A Beginner's Guide to Managing Stress through Meditation
The corporate world is often a stressful place, even for those who love the work that they do. The pressure of deadlines, difficult professional relationships, office politics, the often intense competition both within and outside the company, the need to constantly re-invent oneself and stay on top of “the game”, the threat of being laid off – any combination of these stressful factors can lead to burn-out if not addressed. Some of you may have experienced this first hand. Whatever the source – or sources – of stress, there is a simple way to first release old, pent up stress, and then make sure new stress does not attach itself to us in the same old ways. This is the way of meditation.
Ironically, many of the most stressed out people are the least likely to try meditation. Often, because they think – wrongly – that they are incapable of meditating. They will say something like this: “I’m sure it’s very good, but it’s just not for me - I can never stop my thoughts” or “I am too busy, I don’t have time.” Most beginners are unable to still the mind simply by sitting down in a quiet space and closing their eyes.
They need to ease themselves into meditation by finding a practice that gradually slows down their thoughts until the mind becomes more comfortable with the idea of quietness and an inward focus. The fact is that the human mind, in its natural state, does not like to be still: there are individual differences, but to a greater or lesser extent, this is true of everyone. That is why we have to train the mind to learn to be quiet through practice.
Meditation is that practice that trains the mind to be quiet, calm, and focused. This training requires 3 things:
1) A training plan – how and when you are going to train the mind.
2) An instrument of training – this is your meditative practice.
3) Action – you cannot learn to meditate only by reading or hearing about it, you must actually practise it.
If you are not at that point where you can completely still your mind at will, start with a mindfulness meditation that slowly quiets the mind by bringing attention to a single point of focus: this could be bringing attention to your breath, to the sound of a bell, or the repetition of a mantra or chant. There are plenty of free audio resources on the internet to begin with.
So long as the mind is focused on something, it cannot be said to be completely still and empty of all thought. If you are focusing on your breathing, you are still thinking about the breath. But, this focused attention allows the mind to become very quiet. As you continue to sit with this focus, you will gradually slip into a meditative state, where your brain waves slow down and you feel more and more calm.
CALMNESS AND STRESS CAN'T CO-EXIST
As you feel more calm, you naturally release your tensions, both physical and mental. And, as you free yourself from stress, you just as naturally, feel happier. Excessive stress has long been linked as a contributing factor to high blood pressure, breathing problems, heart diseases, as well as anxiety and depression. An increasing number of modern studies are showing how meditation is able to reduce the symptoms, intensity and the likeliness of developing such conditions, as well as aiding in recovery of current illnesses. What’s more, long term meditation has been shown to preserve the youth and health of the brain, as detailed in a newly released study by UCLA. I believe stress makes all illness worse, so the medical benefits of meditation cannot be overstated.
The mental and emotional benefits of regular meditation are incredibly important, especially for the overworked, over scheduled and stressed individual. A one-off meditation session can help you to have a happier, stress-free day; perhaps, even, a calm, peaceful week. But, it is regular meditation that will help you prevent the kind of stress build-up that can lead to burn-out. The frequency of your meditation is more important than its length. Even 10 minutes of meditation every day – that is just over one hour of your entire week - will help you minimise tension and better enable you to deal with the pressures of your life. There are so many resources to get you started: you can do guided meditations with a person in a class or, by means of a recorded audio or video. There are numerous apps for the technology hungry. Again, try out the Terataii visual meditations and search for a local class in your area. Once you have learnt a practice that works well for you, you may find you are able to meditate by yourself. One other key factor that will help you meditate regularly is enjoyment. Stop judging yourself and overloading yourself with expectations as you meditate: Grant yourself permission to enjoy your journey and you will find you reach your calmer destination much sooner than you expected.
Words: Pamposh Dhar
Photos: Joseph Gonzales