Take a Mindful Break: Meditation Relieves Stress, Improves Resilience
May 02, 2017 12:33AM
By Mara Davidson
As a society, we are so overstressed. Unfortunately, very few of us habitually take the time to decompress, instead allowing everyday stressors to build up until we reach the breaking point. It is time to stop taxing our minds and bodies without giving them a respite and recharge. It is vital to implement tools to help reduce the stress we find ourselves in daily. Otherwise, we could be facing severe and debilitating burnout. One empowering tool to help cope with life’s stressors is mindfulness meditation. A significant number of people utilize meditation for stress as well as stress-related conditions. It is also used by many to help promote general health and wellness in the body (Goyal et al, 2014).
Deeply rooted in Buddhism as an ancient spiritual tradition dating back over 2,000 years, the practice of mindfulness has been successfully introduced into Western medicine and psychology. The word, “mindfulness”, has several descriptive definitions, including a practice of cultivating mindfulness such as mindfulness meditation, along with a psychological process, a state or mode of awareness, or a psychological trait. Several common conceptualized understandings of mindfulness discuss the increasing awareness of one’s moment-to-moment experience. The crux of this concept is that this is accomplished non-judgmentally as well as with acceptance (Kent, Smoski & Robins, 2011).
A strong correlation exists regarding a meditative state known as open awareness. This is where our senses are piqued and alert, but a conscious decision is made to not mentally acknowledge and involve ourselves in engaging, judging or identifying with anything which may happen to come to the senses. When beginning the practice of mindfulness, it is necessary to perform a scanning of the body while somewhat simultaneously observing it. It is vital to keep that awareness of the body, along with a non-judgmental attitude that is both understanding and compassionate. It has been suggested that the potential and capability to thoroughly inspect and examine the body, all the while keeping that awareness, may actually be a sixth sense helping to increase and enhance the ability to regulate stress (Fjorback, 2012). Through training and mindfulness, the subconscious mind can be conditioned to calm the body and, therefore, decrease tension.
When observing the mind, it is important to take note when emotions and thoughts arise. In Tibetan, the word for meditation actually means familiarization. Essentially, the point is to not stop any incoming thoughts while, at the same time, not letting them invade the mind either. When it comes to meditation, people work toward familiarizing themselves to a new way of the handling of thoughts which happen to come to their minds. This enables the meditator to recognize when a powerful thought inducing a strong emotion arises and recognizing that thought is on the horizon (Fjorback, 2012). This can be a powerful tool allowing the mind to process emotional thoughts without undue anxiety.
The practice of mindfulness is generally described as being in a state within the here and now; it does include knowing and acknowledging the past as what has lead to this moment. Additionally, the future is included as a part of this picture and that the moment before that has already gone (Fjorback, 2012).
Mindfulness training has the ability to help improve the regulation of emotions and stress. It can also assist in training individuals and providing them with the ability to be attuned to the times when thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations arise; it then assists them to embrace the sensations with an understanding, compassionate, non-judgmental awareness. Undergoing training in mindfulness could provide an individual with an awareness of the process or filters in the mind that work to help with the regulation of the flow of both information and energy (Fjorback, 2012). Embracing mindfulness can make the difference between feeling overwhelmed and stressed or being aware and recharged.
Mara Davidson, ND, MS, MBA, a naturopathic physician at Shalva Clinic in Westport, focuses on anxiety, depression, anti-aging, neurodegenerative diseases and integrative cancer care in her practice. Connect at 203-916-4600, ShalvaClinic.org or Facebook.com/DrMaraDavidson. See ad, back cover.