by James Ford, ThD
Stress emerged as a plague in the 1990′s, impacting every aspect of life, work and health. Stress is the natural physiological reaction designed to enable we humans to survive in a life-threatening emergency. However, in our modern fast-paced society, the mind-body misinterprets experiences and overreacts producing headaches, muscle tension, sleep disturbances, fatigue, lowered immunity to colds and flu, anger, burnout and a host of other symptoms. Science is daily confirming what we all know in our gut – stress destroys our health!
Stressful thoughts and emotions produce a cascade of hormonal changes shifting the body into survival readiness called fight or flight. We don’t die from bills, traffic, relationships and other constant stressors but our body stays alert and ready just in case. Such chronic stress unbalances the natural healing capacity of the body and leads to fatigue and vulnerability to disease. That’s the bad news!
Now for the good news!
We can do much to make ourselves more stress resistant – not stress free, but able to resist the nasty results of too much stress for too long. That which counterbalances stress is deep relaxation. It is so simple that we underestimate its power to heal. Meditation is medicine. Deeply quieting the mind decreases heart rate, oxygen consumption, metabolism rate, muscle tension and other markers associated with the fight or flight stress reaction. Our culture has long undervalued quiet. We have become human “doings” so busy in our lives and minds. The small voice within sometimes reminds us to relax, but we seem to have no time and perhaps have even forgotten how. Trying to relax only makes us more tense.
True relaxation is a matter of letting go. The Chinese call this actionless action. Meditation is simply practicing how to let go of the musings and regrets of the past and of the worries of the future and to “be here and now.” Just sitting quietly in a comfortable position quickly demonstrates how much our mind jumps and leaps forward and backward thereby missing the only moment we truly possess – now!
To begin this healing pathway, simply close your eyes and draw your attention inward to the breath, noticing the coolness of the inhaled air and the warmed air of the exhalation. Or if you like, observe the rise and fall of your abdomen. Let your awareness be anchored to this natural process. It is amazing to see how quickly our attention strays to the past or the future. It is like an undisciplined child who can’t seem to sit still. The mind leads and the body seeks desperately to follow. We may feel impatient, or bored or a failure at this simple task. Think of the parent who lovingly guides their excited child through the zoo, allowing it to explore where it will and then bringing it back to the path so they can see everything there is to see.
This is how you meditate!
Simply sitting quietly, noticing where your mind strays when it loses its anchor and then gently, non-judgmentally and patiently coming back to observe the breath. It is not stopping the mind from thinking – that would be impossible! When the distracting thoughts do come to mind, we learn to acknowledge them and let go of them. It is an adventure in exploring who we are at the deepest levels. It teaches us to be grounded and anchored within, not buffeted by every disturbing thought and emotion. Begin by sitting for ten to fifteen minutes with no goal or expectation. Simply practice sitting in this way daily for two to three weeks. This is how we learn to appreciate the power of the medicine of mediation.
Also see the eGuide Meditation chapter.
James Ford, ThD is trained as a Pastoral Counselor with clinical experience in general and mental hospitals and family counseling centers. He is a Professor of Psychology at Community College of Aurora. Since 1982, he has developed courses in Comparative World Religions, Religion & Western Civilization, and Death & Dying. He began and chaired the Social Science Division for several years. Then he developed the Paraprofessional Counseling Program, a nationally recognized Mind-Body Health Center, and most recently the Hatha Yoga Teachers Institute to train professional Yoga teachers. With his wife Nellie, he facilitates college and community programs on stress management and other holistic health choices. James also teaches woodcarving classes in several community programs.
Copyright © 1998-2012, CompWellness Network, Fairfield NJ USA Community College of Aurora, Mind-Body Health Center. Reprinted with permission.