The body is designed to release hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline in response to a threatening situation (stress). These hormones give the body the extra capacity to escape from harm’s way. This works well when you can remove yourself from the threat and the body can then “reset” to its usual state. The trouble is that in the modern world this stress response is not usually in response to a lion or a bear chasing you but more likely from the pressures of work, financial or social commitments which often cannot be avoided. The constant build-up of these stress hormones impacts on physical and mental health and can lead to symptoms such as elevated blood pressure, headaches, stomach-aches, back pain, poor memory and foggy thoughts, difficulty sleeping and irritability. Removing the source of stress is not always easy, so learning how to reduce the effects is essential. Common treatments such as massage, acupuncture, herbal medicine, exercise counselling and meditation can all help. Advantages of meditation are that it is simple to learn; only requires a quiet space and costs nothing. Daily meditation results in a state of relaxation and has been found to reduce blood pressure, improve mental function and alleviate many of the other symptoms of stress. Think of it as hitting the “reset” button in the body to reduce the level of stress hormones. This resent button is all about living in the present moment rather than being dominated by all of the other demands that daily life insists on.
If you have never meditated then a good way to start is with 5 to 10 minutes a day and build up to 20 minutes as you become comfortable with the technique. Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated. A simple meditation technique involves sitting comfortably (not lying down – you don’t want to fall asleep) in a quiet place with the phone turned off. Music can be great to mask background sound and distract from conscious thoughts. Setting an alarm is useful so you don’t have to worry about how long you are meditating for. Start by tensing and then relaxing the muscles throughout your body with the feet, legs, then buttocks, shoulder blades, arms, eyelids and make sure you relax your mouth and tongue. Take some slow deep breaths focusing on breathing in and out all the way. Once you have a developed a rhythm with slow breathing imagine a favourite place and allow your thoughts to stay in that place – before long your time will be up and you will enjoy that sense of relaxation that meditation can bring. If you prefer group activities or would like further guidance look for a meditation teacher or group to join. This link will take you a simple “How to Meditate” site.