In this series on managing stress, last week I wrote about how and why it is vitally important to learn how to manage stress if you are trying to create Permanent Remission. It can be especially challenging during the holidays. Today, I start off with a scientifically proven method to reduce stress while simultaneously boosting your immune system: a form of meditation called Mindful Breathing. I hear you, meditation can be challenging! But with stress reducing benefits like producing a feeling of inner calm, it’s worth a try. And with my simple instructions to help you, you’ll get this popular practice going in your life in no time.
There are many studies showing the power of meditation to relieve stress and promote inner calm. For example, a 2011 study published in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Journal found that full-time workers who spent a few hours each week practicing mindfulness meditation reported a significant decrease in job stress, anxiety, and depressed mood.
Another study published in the April 2012 issue of Emotion, led by scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, found that people who participated in their short, intensive meditation program were less depressed, anxious, and stressed, while also experiencing greater compassion and awareness of others’ feelings. Just what we need during the holidays!
Maybe you’ve tried meditation but feel you failed. What I hear most from people who have given it a try is, “I tried meditating once. I couldn’t get my mind to turn off.” I then share that turning your mind off isn’t the point, nor is it even possible. Your mind is a thought producing machine! For as long as you live, it is and always will be creating thoughts. The point of meditation is not to eliminate thoughts, but rather to notice the thoughts and then not hitch a ride on the train of thought. The point of meditation is simply to be present.
When we catch a ride on the Thought Express, we are no longer present. We are either in the past or the future based on what that thought is about. You may start in the present, like hearing the birds chirping outside but then you might start thinking about what kind of bird that is, and then think about a friend who has parakeets and how you’ll be seeing her next week, and where should you two go for lunch? Now you are no longer present. You are on the Thought Express.
The first thought that happens after hearing the bird sound is the point at which you want to catch yourself and bring yourself back to the present. If you catch yourself several thoughts later, don’t feel bad, it just means you are human and developing this new skill takes practice.
So how do we not catch a ride of the Train of Thought?
By giving your mind something else to do. I began this post by calling this tip mindful breathing. That is the kind of meditation that I do, also called Mindfulness Meditation, and I like it because it is so easy. No mantra, no tools needed, although a timer is nice. Follow these simple steps:
- Sit comfortably with hands in your lap (I have my palms facing upward). Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, filling your lungs to capacity and slowly releasing the breath.
- Focus your mind on your breath. In and out. Feel the air going in and out of your nose. Feel your chest rising and falling with each breath. Notice your belly moving in and out.
- That’s it! You are meditating. If your mind gets pulled off of experiencing your breath by a thought, simply bring it back to your breath.
Setting a timer beforehand can be helpful so you don’t wonder how long you’ve been going or when the time will be over. If you’re brand new to meditation, you may want to try just 5 minutes and see how that goes. It will probably be the longest 5 minutes of your life! For most people in our culture, being fully present for any length of time is very difficult. I usually meditate for 20 minutes because it takes me a good 5 minutes to settle in. Many people go 10 or 15 minutes a day.
However long you meditate, it’s all good—the most important thing is to do it consistently. Reduce stress this holiday season by starting with 5 minutes a day of present mindedness to your breath. Let me know in the comments below what your experience is with this practice.