We don’t have to tell anyone how difficult it is to navigate life nowadays. Although the financial depression is lifting, jobs are still scarce. Although the housing crisis is reaching non-crisis levels, record numbers of people still don’t have a roof over their heads. Let’s not even touch how many people still can’t afford health insurance. So there are plenty of things for people to stress about, which will add to the rolls of those requiring medical help. There is a way to battle stress, and it can be done without a doctor’s aid, medication or complex physical exercises. Yep, all it takes is a little focus and that stress will be out the door. Let’s examine first what mindfulness means, and then we’ll get into how mindfulness based stress reduction exercises can give people back their lives.
Everyone says it, but not everyone knows what it is or from where it comes. Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain. It is also defined as something that disturbs the body’s normal functions. These are both called a mental or emotional state. In some cases, injury causes stress to the body and interrupts its normal functions. Influences from outside the body cause stress. This can originate in tense relations with family or workmates, bumper-to-bumper traffic, bad news, financial or other worries and a dozen other things. The fact remains that outside influences adversely affect us.
This one tiny word has an appalling effect on the psyche and the body. From such varied influences as price changes at the gas pump to being late for work due to the alarm not going off come such results as depression, stroke and heart attack, obesity, asthma, diabetes, migraine headaches and many more diseases. Unfortunately, the symptoms of the diseases are treated before discovering the cause of the problem, which only adds another dimension to the subject. The first thing medical professionals do is prescribe a medication for the symptoms.
There are almost as many chemical medications for stress relief as there are people to require them. As chemical medications’ side effects become more problematic, interest in natural remedies has gained ground. Medical professionals are now prescribing dietary modifications, lifestyle changes and exercise as methods of reducing stress. No one argues that these methods work, but people are constrained to doing them at certain times of the day and mostly in the privacy of their own homes. Yet there is another method of stress reduction, one that can be done anywhere and anytime, even in public.
Awareness is often just as misunderstood as stress. Many consider awareness another word for noticing something. Yes, we notice our breathing becoming labored when we are stressed. We see that our hands shake, our faces turn red, and we feel the headache coming on. We are so inured to these things that we absent-mindedly accept them.
Mindfulness means to non-judgmentally and without interpretation be aware of the body and mind. It means to accept effects on the body and mind and to examine factually how they affect us. Practicing mindfulness gives us the opportunity to interact with these influences in a non-harmful way. We then take the steps necessary to keep these influences from interfering further.
To understand what mindfulness is, hold up your hand. If you’re wearing a ring, slip it off your finger. Feel the emptiness of the finger without the decoration. Feel the coolness of the finger without the warmth of the ring. Make a fist and feel the absence of the ring rubbing against the other fingers. Now slowly put the ring back on. Feel the metal slide against the skin. Feel it hesitate at a knuckle. Now feel the circlet sliding home. Become aware how the finger feels with the ring back in its rightful place. Feel the warmth of the metal against the skin. Now feel the understanding of mindfulness. You did it!
Stress Reduction Using Mindfulness
Most workers get a break before and after lunch. Even ten minutes is enough to do one or two mindfulness exercises to help stress reduction. On one ten minute break, head outside. Walk along the parking lot or sidewalk. Walk slowly, feeling the foot touch down at heel and toe. Become aware of the calf muscles moving with the flexion of the foot. Feel how the knee straightens up as the foot moves outward. You can feel the interlocking components and how they operate together. See? The stress is getting smaller by the minute.
On your next ten minute break, pull a coin out of your pocket. Is it warm from being against your skin? Do you see something on the coin you’ve never noticed before? Feel your hand wrapping around the coin. You can identify depth and girth with your skin. Does the metal shine in the light or is it dull? Does it look familiar to you or miraculously different? How’s that stress coming along?
When you eat lunch, unobtrusively nibble on a cracker or chip or another item of food in your lunch bag. Be aware of its texture. Does its color please you? Is it cool or warm? Chew it as slowly as possible. Feel the juices in your mouth. Discover the flavor all over again. Does it leave a pleasant sensation as it is swallowed? Does the body feel satisfied and gratified that it had that taste treat? Is the stress better now?
When people can walk down the street, intensely aware of their breathing or how their body moves, then outside influences haven’t a prayer of disrupting the psyche or the body. When this is done daily, stress is just another word in the dictionary and not a personal problem. We know much more about mindfulness exercises for alleviating stress. We’ll be happy to share when you contact us.
Find more exercises related to mindfulness based stress reduction here.
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Sean Fargo is the Founder of Mindfulness Exercises, a former Buddhist monk of 2 years, a trainer for the mindfulness program born at Google, an Integral Coach from New Ventures West, and an international mindfulness teacher trainer. He can be reached at [email protected]
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