Stress is something we all experience at different times. Some signs and symptoms of stress include headache, a feeling of tightness in the chest, abdomen, head or other parts of the body, increased blood pressure, stomachache, feelings of anxiety, impatience, crying, even depression. The signs of stress can be varied and are quite individualized. While stress is unpleasant, it is important to remember that the signs of stress are useful; they act as a signal to us that the stress in our lives is significant and needs to be addressed. But how do you do that?
Many people have heard of mindfulness practice or mindfulness stress reduction. There are many programs and classes now offered that focus on this. But exactly what is mindfulness and how can it help you? One simple definition of mindfulness is “nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment”. This sounds relatively easy, but in practice, it can be challenging. Quietly tuning in to what is happening inside you and making no judgment about it can be hard. We are trained to impose an evaluation on just about everything. This is nothing to feel bad about. Making judgments can be very useful, and is critical in many situations. But being aware of our internal states does not require this when we are working on calming the mind and seeing things clearly. Practicing mindfulness is an effort, but well worth it. Like so many things, the more you practice, the more skilled you will become.
It’s common to hear the words mindfulness, meditation and yoga together. That is no accident. Yoga (literally “union of mind and body”) is an ancient practice that incorporates many aspects of mindfulness, meditation and physical movement (“asana”). The benefits of mindfulness and meditation are also benefits of yoga: Greater focus, a calmer mind, attention to the present moment’s experience. Yoga is now recognized as one of the best ways to improve mental health, reduce stress and – if you practice the physical aspects of yoga – to become healthier physically. Yoga comes in many forms and can be tailored for anyone. Looking for a class or teacher with whom you feel comfortable is a great place to start.
Whether you focus on meditation, mindfulness, yoga or all three, you will be taking an active approach to reducing stress and improving your overall mental and physical health. Many people get overwhelmed thinking about starting a meditation practice or yoga. It is fine to start small. In fact, it is probably better to start with just a few minutes of meditation at a time (two to five minutes is more than enough). You might find that even this is challenging! It is often helpful to practice your meditation at the same time every day, so that your mind can get into the rhythm of it. Similarly, many people find it easier to practice yoga at the same time every day. A basic yoga class or even a video is a fine way to start and will allow you to become comfortable with the routine. You will soon find that the physical aspects of yoga are amazingly helpful for reducing stress. Even just a few simple postures, practiced each morning, can offer an invigorating yet calming way to start your day.
Stress management is a topic we hear a lot about. Since we all experience stress, it is important to learn healthy ways to deal with it. Yoga, meditation and mindfulness offer powerful ways to manage stress while increasing resiliency and mental focus. No matter who you are, or what the challenges may be, it’s never too late to learn more and begin using these transformative practices.