A long time ago I interviewed a well known Indian guru who was visiting Bali. He came to offer his teachings that had been passed on to him by his teacher and the gurus who came before. Many people were asking questions about how to be happy, or how they could be more forgiving and let go of the past. I raised my hand and asked: “What is the main cause of illness?” He replied without hesitation, “Stress”.
When we are experiencing stress in our lives it affects us on so many levels. The primary physical signs of stress are: accelerated heart beat, nervous stomach, cold hands or feet, sweaty hands or feet, jittery arms or hands, cold chills, shallow or rapid breathing and butterflies in our stomach. The muscles in our bodies often tighten up around our neck and shoulders, back, arms, chest, stomach, legs, etc. Emotional signs of stress include being on the edge, guilt, sadness, worry, blame, fear, boredom and anger. This can lead to changes in behavior such as becoming more aggressive, withdrawing, procrastinating, hyperactivity, avoidance, relationship problems and substance abuse.
Over a prolonged period of time, if we allow our stress to build up without addressing it, this can lead to all kinds of illnesses including stomach ailments, sleep disorders, depression, mental and physical fatigue, adrenal fatigue, headaches and even more serious illnesses such as cancer. Stress can also increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and asthma.
So what can you do to reduce stress in your life and maintain your wellbeing? Regular exercise is certainly key; those wonderful endorphins and serotonins get released – nature’s antidote to feeling good. The more frequently we exercise, the more we are able to release our stress and stay healthy. But for some people exercise isn’t enough. Their jobs or personal life may be quite stressful or they may be going through a major crisis which has taken them to a breaking point. When this occurs, we need more tools to assist us with letting go of our stress so that we can return to a more balanced place within and our outer world will begin to change.
Most people have very little awareness about how they breathe. Many people go throughout their day with no awareness that they have actually been holding their breath. Proper breathing is fundamental to reducing stress and improving our health on all levels. If our breath is slow and controlled, we will instantly reduce hyper-alertness. Following is a great exercise to help increase your awareness about breathing:
• Lie down and close your eyes and begin to tune into your breathing, consciously taking deeper breaths in and slowly exhaling.
• Place your right hand on your stomach and your left hand on your chest; imagine that you are inflating a yellow balloon in your stomach (or any color you wish); as you inhale your stomach will expand.
• Exhale and allow the balloon to slowly deflate, completely emptying your stomach.
• Repeat to yourself silently: “Relax and let go, relax and let go, relax and let go.” Repeat this statement 10 times counting backwards from 10 to 1.
• When you get to 1, put your right hand thumb and index fingers together and anchor in this feeling of deep relaxation.
• Affirm to yourself that any time during your day when you begin to feel stressed, you can return to your anchor and you will instantly be relaxed.
For those who have a very active mind and find it difficult to sit still, a progressive relaxation meditation may work best for you. Progressive relaxation involves a series of tension and release intervals, moving progressively from one part of the body to the next.
1. Begin with your feet. Point your feet and toes and then pull back on your feet. Fan your toes out as widely as possible. Hold for about 5 seconds and then relax your muscles.
2. Then move up to the thighs. Straighten your legs and using the muscles in the fronts of your thighs, lock your knees tightly. Hold for 5 seconds and then relax.
3. Continue up to the buttocks. Imagine you are severely constipated and tighten these muscles as much as possible. Hold for 5 seconds and relax.
4. Now tense your stomach muscles as though you are preparing for the blow of someone who’s about to punch you in the gut. Hold for 5 seconds and relax.
5. For chest and shoulders, place the palms of your hands together with your arms outstretched. Press your palms together as hard as you can. Hold for 5 seconds and relax.
6. Continue to upper arms, forearms and hands. Bend your elbows until your hands are quite close to your shoulders and form a fist with each hand. Clench your fists and pull as hard as you can with your arms. Imagine that you are holding onto reins and pulling hard against a runaway team of horses. Hold for 5 seconds and relax.
7. Finally come to your neck and face. Press your chin into your chest and clench your teeth. Close your face tightly as though a drawstring were pulling it shut. Squeeze your eyes, ears, mouth and nostrils tightly closed. With your eyes still closed, stretch your face open. Open your mouth wide, pull your ears back, open your nostrils and raise your eyebrows. Hold 5 seconds and relax.
8. Take a few moments to scan your body for any lingering tension. If you find any, simply tell your body to let go. Notice the sensations of deep relaxation. When you feel fully relaxed, bring your awareness out of your body and into your external surroundings. When you feel ready, slowly open your eyes and return to your daily life feeling rejuvenated and relaxed. (From National Guild of Hypnotists)
These tools are very effective for reducing stress and finding more balance in your life. I hope that you will find time to use them daily or whenever you feel you need to. You will experience great transformation in your body, mind and spirit as a result of doing just a few minutes of relaxation every day.