Meditate to Reduce Stress

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In my latest edition of the Future Health Now Encyclopedia, I describe stress in this way:

Stress today is a favorite topic and a catchall for what ails us. Without stress of any kind, however, we would be comatose or sleeping. There must be some stress in our lives to keep us engaged with life – it’s not all negative. Stress can be used to cover many definitions of distress in a person’s life. If you are overly busy, feel that you are being pulled in many directions and worry that you cannot meet your commitments, then you are no doubt under stress.

In the past I have suggested using the Emotional Freedom Technique as a strategy to reduce stress. Today, I am going to talk to you about meditation for stress relief.

The question of the day is “Does meditation really reduce stress?” The Mayo Clinic Staff said this in their article, Meditation:  a Simple Fast Way to Reduce Stress:

If stress has you anxious, tense and worried, consider trying meditation. Spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm and inner peace.

Anyone can practice meditation. It’s simple and inexpensive, and it doesn’t require any special equipment.

And you can practice meditation wherever you are — whether you’re out for a walk, riding the bus, waiting at the doctor’s office or even in the middle of a difficult business meeting.

So, the simple answer to your question is, “Yes, meditation can help you relieve stress.” If you wish to find out more about meditation, please feel free to read on.

What Is Meditation

In the same article, they explain meditation in this way:

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. Meditation originally was meant to help deepen understanding of the sacred and mystical forces of life. These days, meditation is commonly used for relaxation and stress reduction.

Meditation is considered a type of mind-body complementary medicine. Meditation can produce a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind.

During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. This process may result in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.

Is Meditation and Prayer the Same?

In Module 73 of my Completement Now Health series, I answer this question:

You’ll hear comments from both ends of the spectrum that meditation and prayer are the same or that they are completely different. In the final analysis, I think it’s up to you. If you’re an atheist and you meditate, you’re going to just clear your mind of thoughts, allowing it to take a break.

If you believe in a higher power, then your focus is probably on that higher power when you meditate or pray. If you believe that you’re the center of your universe and you create your reality, your prayers and meditation will evoke what you want your universe to be. As I said earlier, for me meditation and prayer are interchangeable.

Meditation and Trance

I also discuss trance by saying:

A trance is any state of consciousness associated with single-minded absorption in a specific activity; without internal mental chatter about what’s happening or what’s in the environment. Most everyone can go into a trance state. Something as simple as daydreaming can put us into a trance state. So can running, swimming, pain, fatigue, sensory overload, drumming, or psychoactive chemicals.

Chemically, what happens to the body is a release of beta-endorphin, an opiate several hundred times more potent than heroin. Just reminiscing about a time when you were in a relaxed state of pleasure can be enough to get you back there.

Meditation and Medication

I’ve contemplated the effects of meditation and medication quite deeply. I thought you, too, might find similarities between meditation and medication. I include these words to provoke your thinking, too.

I’ve often wondered why meditation and medication sound so similar. Is meditation just another form of medication? The definition of meditation for some is to “empty your mind.” Are we being asked to suppress our natural mind activity? Some say that meditation is a discipline that trains one’s mind to “realize some benefit.” It’s another nebulous definition of something that can’t be “done” to you but is a very personal and “internal” experience.

Practitioners of meditation may cultivate a feeling of compassion or love or focus on an external object or a word or phrase. In some religions, a phrase of a prayer or a mantra is repeated.

It seems there are hundreds of different types of meditation that are part of most religions around the world. But when all is said and done, and even after a thousand studies of meditation in the English-language alone, nobody really knows how meditation works. The Meditation Society of America says meditation is a three-step process that leads to a state of consciousness that brings serenity, clarity, and bliss. Now we’re talking! But the more I read on their website, the less clear I became about meditation.

For me, meditation is putting aside the labyrinth of the mind and contemplating the beauty of nature and I do it while walking. It’s the “intent” to meditate. It’s saying to yourself, “I’m going to walk outside, gliding along like I don’t have a care in the world and just walk.”

If you wish to find out more about the types of meditation and which ones I personally use, I invite you to read on.

Types of Meditation

There are two types of meditation: active and passive. Active meditation is any type of meditation that uses the mind as a control mechanism for the breath. Passive meditation is any type of meditation that simply follows the breath (or any other object of meditation) as is without interfering with the object. Let’s contrast these two types of meditation.

Active Meditation

I’m a multitasker, and I like to keep moving. So, I prefer active meditations. Here are some of the active meditations I like (We did share my Walking Meditation in our post, Hacking Daily Rituals. But it’s always good to repeat information I want you to remember and act on.

Walking Meditation. I’m not going to make a list of the benefits of meditation because they are much the same as prayer – giving you a greater sense of awareness and possibility in your life.

When I think of walking meditation, I imagine doing it outdoors. But some people walk indoors for any number of reasons: terrain, inclement weather or privacy. As I mentioned I can’t sit still long enough to do sitting meditation, so I practice walking meditation. It’s probably the best way for beginners to start meditating. It occupies your fidgety body and gives your eyes new scenes to observe but not necessarily engage.

Here are some suggested components of a walking meditation. There are no “rules.” It’s the last place you want to worry that you’re not doing it “right.” There is no right or wrong, there is only you with your intent to meditate and the rest will take care of itself.

1. Try to give yourself a minimum of 15 minutes to allow yourself to receive the benefit of slowing down your mind.
2. You can set your pace at a fast, normal or slow walking speed. Some people find that a slow pace is more contemplative.
3. Walk with your body loose. Check in with your muscles and try not to hold any tension as you swing your arms gently and stride along smoothly. Every once and a while do a mini slump to relax your whole body.
4. Be mindful of each step.
5. You may or may not want to focus on your breath. For some it can be a way to still the mind by focusing on the circular flow of your breath.
a. Or you may count your breaths in and out. One-two-three-four breathing in and one-two-three-four breathing out.
b. You can count your steps with each breath for another way of introducing a “mindless” activity.
c. Although you aren’t necessarily focused on exercising during your walking meditation, don’t be surprised if your lung capacity improves and you are able to take deeper and longer breaths.
6. Your body is loose, and your eyes should also be relaxed and not trying to judge everything you see. Don’t let your mind comment on what you are looking at beyond appreciating what you see.
7. Cultivate an Inner Smile and an Outer Smile. I first heard the term inner smile from Mantak Chia a famous Qi Gong teacher. He talks about circulating the energy in your body and evoking an inner smile. I say you can begin with an outer smile at the marvel of your body and allow that smile to touch your inner organs.
8. Most meditation books talk about walking in silence, no vocalization and no inner voice chattering.
a. That’s where I break ranks with the meditators because I like to sing to the angels as I walk.
b. So, maybe I’m in the prayer section after all!
9. If you choose to do your walking meditation indoors, adopt a relaxed strolling posture. I gently hold my hands behind my back and scuff/walk very slowly with my eyes on the floor. I immediately feel calm and just concentrate on my breathing and counting steps.

Puttering Meditation. Some mothers have told me that they do their chores while practicing a form of walking meditation. The cleaning, folding washing, tidying all gets done but in a relaxed, almost trancelike state. It’s usually a quiet time too. You’re either alone or everyone avoids you, so they won’t have to pitch in!

Focusing on the job at hand keeps your mind from wandering yet the tasks are usually not so complex that you must use much of your mind at all. A great added benefit is that you can look forward to this time rather than seeing the household chores as mundane, boring or yet another Groundhog Day.

Walking a Labyrinth.I’ve only walked a few labyrinths, but the mere mention of one makes my eyes go slightly unfocused and I drop into a relaxed state. Maybe it’s another trance state. As I shuffle around a labyrinth the twists and turns automatically slow me down and I’m suddenly contemplating each footfall.

You can create your own labyrinth in your backyard. Get several stones to mark the paths and make a giant circle. Then within the circle make more and more circles. For more precise directions, you can go to http://labyrinthsociety.org.

You can even make a labyrinth out of masking tape in a room in your house so there is absolutely no heavy lifting.

If you find a real labyrinth to walk, the power of all the people who have walked before can almost be felt.

Multitasking My Meditation. Every morning – except Saturday when I go to the Farmer’s Market – I wake around 5am just before the sky begins to lighten and the clouds turn pink. I strap on my MBT sandals and glide off on my sunrise walk. My walk is along a huge golf course path that gives me incredible views of the Maui mountains Haleakala and Halemahina and the Islands Lanai, Kahoolawe and Molokini. The area where I walk used to be on the southern border of the Maui Ranchlands. I read about this area in a wonderful book called Born in Paradiseby Armine Von Temski. (If you ever want to know some of the true nature of Maui, you will love this book.)

The Ranchlands are still above me on the very gradual slope of Mount Haleakela. But instead of tough and exotic cowboys I see modern day cowboys dragging hoses instead of ropes behind electric carts instead of horses. They wrangle sprinklers the size of geysers instead of cattle and sheep. Still, they tend the land with the same love and patience. I always get a nod and a wave when I pass by.

In one hand I carry a foot-long seed pod from a monkeypod tree. I use the seed pod to gently tap and relax the muscles between my neck and shoulders (the sternocleidomastoids). The tapping also allows me to count out a rhythm to aid my meditation. I can stay with the rhythm alone or count the taps 1-2-3-4; 1-2-3-4 as I walk. That along with the monotonous (but not painful) thumping distracts my mind from other thoughts. Even so, the inevitable thoughts do spill into my monkey brain… Wow, I didn’t realize until now that I use a monkeypod seed pod to distract my monkey brain! How cool is that!

I also sing to the angels! Let me define what I mean by singing…I’m not a singer. I was one of those unfortunate kids who were told to just move their lips in choir because I apparently couldn’t hold a note. The trauma remains to this day! However, alone in the early morning hours I can chant and sing away. So rather than just talking to the angels in angel language, I sing and soar.

As you can see, my morning meditation walk has all the features of a perfect prayer or meditation. And I wish you the same with yours.

Passive Meditation

Melody-Rose, my writing support for this blog, prefers a more structured form of sitting meditation where she chants. This is an example of passive meditation. I asked her to share her favorite chant of the moment. Here is a YouTube of a chant she often works with:

Summary

Now you have two tools to help you reduce stress: The Emotional Freedom Technique and Meditation. Also remember that ReMag is a natural muscle relaxant, and you can use saturation amounts (2-4 tsp per day) in times of stress to reduce tension.

Aloha,

Dr. Carolyn Dean

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