Find Your Zen
Finding Calm In A Stress Filled World
We live in a stress filled world, it's a fact of life, even the most easy going person is still exposed to stress on a daily basis. From the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, stress is going to find you. The best thing to do is to learn how to live a happy healthy life while surrounded by it. Unfortunately, one of our built in coping mechanisms for stress, the fight or flight response, is working against us. The fight or flight response is an essential physiological response designed by nature to help keep us alive. The problem is, that in our modern world, the fight or flight response is being triggered constantly throughout the day, and while this can be good, because it keeps us out of danger, it can also be bad, because the hormones it releases into our bodies can really wear us down and lead to all kind of health issues. This is why we all need to practice finding calm in a stress filled world, and find a way to regulate the fight or flight response.
Remember To Breathe
So, how do we do this? Well it starts with our breath. Right now, take a deep breath and let it out slowly... that simple action, can have a tremendous effect on lowering our stress level. It is also the most basic form of meditation. Now before you stop reading, because I said meditation and before you click on the next stress filled news story, I'd like to point out that meditation is not hard, it doesn't involve any special training or joining any group or religion, and in fact you are probably already meditating on a daily basis and just don't know it. I'll get to some common but overlooked forms of meditation in a bit, but first, I'll explain how simply taking a deep breath can be a form of meditation. Obviously we are all breathing constantly throughout the day, this happens automatically, but when we take the time to become of aware of this and we focus our thoughts on just our breath, this allows our mind to go quiet and this is the key to meditation.
Learn To Relax
Traditional meditation has been around for a very long time, the earliest written records of it date back thousands of years, but it is likely to have existed even longer than that. Basically as long as there have been humans, we have been meditating. You see, meditation does not have to be about sitting in the (impossible) lotus position on top of a mountain and contemplating the meaning of all existence. Any time you focus your thoughts on one subject you are meditating. The first time a caveman sat wondering if he should try to kill his next meal with a club or rock, he was practicing a form of meditation. So that is the key, practicing how to focus our thoughts, in this crazy, multitasking world, where we are praised for our ability to (attempt to) do a million things at once, remembering to focus our thoughts on just one thing (for just a little while). Impossible as that sounds, some of your favorite activities might already be helping you achieve this.
Hidden Forms Of Meditation
Many common daily activities like walking, running, dancing, swimming, playing tennis or practicing yoga are great examples of ways you might already have be meditating and not even known it. These activities (and many more) involve a repetitive motion that allows your mind to focus on just one thing. If you are a runner, maybe you have noticed that when you start your run, your mind is racing processing everything going on in your life, but as the run goes on, it begins to quiet and soon you only hear your footfalls. This is when some runners achieve what is known as "runner's high", this is a physiological response brought on by the meditative properties of running. This physiological response is the exact opposite of the fight or flight response and has been named the relaxation response by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School. This relaxation response is the key to finding our Zen in this stress filled world!
Finding Your Zen
Even if you do practice one of the above sports, and you have been lucky enough to experience "runner's high", it's likely that you've noticed that not only does it not happen every time you run, but that it can take a long time to achieve. The good news is you can trigger the relaxation response at home, in as little as 20 minutes. Simply by meditating, and I do mean simply. You do not have sit any special way, or chant any specific mantra. Just find a comfortable position and relax. Try to quiet your thoughts, I find that it is impossible to "stop thinking" so instead I choose something to focus on. Sometimes I'll start counting, similar to counting sheep, it focuses my mind on only one thing (well sometimes it does). Other times I'll repeat a single word or phrase over and over again, this can be anything you choose. You can just say the word "One" or "Peace" over and over again or you can recite a poem or prayer if that is more comfortable for you. The goal is to quiet the chatter that constantly runs through our heads! It's not easy at first, but it does get much easier with just a little practice. If, when you are first starting out, you notice distracting thoughts popping into your head, don't get upset or frustrated (and definitely don't give up because of them) just acknowledge them and go back to repeating your word or phrase. Eventually you will notice that as soon as you start to sit down your mind is already cooperating and beginning to quiet down and soon you'll be achieving the relaxation response.
Fight Stress With Calm
Why should you go through all this trouble? Well, it turns out, stress has been trying to kill you, it is the underlying cause of 80% of all diseases including, (just to name a few) Heart Disease, Diabetes, Depression, Asthma, Headaches, and even Obesity. How can stress cause obesity? Well, in addition to the fact that some people eat chocolate etc. when they are stressed out, the fight or flight response also releases cortisol into your system and cortisol encourages your body to store fat. So it's a double dose of bad news. Luckily, like I mentioned before the relaxation response has the exact opposite effect on the body as the fight or flight response and can help counteract all of these negative side effects of stress. If you are interested in learning more about the science behind the relaxation response, Dr. Herbert Benson has written numerous books during his 40+ years of research on the benefits of meditation.
Go Find Your Zen Now
Whether you take up meditation, jogging or mountain climbing. Find some way to systematically quiet your mind for at least 20 minutes a day and find your Zen! Start Now!