Most of us can attest to the fact that stress is reaching epidemic proportions in modern society. Balancing work, family, health, money, etc. is a challenge that many of us feel ill equipped to face. Eighty percent of the doctor visits in our country are stress related. Our quality of life and health is largely determined by how we adapt and relate to daily stressors. Excessive stress not only takes its toll on our bodies, but strips the joy out of life and suppresses our creative instincts. Without physical health, joy, and creativity, life is scarcely worth living. Dissolving stress is certainly possible, but takes a commitment to making lifestyle choices that create balance throughout our lives. Here are a few ancient techniques for eliminating stress, increasing energy, and creating emotional balance. These are some of the most powerful tools we have for achieving optimal health and preventing future disease.
1) Meditation: Practiced for thousands of years in many Asian cultures, meditation has long been recognized as one of the most powerful tools we have for cultivating peace of mind and balance. Numerous studies have proven the incredibly positive effect that meditation has on stress reduction. There are literally hundreds of meditation techniques taught around the world. For beginners, the most helpful approach is to start with basic mindfulness techniques that develop both relaxation and alertness. Once a basic ground of awareness has been stabilized, then more advanced meditation practices can be undertaken. Meditation is a practice that helps us identify with stillness and silence. It cultivates intuition and surrender. It can deeply help just about anybody, but is truly a miraculous practice for reducing stress and anxiety.
2) Yoga: This ancient practice has also been utilized by millions of people throughout history. Yoga is typically considered a form of meditation that involves putting the body into a variety of poses in combination with deep breathing to induce mental clarity, increased energy, and physical strength and flexibility. The healing benefits of yoga have been repeatedly documented by a variety of clinical studies. There are many forms of yoga and it is best to experiment to determine which form feels the most helpful for your needs. I highly recommend combining yoga with sitting meditation, as they work synergistically to induce deep states of relaxation.
3) Qigong: One of the pillars of traditional Chinese medicine, Mindful Movement Exercise (qigong) involves learning to feel the harmony and continuity of various movements as they are coordinated with the breath. Qigong involves gathering the mind to focus on the body in its relationship to gravity and motion. Using the breath as a tool for feeling expansion and contraction throughout the whole body as you engage in simple movements allows you to release stress and clear the mind. This also has profound calming and energizing benefits and, like yoga, is a form of moving meditation. Qigong practice is often focused around benefiting the different organs and their functions in the body such as digestion, respiration and circulating and cleansing the blood. Like yoga, there are many forms of qigong, some which have general benefits to well-being and some which are better prescribed and taught by a qualified practitioner to benefit specific health problems. Tai Chi is another popular exercise with similarities to qigong in practice and benefits.
4) Deep Breathing: This is a simple tool that can have immediate stress reducing benefits. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Then, simply lie down flat and place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a deep breath in through the nose, ensuring the diaphragm inflates and the hand on your belly rises. Aim for 6 to 10 deep, slow breathes per minute for 10 minutes. This should immediately reduce your heart rate and even lower your blood pressure. If you can make it a daily practice for 6 – 8 weeks it may have more long term benefits on reducing the physiologic effects of stress in the body.
5) Nutrition: Eating a diet high in antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and low glycemic carbohydrates can go a long way toward healing stress. The standard American diet (high in processed foods, saturated fat, sugar, and transfats) has been linked to anxiety, depression, and increased stress in numerous studies. Change your diet to an organic, whole foods approach and both your body and mind will reward you beyond measure. Poor adaptability to stress is often a sign that our brains are starving for nutrients that we aren’t getting from our standard American diets.
Making these lifestyle changes may not be easy in the initial phases. It is often helpful to seek out the support of a health care practitioner to guide you through these transitions. Once you start feeling the enormous payoff of making such changes, there truly is no turning back. Your stress will dissolve, your weight will decrease, and your energy will skyrocket, not to mention the preventative measures you are taking for heart health. Isn’t that enough to warrant making a few changes?