds of interventions have been shown to be helpful in reducing stress. These include observation of the breath, sitting meditation, guided relaxation, and the guided body scan. Each of these practices creates greater mindfulness or present-moment awareness. One effective way to learn them is with a guided relaxation product, such as a guided relaxation CD.
Mindfulness is an incredible instrument for stress management and overall wellness because it can be used at any time and can rapidly bring long-term results. The key is practice.
The following mindfulness exercises are simple and convenient, and can help you reduce stress as you move into a deeper experience of mindfulness in your daily life:
1. Eating with mindfulness.
Mindful eating is simply paying attention – on purpose – to the process of eating, chewing, tasting, and swallowing. When you eat with mindfulness, you learn to savor and experience the process of eating. You enjoy your food. To do this, you must choose to slow down when you are eating.
Through mindful eating, we take the time to be satiated and therefore, do not eat as much!
2. Mindful breathing.
Allowing your attention to remain on the breath for a period of time is deeply centering and calming. The first step is noticing what the breath is doing. Do this by becoming aware of your breathing pattern. Is it uneven, noisy, shallow or rapid? Gradually allow your breath to become deep, slow, quiet and regular.
Notice the bodily sensation that comes with the flow of breath. Pay attention to the physical feeling of the breath. Allow most of your awareness to stay with the sensation of breathing, while you also mentally say to yourself when breathing in: “I know that I am breathing in,” and when breathing out: “I know that I am breathing out.” You can shorten these phrases to “in” on in-breath and “out” on out-breath.
Ultimately, you will want about 95% of your attention to remain on the physical sensations that accompany breathing, while you allow 5% of your awareness to be on the soft, mental noting of “in” with in-breath and “out” with out-breath.
As much as possible, relax and soften the belly. Then let your breath drop all the way down into this supple, open space.
3. Combine awareness of activities with breathing.
As you move through the activities of your day, pay attention to each moment and merge that attention with an observation of your breathing. Notice what is happening; name it to the rhythm of your breathing. For example, breathing in, taking a shower; breathing out, taking a shower. Or breathing in, driving; breathing out, driving.
In this way you move from mechanical unawareness to attentive, aware behavior. When you become mindful in the here and now, you have the opportunity to become centered and relaxed: this is mindfulness based stress reduction.
4. Guided Body Scan.
The guided body scan is a journey through your body, bringing present-moment attention to each portion of it. It is best done lying down if possible. You deliberately move your awareness to various areas of your body, noticing any sensations that are present. You may notice such things as tension, discomfort, warmth or coolness, pleasure, relaxation or emotion. With repeated practice, a guided body scan can be a vehicle through which you enter profound states of relaxation. It can also help you become more intimate and accepting of your body and can make it possible for you to discover ways of working effectively with any feelings of discomfort and pain.
5. Do one thing at a time.
Multi-tasking can increase stress. When working on stress management, let go of multi-tasking for a while. Just do one thing at a time. When you are eating, eat. When you are bathing, bathe. When you are walking, walk. When you are petting your dog, pet your dog. When in a group or a conversation, focus your attention on the very moment you are in with the other person. Do each thing you do with all of your attention.
If other actions or thoughts or strong feelings distract you, let go of the distractions and go back to what you are doing, again, and again, and again!
The importance of stress management is steadily rising because of today’s busy and demanding lifestyles. It requires that we learn to reduce our levels of stress. A viable and vital strategy for stress management is to live in the present moment through mindfulness.
Mindfulness practices help us create a calm state, the state of living more fully in relaxation. We are in a state of relaxation when we have:
- Slow, even breath
- Slower heart rate
- Improved immune function
- Normalized blood pressure
- Increased creativity
- A clear mind
Take Time to Relax
The physiological opposite of stress is relaxation! Relaxation brings a concentrated mind in a calm body; it is possible to be both tranquil and alert. With mindfulness practices, we are cultivating the art of presence. People who rest in the relaxation response once or twice a day for 20 minutes build up a resistance to the damaging effects of chronic stress.
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The Alchemy of Peace & Love contains a detailed guided body scan and guided relaxation instructions for mindful breathing accompanied by soothing music to help you relax.
Let your tension melt away as you listen and allow your mind to drift into stillness and calm.
BUY today: $24.95 for the 2-disc set, or downloaded version $11.95.