The Simplest Way to De-Stress by Dr. Kathy Gruver
We know stress is bad for us. Right now it’s attributed to 60-90% of our doctor’s visits. Stress depletes the immune system, ups our heart and respiratory rate and tends to exacerbate symptoms and pain from disease. Meditation is one of the best ways to destress, but the thought of it often causes anxiety in many people. When you hear the word meditation you probably picture someone sitting on a pillow with their eyes closed, hands in their lap, om-ing gently. Or maybe you think, “Oh crap, I can’t do that. I’m terrible at it.”
Well I was one of those people. I’m very type A, I’m go go go, I walk fast, talk fast, and I do hip-hop dancing and trapeze for health and relaxation. Don’t tell me to sit on a pillow, still my body and quiet my brain. It just doesn’t work. So, when I found myself in a meditation class at the Benson Henry Institute for mind-body medicine at Harvard. I thought, “Oh here we go, something I’m not very good at.”
But then they explained that we were going to learn mini meditation and there were only two rules. One: concentrate on something repetitive and two: when thoughts float through your head just dismiss them without judgment.
That was it?
So, here it is, how to do a mini meditation, my absolutely favorite stress-buster. Begin inhaling, concentrating on the rise and fall of the chest. You’re not trying to change it, or slow down or make it faster. You’re just observing what it’s doing. And that will be our focus. On the next inhale think “I am” and do that on all subsequent inhales. On the next exhale think “at peace”. And all subsequent exhales think “at peace”. It’s that simple.
There are many different versions of this meditation, but this is the one that works for me. What it does is keep you in present time. You can’t be thinking negative thoughts or projecting into the future while you’re thinking, “I am…at peace.” It’s estimated that we have about 60,000 thoughts and 50,000 are negative. We can’t necessarily STOP thinking things, but we can replace them with this type of mantra.
It also cancels out that classic stress response, that fight or flight reaction that we have when we are feeling threatened. Since today’s stress is constant and unyielding unlike old stress, which was dynamic and short-lived, we are almost always in the stress response. This meditation invokes the relaxation response (opposite of the stress response), a term coined by Dr. Herbert Benson.
It calms the nervous system, readies the brain for higher functioning, slows the heart and respiratory rate, and lowers blood pressure. It can also slow the genetic effects of aging. Just a few short minutes a day can have huge health benefits for you.
You can do these mini meditations at anytime and anyplace. There’s no need to close your eyes, especially if you’re driving. And, for me, this technique has allowed me to learn to formally meditate. I can now ‘sit on the pillow’ and quiet my mind. The benefits have been spectacular!
Since all of our external stress is out of our control, and we usually manufacture internal stress by dwelling on the past or projecting into the future, this is the perfect way to control our reaction to that stress. And when faced with a serious illness or watching a family member deal with a serious illness, this is something that can give you a momentary vacation. Just a few moments a day for less stress and better health.
Learn about the mini meditation and more including mindfulness, affirmations and visualization at Dr. Gruver’s workshop here at CSC, 530 Hampshire Road, Westlake Village on June 30th.