1. Why Meditate?
Meditation is an excellent way to
cultivate control over your own mental processes, but in many cultures,
meditation is often practiced for spiritual reasons, not for stress
management at all. Stress management is merely a fringe benefit.
Whatever your reason for meditation, the effects are consistent.
Meditation cultivates mental discipline and, in addition, is
exceptionally relaxing. Rather than letting our restless minds, worried
thoughts, and anxious feelings carry us away into what might happen next
or what we could have done before, meditation teaches us to be in the
“Meditation is exceptionally relaxing.”
2. How Meditation Relieves Stress
Studies show that people who
are meditating have lower blood pressure, slower breath and heart
rates, and brain waves that signal a state of alert but, at the same
time, deep relaxation. Meditation also works to train the mind to avoid
negative patterns and thought processes, vicious circles of failure and
low self-esteem, even the perception of chronic pain as an intensely
negative experience. The brain is a complex and amazing organ, and
meditation can teach you to harness your mind’s power, integrate your
mind and body, and feed your hungry spirit.
3. Learn to Focus
As broad a category as meditation may
be, it all boils down to one thing: the honing of focus. Modern life
promotes an unfocused mind. We are constantly bombarded with stimuli,
from the media, from our environments, from people, from our computers.
Work is full of so much to do that it isn’t easy or even possible to
spend a great deal of time on any one task, even if more time would
result in higher quality. It’s a
get-it-done-fast-and-move-on-to-the-next-thing-quick kind of life for
many of us, and so the mind gets used to multiple points of focus and
constantly moving focus.
4. Start a Meditation Practice
If you are interested in
starting a meditation practice, first learn about the many different
meditation techniques and find one that appeals to you. Then, set aside a
time each day—first thing in the morning, just before dinner, or just
before bed are all popular choices—and practice. At first, meditation
can be tough. You’ll probably find it hard to keep your mind focused.
Soon, you’ll recognize your mind’s wanderings as natural, and, as you
gently redirect your mind to its point of focus, you’ll stop judging
yourself and learn simply to be.
5. Learn about Zazen
Zazen is the sitting
meditation of Zen Buddhism, but many so-called “Zennists” who don’t
practice Buddhism practice zazen. Zazen can be accurately defined as
“just sitting.” It doesn’t require any religious or philosophical
affiliation. All it requires is the ability to apply the seat of the
pants to the floor and stay there for a while. Sounds easy, you say?
6. Not as Easy as It Sounds, But Worth the Effort
For those of us accustomed
to accomplishing something at every moment of the day, just sitting is
quite a challenge. But just sitting accomplishes something amazing if it
is practiced regularly. The mind becomes calmer. The muscles stay more
relaxed. Stress fails to get the rise out of your body and your mind
that it once did. Suddenly, priorities seem clearer; truths about life,
people, and yourself seem more obvious; and things that used to stress
you out seem hardly worth consideration anymore.
7. Get on the Path to Enlightenment
From the Buddhist perspective, zazen
is thought to be the path to enlightenment because thousands of years
ago the Buddha attained enlightenment while “just sitting” under a bodhi
tree in India. He sat and sat and sat and continued to sit, and legend
has it that he proclaimed (to paraphrase), “I’m going to sit here until
I perceive ultimate truth, and that’s final.” Supposedly, it took about
one night. Then, he understood the meaning of all existence. This was,
of course, after six years of intensive searching for truth.
Enlightenment may or may not be your goal. But learning to sit,
cultivate stillness and inner silence, and become fully and totally
aware of the present moment makes for powerful stress management.
8. How to Practice Zazen
To begin zazen, sit
cross-legged or on folded legs (sitting on your feet), with a firm
pillow under your hips so that you aren’t sitting directly on your legs.
Make sure you are wearing enough clothes to stay warm. Sit up straight,
feeling a lift from the crown of the head toward the ceiling and an
open feeling in your spine. Keep your shoulders back, your chest open,
and place your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Your focus points
should be slightly downward and your eyes relaxed. Now, unfocus your
eyes just a little so that you don’t really see what’s in front of you.
This will help you to focus inwardly. Rest your hands in your lap. Keep
your mouth closed and breathe through your nose. At first, practice
concentrating by counting each breath. In your mind, count from one to
ten, with each full breath (inhalation and exhalation) constituting one
number. Or, simply follow your breath, keeping your awareness focused on
the sound and feel of your breath moving in and out of your body.
9. Face the Challenges
Zazen is simple, but it isn’t easy,
for several reasons. Let’s be frank: It’s boring, especially at first.
It’s tough to sit still, and it’s hard to justify spending the time
when you don’t see immediate results. The dropout rate is high. Most
people don’t keep it up long enough to see the benefits.
But what happens if you
don’t drop out? What happens if you sit through the boredom, sit despite
the other things you think you should be doing, sit out the frustration
and the fear, sit until you’ve learned how to really sit still,
physically and mentally? The answer is simple: clarity, peace,
acceptance, satisfaction, and, yes, a whole lot less stress.