I would like to believe that I am a very calm person. A person who can roll with the punches. A person that when life’s problems hit me like a storm, I like a duck can let the water roll of my back. But the truth is I am not.
I am the person who is running in a fight or flight almost 24 hours a day 7 days a week. I cannot stop because if I stop then the world around me will collapse, and I will have more work to do. I am holding my world together. At least this is the story I tell myself.
But I am not alone. They are many who run their lives exactly like this. Never stopping, always on the go, never resting. And if we do rest, our smartphone is not far away from us. Because God forbid, we might miss something. And again the world will fall apart without our help.
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Our hectic modern life
Modern life has placed so much stress in front of us that we have no idea how to deal with information overload. I have found that watching the news has such an effect on my mental health that I have chosen to no longer watch it.
The question is how do we maintain a sense of well being, not only for ourselves but also for those around us? Because our attitudes, and actions not only affect us but those around us.
The body-mind connection
If you are not sure of the truth about a body-mind connection, I can tell you from my own experience it is there and can be very strong. For example, I used to work in a very stressful environment. I could be happy, going along and just doing my job. If I had any interaction with my boss, within 5 minutes of that interaction, I would have so much pain in my body I could almost hardly walk.
I, as well as others, do not handle stress very well. Stress makes me sick.
Stress is associated with most of our illnesses. This is indicative of a body-mind connection.
Although a 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 60 to 80 percent of illnesses reported to primary care doctors may have a stress component, stress is more likely a factor in at least 80 to 90 percent of such cases.
Emotional and physical health issues to which stress has been linked sweeps across the body and mind spectrum, such as: stomach issues; muscle aches and pains; joint and back problems; increased blood pressure; increased heart rate; higher cholesterol; increased risk of heart attack; mood problems such as anger, irritability, depression, panic, and anxiety; headaches; low energy; lower bone density; loss of libido; and especially reduced immune response, which makes all illnesses, including cancer, more likely.
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Stress is a network of traumas; negative beliefs, thoughts, and emotions; interpretative perceptions; and even “downloads” of family patterns of how to deal with stress.
Stress-induced illnesses don’t just happen out of the blue, and prescription drugs do not eliminate them—they only dull the physical and mental symptoms and often create other illnesses, nicely called “side effects.”
If we genuinely wish for happiness and a healthy mind and body, then we should look towards the holistic healing offered by mind-body medicine, which deals directly with this mind-body connection surrounding the causes of stress, far more than just popping a pill.
Mindfulness: a healthy practice
For me to handle the life stressors that have given me chest pain, increased blood pressure, and headaches I had to find an alternative to pills.
Like I have already stated, but it is important to stress, pills do not get at the root problem. They mask the symptoms, but the roots remain.
So I began to research heavily on meditation practices. I even went to a 10-day silent retreat in a Vipassana center. This provided me with a quiet place to learn and practice meditation 8-10 hours a day for 10 days.
There were no cell phones, laptops, books, or the ability to talk with another human being. No looking into the face of another human being. Unless you needed to speak with the facilitator, you were there for one reason only. To learn to be in the present moment. To learn to open your eyes and be aware of not only your outer world but more importantly your inner world.
After 10 days, my wife picked me up on the morning of day 11. She said when she first saw me my face was glowing, I had a fantastic smile on my face, and for the first time my internal world was at peace.
Mindfulness practice: where to start
I used to think meditation was either practiced by Buddhist monks or old hippies. But today more people are practicing some form of mindfulness meditation. It is one of the most powerful things you can do for your own, physical and mental well being. So don’t dismiss it before you try it.
Before even attempting to do any practice it’s important to understand that your practice is not a performance. Each practice doesn’t need to be evaluated about whether it was a “good” meditation or a “bad” meditation. This performance-based mindset misses the point entirely. If there is any goal at all to the practice, it’s simple to learn.
For example, if someone is using their breath as an object of attention, the goal is not to stay on the breath for a long period, it’s to learn about what it’s like to settle attention on the breath. If the mind wanders a lot, then you learn how busy the mind is. If it wanders a lot on a particular topic, you learn to what degree that topic is on your mind. If it is on your mind a lot you learn that whatever it is, it needs attending to and you can later choose to focus on it.
Everyone’s mind wanders, even people who have been meditating for 50 years. It’s part of what the brain does. You could make the argument that the more it wanders the more you have an opportunity to train the mind to see “choice points” to gently bring it back. What you practice and repeat becomes a habit and so you’re strengthening the habit of choice.
Mindfulness meditation: the basics
This is just a basic explanation to help you get started on your practice. It is not a complete explanation. You can find much more information on the internet.
Sit on a straight-backed chair or cross-legged on the floor.
Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensations of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth, or your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.
Once you’ve narrowed your concentration in this way, begin to widen your focus.
Become aware of sounds, sensations, and your ideas.
Embrace and consider each thought or sensation without judging it good or bad. If your mind starts to race, return your focus to your breathing. Then expand your awareness again.
A less formal approach to mindfulness can also help you to stay in the present and fully participate in your life. You can choose any task or moment to practice informal mindfulness, whether you are eating, showering, walking, touching a partner, or playing with a child or grandchild. Attending to these points will help:
Start by bringing your attention to the sensations in your body
Breathe in through your nose, allowing the air downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully.
Now breathe out through your mouth
Notice the sensations of each inhalation and exhalation
Proceed with the task at hand slowly and with full deliberation
Engage your senses fully. Notice each sight, touch, and sound so that you savor every sensation.
When you notice that your mind has wandered from the task at hand, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the moment.
Mindfulness meditation: health benefits
Finally, I want to share with you the benefits of mindfulness practice. On a personal note, I find that I am becoming more aware of myself. I do not always like what I see. But being aware of these things help me to change. When I am practicing, I can become more relaxed, less stressed by the world around me, and people enjoy my company more.
My body appreciates the practice: my blood pressure becomes lower, my chest pain subsides, and I become less pessimistic.
Studies have shown benefits against an array of conditions both physical and mental, including irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, psoriasis, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. But some of those findings have been called into question because studies had small sample sizes or problematic experimental designs. Still, there are a handful of key areas — including depression, chronic pain, and anxiety — in which well-designed, well-run studies have shown benefits for patients engaging in a mindfulness meditation program, with effects similar to other existing treatments.
Harvard scientists have come up with evidence that the mere act of clearing your mind for 15 minutes each day alters how your genes operate.
A new study indicates that people who meditated over eight weeks had a striking change in the expression of 172 genes that regulate inflammation, circadian rhythms, and glucose metabolism. And that, in turn, was linked to a meaningful decrease in their blood pressure.
Why not start a mindfulness practice?
What I have shared with you is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The benefits of a mindfulness meditation practice are in my opinion are limitless. Practicing mindfulness meditation can be done as an individual or as a family. My wife, who is a therapist, spend 20 minutes with me every morning in her clinic. We sit and we breathe together.
It does not always need to be practiced in a formal setting. Even as I am writing this article, I find I am watching my breathing. I do it while I am driving, especially in traffic when I know this triggers a stress response from me.
The most important thing is to give it a try. See what happens when you stop and become aware of your breath. Even if you can only do it for 5 minutes, commit to that five minutes.
To conclude I would like to share a quote with you from Thich Nhat Hanh, “Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand-new hours to live. What a precious gift! We can live in a way that these twenty-four hours will bring peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others.”
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