It seems most of us are living such busy lives these days, sometimes just getting through the mine field of daily activities can feel exhausting and draining on our health. Whether we are juggling the demands of our jobs or managing a family, connecting with social and intimate relationships, stress is familiar to us all these days.
While a certain amount of stress can be an enlivening and motivating force in our lives, like all things taken in the extreme, it can result in severe disruption to our wellbeing and ability to function effectively. It is well documented that unrelenting stress is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, depression and anxiety and a compromised immune function. When we find ourselves in that stressed state it’s difficult to concentrate and solve problems without feeling overwhelmed.
By contrast we can all recall that feeling of being in life’s flow, facing challenges with realistic acceptance, grace and even humour. At these times we can mobilize our inner resources so the problem itself somehow stimulates a turning point that awakens and propels us forward. The way to gather our potential and tune into a state of flow, is to begin practicing being “here and now” in the present moment. While that’s easy to say, most of us struggle with being present. We have nearly all had the experience of driving the car and suddenly realizing that you can’t remember most of the trip. “How did I get here?” Imagine if we lived most of our lives this way and getting to the end having missed many of the great moments.
Today, meditation is universally recognized as a highly effective tool to stay present and help manage our health and wellbeing in the midst of the madness. Vast amounts of research confirms that by training the mind through meditation we give the body time to relax and recuperate, and clear away stress hormones that may have accumulated in the system. Dr Herbert Benson of Harvard University first established that meditation techniques had a very real effect of reducing the fight-or-flight response, in his groundbreaking research in 1968. Since then, many more studies have reinforced and enlarged upon Dr Benson’s findings and today meditation is widely accepted as a valid practice and complementary to the high tech advances in medical science.
The corporate world, where burnout is a growing problem, has also discovered the benefits of meditation. Ray Lopez, director of the Lawyer Assistance Program for the New York Bar Association, is a strong advocate for using meditation to deal with stress. “When you slow down for a short time on a regular basis, you reduce stress. When people are stressed they think they can do a lot, but they’re limited – they’re impaired. We have to realize that is we don’t take care of our health we’re going to be undone.”
Practicing meditation and relaxed breathing gives us the opportunity to practice responding to our thoughts patterns and stressful situations more peacefully, The positive effect of this is increased clarity, resilience andproductivity, So much so, a number of leading law schools, including Harvard and the University of California are now offering meditation courses to their students to provide budding lawyers with tools to manage stress throughout their future careers.
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness meditation and how it can help you to better manage stress or more positively enhance your experiences in life, Live Well offers a six week program in mindfulness meditation training entitled Managing the Madness.
The program is designed to demystify meditation and make it accessible to everyday people wanting to experience the empowerment and calm that meditation practice can bring – managing the madness indeed!