It has finally reached the medical forefront that overstressing
our bodies and minds is not good for us. Stress, which most of us experience
daily, causes our bodies to release the hormone cortisol which is toxic
on the areas of the brain that deal with memories and emotions and also
causes fat to collect around your stomach which is then difficult to remove.
We rarely think of our bodies and all that they do for us while we are
entrenched in the daily grind. We don't feed ourselves well enough and
don't get enough sleep for our bodies to work at peak performance. We
need to reclaim a little time and space in our lives to help us relax,
de-stress and gain balance in the juggling act of life. Through simple
breathing and a little meditation anyone can improve their ability to
handle stress and become a little more spiritual.
Being spiritual means different things to different people,
from religion and order to nature and the super natural anything pertaining
to the human spirit can be seen as a type of spirituality. To look up
the definition of spirituality, one is confronted with a series of ideas
rather than a clear answer. For the purposes of this article, we can define
spirituality as any practice or activity that helps us enjoy ourselves
and improve ourselves while we nurture our inner spirit. Based on this
definition, one can become more spiritual through activities we enjoy
and through things that help us learn more about ourselves and become
better people. Basically, all you really need is some time with yourself.
Practicing a type of spirituality can help us to identify goals and ambitions
we have, allow us to reflect on our lives and actions, and provide us
with relaxation and unwinding that we so desperately need.
One simple way to find time for ourselves throughout
our busy days is to simply take notice of our breath. Breathing in and
out a few times, while paying attention to the flow of our breath, can
provide a moment of calm in a busy day. Every one of us can spare a minute
to close our eyes and breathe in deeply three to five times as a way of
calming ourselves and focusing our intention for our next action. In his
book Healthy Aging, Dr. Andrew Weil presents a breathing exercise
which achieves the desired effect.
- Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge behind and above your
front teeth and keep it there through the whole exercise.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a "whoosh"
- Inhale deeply and quietly through your nose to a count of 4 (with
your mouth closed).
- Hold your breath for a count of 7.
- Exhale audibly through your mouth to a count of 8.
- Repeat steps 3, 4 and 5 for a total of four breaths.
By completing this exercise you have succeeded in taking
the time you need to relieve stress in your life. By doing this exercise
you have aided your body by providing much needed oxygen to your cells.
You can do the exercise above and then begin to work your way up in repetitions
or length of breath. The more time you take in your day to breathe consciously,
the better you will feel. Breathing has been proven to reduce stress and
increase oxygen flow to the cells which contributes greatly to your overall
health and well being.
Another great way to balance stress in your life is to
take some time for meditation. This does not necessarily mean that you
have to sit in a cross legged position and chant "Ohm" (although
you can if you want to). Meditation, like breathing is another way to
simply create a space for you to relax. Wikipedia offers a definition
of meditation as one of the following:
- a state that is experienced when the mind dissolves and is free of
- focusing the mind on a single object (such as a religious statue,
or one's breath, or a mantra)
- a mental "opening up" to the divine, invoking the guidance
of a higher power
- reasoned analysis of religious teachings (such as impermanence, for
There are many different kinds of meditation that one
can practice. However, anyone can meditate because all it takes is a few
minutes of concentration. By concentrating on our breathing, we are partaking
in a simple meditation on breath. The goal of meditation, long-term, is
to clear your mind and not to think about anything. Although it may sound
easy, thinking about nothing is not that easy. It takes practice and concentration
to notice your thoughts and it is even harder to simply allow them to
be there without it making you think. To be able to meditate there are
a few things you need to set up before starting.
- Don't have expectations about what meditation is. There is no wrong
way to meditate. As long as you take the time and try to concentrate
you are succeeding.
- You will need a place to meditate where you feel comfortable. To create
an inviting space you can place pillows on the floor for you to sit
on, play soft music, or create an altar with things that bring you peaceful
feelings such as pictures, candles or incense.
- Create solitude for yourself. This means finding a space where no
one will bother you and turn off the phone.
- Allow time for your meditation, at least five minutes. As you practice,
increase the amount of time you spend in meditation.
In order to meditate there are a few different paths
you can choose.
- Sit and breathe and try to concentrate on your breath for 5-10 minutes
- Identify a mantra (saying) or object you would like to meditate on
- Listen to a meditation led by another person. These can be found online
as well as in most bookstores on CD
- Follow a specific type of meditation, such as Transcendental Meditation
or Zen meditation
- A meditation class or group setting
Meditation is giving oneself personal attention. It helps
the body and mind rest, relax and rejuvenate and has many benefits to
your heath. Studies have shown that daily meditation can help people overcome
anxiety and depression, deepen their concentration, stimulate their creativity
and lower blood pressure. It has also been shown that a meditation practice
can lead to lowering of bad cholesterol, increase lung capacity, and actually
slow the aging process.
For the five to ten minutes a day you can spend breathing
and/or meditating, you are doing a great deal of service to your body.
Not only are you promoting your own health and wellness, but you are also
taking time for yourself, developing your spiritual practice and reducing
the daily stress in your life. It's not hard and it doesn't take a long
time, so why not evolve your spiritual practice and add breathing and
meditation into your life?
Rachel Leslie is a certified holistic health counselor
and founder of A Cup of Life, Holistic Health Counseling. She is also
a partner in Green Parties CT, an organic catering company located in
Fairfield County, Connecticut. Rachel lives in Stamford, Connecticut with
her husband and son. For more information: www.acupoflife.com.