For many of us stress is an unfortunate part of our daily existence, and it has become even more evident due to the current issues the world is facing today.
However, just because stress is unavoidable it doesn’t mean it has to dominate your life. Relaxation and Meditation is available to all of us and can be one of the most effective tools to relieving stress, we can use it anytime and anywhere.
We live in a culture of busyness and speed. We are productive and are praised for being so. Being very good at long to-do lists, we don’t as often prioritise time for wellbeing and self-reflection.
Many people find learning to consciously relax the mind and body through basic meditation techniques leads not only to reduced stress, but also to better mental and physical health, and therefore a better quality of life.
Why is Relaxation and Meditation so important to our well-being?
Do you ever lay awake in bed the night before an important meeting or event, unable to sleep with too many thoughts racing through your mind? It happens to all of us and it’s because stress stimulates the part of our nervous system, known as the Sympathetic Nervous System which triggers our “fight-or-flight” response. This causes the body to release natural stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) into the bloodstream, giving you extra energy to help “cope” with stress.
Although useful when we need to quickly react to situations, when this happens on a regular basis it causes problems. Surging hormone levels can take a toll on the mind and body, leading to several physical and mental health issues including depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure.
On the other hand, when our bodies and minds are relaxed, the Parasympathetic Nervous System is stimulated, which causes the body to stop releasing stress hormones, lowers the heart rate, and promotes a sense of calm. Over time, through regular meditation practice, we can learn to condition our bodies to relax on demand.
How to practice Meditation
You can meditate anywhere and anytime. You don’t need to buy a special chair or be on a hilltop or fill your room with incense. There is nothing you need but your own breath and space to pause. We are simply practicing bringing our attention to our breath, and then back to the breath when we notice our attention has wandered.
- Take a seat – Find a place to sit that feels calm and quiet to you.
- Set a time limit – If you’re just beginning, it can help to choose a short time, such as five or 10 minutes.
- Notice your body – You can sit in a chair with your feet on the floor, you can sit loosely cross-legged, just make sure you are comfortable
- Feel your breath – Follow the sensation of your breath as it goes in and as it goes out.
- Notice when your mind has wandered – Inevitably, your attention will leave the breath and wander to other places. When you notice that your mind has wandered, simply return your attention to the breath.
- Be kind to your wandering mind – Don’t judge yourself if your thoughts wander. Just come back.
- Finish peacefully – When you’re ready, gently lift your gaze (if your eyes are closed, open them). Notice how your body feels right now and your thoughts and emotions.
Over weeks and months of regular practice, our brains actually change. We react less strongly to difficult situations and when we do get triggered, we recover faster. We still live in a stressful world, but with meditation and relaxation we learn to face it all a lot better!