Relaxation and Meditation
Take a Rest from Stress and poor Health
Peace of Mind heals
That idea is as ancient as civilization itself and as modern as the scientific evidence that is proving it’s true.
•Relaxation and meditation can have a very powerful effect on the body, avs Steven pahrion, ph-D., director of research at the Life Sciences Institute of lind-Body Health in Topeka, Kansas.help you cope with all kinds of stress-related problems, including migraines, peptic ulcers and anxiety- So I diink that people who develop and retain peace of mind do experience mental and physical healing.”
In fact, researchers have found that relaxation and meditation techniques can boost immunity, short-circuit anger, curb smoking and relieve insomnia, back pain, high blood pressure, motion sickness, impotence, premenstrual syn:ome, menopause and irritable bowel syndrome, With professional care* techniques can also help control diabetes, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, panic attacks, phobias and depression.
“1 think everyone can benefit from learning how to relax. Learning to neunue the effects of stress is one of the most important aspects of preventive says Andrew Weil M.D„ teacher of alternative medicine at the university of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson, founding director of the universities Center for Integrative Medicine and a physician emphasizing natral preventive medicine.
Surviving the rat race
Relaxing or meditating probably isn’t the first thing that pops into your rad when you’re stuck in traffic, scrambling to meet a deadline or confronted by an angry spouse.
In those situations, your muscles tense, your breathing becomes shallow, “cur heart races, your blood vessels constrict, Your blood pressure rises, You start to sweat, and your digestive tract cramps up. Unlike our primitive ancestors we may not be able to “fight or flight are two of the most natural responses to stress-when were in a modern stressful situation, such as a traffic jam. So we remain chronically tense.
J3ut calming yourself is what you should do, says p.obert S. Eliot, M.p.» director of the Institute of Stress Medicine in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, thor of From Stress to Strength: How to Lighten Your Load and Save Your Life. “If you can’t fight and you can’t flee, then you need to learn how to flow,” he says. That’s because excessive amounts of stress can adversely affect almost every part of your body. Chronic stress, for example, can elevate blood pressure, total “fclood cholesterol and blood platelet counts, all of which can lead to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and heart attack. Stress has been linked to many other ailments ranging from the common cold to colon cancer. In ten people seen by primary care physicians have some stress-related symptomsOverall, stress-related ailments cost American business and industry more than &100 billion annually in lost productivity and absenteeism, Dr. Eliot says.
“Consistently evoking the stress response with images of danger in the past or stress in the future is tantamount to setting off a false fire alarm in your body,” says Neil Fiore. Ph-D., a psychologist in Berkeley, California, and author of The Road Back to Health: Coping with the Emotional Aspects oj” Cancer. Calling out the fire trucks when there really isn’t anywhere for them to go.
Pop Your Mind out of Gear for many of us, dousing the fires sparked by stress means pushing bard on a long, fast run, sinking a 25-foot putt or climbing a mountain.
J3ut while those activities can relieve stress, they can also generate competi* tion and frustration, which can make it harder to relax.
“Sports and recreational activities give some people a legitimate outlet for the stress that they can’t relieve on the job or at home, other people, these pursuits raise their blood pressure and perpetuate the view that their lives are ongoing battles in a hostile, competitive world.”
To help you really calm yourself, pr. Piore and other experts recommend that you let your mind slip into idle several times a day, so for at least a few minutes you’re not regretting yesterday or fretting about tomorrow. You’re focused on the present moment without feeling compelled to make judgments about your life.
“It’s like being an actor in an emotional drama, who can step offstage, seat in the audience and watch another part of himself performing in the chase Dr. Fiore says.
More importantly, these mental rest stops can evoke the relaxation response, a physiological state that has been shown to lessen feelings of stress and anxietyThe relaxation response reduces muscle tension, lowers heart rate, blood pres•n Df^Solism and breathing and sparks tranquil feelings, says Eileen Stuart, cardiovascular programs at the Mind-gody Medical Institute, 7, >> curate, it may easily be conjured by other relaxation and meditation :t:mques, Stuart says
The relaxation response blunts the release of adrenaline, catecholamines and -cr stress hormones that trigger the fight-or-flight response, s important, because an overdose of stress hormones can suppress the immune system and elevate blood cholesterol levels.
The relaxation response also performs another vital task.
“This type of deep relaxation is associated with healing in many differ* nt ways,” Vl pahrion says. “ Wlien you get very deeply relaxed, for example, body releases growth hormones that help repair and restore damaged tissue.
Mind If | Meditate?
Meditation isn’t just for gurus anymore.
”Many people envision a meditator as someone who sits in a cave all day or 2s 3 wise nun sitting on the mountaintop. But actually, a walker can do it as he c?3 dosn the street, >?*ration isn’t just sitting down and twisting Yourself up like a pretzel,” Sundar jumaswami, ph.D.,clinical psychologist at F. S. zz:r Mental Health Center in Stamford, Connecticut, and a proponent and irioner of meditation for more than 20 years.
. v-sron is described by proponents as a type of intense inward concen::on riiat allows you to focus on your senses, step back from your thoughts and perceive each moment as a unique event;h? 2/1121? defined meditation as a form of mental martial arts. Normally, reactive to our thoughts; they attack us and we kick back. In meditation, .-esm 😮 sidestep out of the way. $fe learn how to keep ourselves centered says Joan Bory* >enko, ph-D., a Boulder, Colorado, psychologist and author of Minding the Body* Mending the Mind.
Probably the best-known type of meditation is transcendental meditation IM), an effortless technique introduced and taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. During a seven-step course, practitioners of TM learn how to use a sperial, meaningless sound called a mantra.
TM is just one of many meditation techmques. Generally, these techv^ues can be classified into two large categories.
Concentrative meditation uses a picture, a word (mantra), an object (such l; a candle flame) or a sensation (such as breathing) to focus the mind, 0^ •Umaswami says. If your mind begins to drift, you refocus your attention on :he object. Mindfulness meditation is more complex. Instead of focusing on a single sensation or object, you allow thoughts, feelings and images to float through your mind. “ pr. Ramaswami says. You Note your thoughts, desires and sensations in the same way that a postal You let these thoughts go in and out of your mind without expressing positive or negative feelings about them.”
Some forms of meditation use a combination of concentrative and mindniiness techniques. In fact, you may already be practicing meditation without realizing it.