It’s no secret that the practice of meditation has been around for many centuries. One of its main purposes is to mitigate the effects of stress. As modern science develops the tools to study the brain in greater detail, it turns out that the ancient yogis from millennia past were on to something.
It should be noted that not all stress is bad. In fact, it is an essential component to growth and development, leading to greater strength and resiliency. It all depends on what kind of stress you’re talking about.
So what kind of stress ARE we talking about?
Acute Stress isn’t so cute. It involves the solving of an immediate threat or problem to be solved. This kind of stress can be beneficial, and is the premise behind physical and mental training. By exposing yourself to increasingly difficult situations, your mind/body adapt to the circumstances by becoming stronger and more resilient.
Chronic Stress is when the system is persistently taxed beyond its capacity to recover properly. The overtrained athlete or individual beset by a constant state of anxiety are examples of this. Inevitably, this kind of stress results in injury and sub-optimal performance. It is this kind of stress that we are most interested in dealing with.
Back to the matter at hand: trying to minimize this issue.
A growing body of evidence in the world of neuroscience and psychology indicate that the practice of meditation, even after a short amount of time, results in a measurable improvement in emotional stability and the ability to respond to stress (these are measured by using brain scanning equipment). The practice has even been found to increase the density of the brain’s grey matter, in the areas associated with learning, the regulation of emotion and memory processing. There are various meditation techniques and they can involve visualization, the contemplation of a question, chanting, the repeating of mantras, and literally hundreds of variations from different cultures around the globe.
Let’s focus on Mindfulness Meditation.
The idea is simple: focus on the present. It differs from some other methods in that you’re not trying to force yourself to do anything in particular, or achieve a heightened state of mind.
How can you Mindfully Meditate?
- Set aside a bit of time for the purpose. It can be ten minutes, half an hour, or whatever else you’re comfortable with.
- Find a cushion or small pillow to sit on. Sit in a cross-legged position, hands resting comfortably on the thighs. The body should be well aligned, with a demeanor of dignity (head straight, no slouched shoulders). If you can’t sit cross-legged, then sit on a chair.
- Once you’re in position, you close your eyes and relax your breathing, filling your lungs with air, and letting them empty naturally. From here, the objective is simply to focus all your attention on your breath. That’s it. There is nothing else to it.
Sounds easy, right?
Rather than altering, suppressing, defending or condemning the thoughts and feelings intruding on you, you watch them the way one watches a movie, without participating and return to your breathing. This stepping-back gives your mind a break for a few minutes. By letting it recover from the habitual onslaught, it will have more energy to do what it was built for in the first place, which is to come up with workable solutions to your problems.
Not only that, but it also allows you to become aware of your mental workings from the perspective of the detached observer, enabling you to see, for yourself, neurotic or irrational thoughts and emotions for what they really are. You may find that this awareness can deprive destructive thought patterns of much of their power, and it’s probably why mental health professionals and neuroscientists associate the practice with greater emotional balance and improved stress response; taking the load off allows your psyche’s self-correction mechanisms to kick in.
Can’t see how that would be a bad thing.
Fighters and martial artists have known the value of meditation for centuries, for obvious reasons. As someone who has engaged in sports where fit, well-trained athletes are doing their best to take your head off, I can attest to the fact that when your thoughts take you away from the present, a face full of fist usually comes next, but the technique can be used in any situation where panic is knocking at your door (job interview, audition, public speaking, talking to a romantic interest, etc.).
Coupled with the fact that the practice not only helps you function better in moments of acute stress, but also minimizes the effects of chronic stress, helping you become more relaxed, resilient and mentally stronger, is there any reason NOT to do it?
Now SIT DOWN! And breeeathe…
By Gerry Pinzon, Mercedes Club Personal Trainer and Boxing Instructor