Six Stress Busting Tips, Continued--
Mindful Prayer or Meditation as a Daily Practice
By Kitty J. Boitnott, Ph.D., NBCT., Certified Life Stratetiges &
Stress Management Coach
This is the sixth and final article in a series of newsletters that I have been writing about the benefits of specific stress busters...the things you can do to improve your overall health, your general sense of balance, and reduce or minimize the stress you may be feeling in your daily lives. To recap from the earlier articles, the first five "tips" include (1) staying hydrated by drinking 6-8 8 ounce glasses of water daily; (2) eating plenty of whole foods that are rich in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals; (3) getting 6 1/2-8 hours of quality sleep each night; (4) exercising for a minimum of 30 minutes a day at least five days a week; and (5) having fun or finding some way each day to lighten your load by doing something that cheers you up, whether it is indulging in a "guilty pleasure" of some sort (mine is a Starbucks latte) or spending quality time in person or on the phone with a friend. Today, I would like to speak to the importance of also incorporating into your day the practice of prayer or mindful meditation.
Now, what this article is NOT about is religion. I am not proposing that you need to adopt a religious practice if you don't already have one or that you need to do anything other than bear in mind that if you are feeling stressed, you might benefit from some sort of "time out" each day that could include a 10-minute meditation practice, a visualization session, a period of listening to calming music and turning off the electronics--and your thoughts--for a few minutes every day--OR that you might take a few moments to pray if you feel more comfortable with that...pray for world peace...pray for peace of mind...but use the prayer time to slow your mind down for just a few minutes. Studies suggest that people who meditate or who take time to get really present in the moment, as we tend to do in moments of prayer tend to have lower blood pressure, slower breath and heart rate, and their brain waves show that while still alert, they are also able to relax more deeply.
Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra along with many others have been espousing the benefits of meditation for a long time. If you search out meditation online, you will find that there are literally dozens of ways to meditate so you can find one that suits your style. The whole idea behind the benefit of meditation or prayer is to focus on the present moment rather than to have your mind racing with thoughts of what happened yesterday or last week or 20 years ago. Our lives can be consumed by regret over things that happened so long ago that chances are you are the only one who recalls it and chances are pretty good that you only remember parts of what really happened. On the flip side, if you aren't consumed with regret over the past, it is likely that you may be consumed with fear or anxiety about the future--something you generally have little control over if you really think about it. Not to say that you shouldn't prepare for the future by getting a good education or saving for a rainy day, but if you are so worried about the future that you forget to enjoy the present moment, what's the point? Life is made up of moments that cannot be retrieved (except in our memories); but if we are so consumed with the past or the future that we forget to focus on the present...well, you get the idea.
Many people--myself included--have trouble developing the discipline necessary to create a meditation practice that is meaningful. If you have seen the movie, Eat, Pray, Love or if you read the book, you might remember the scene in which the main character attempts to quiet her mind the whole time that her mind is racing with commentary about her efforts. That is how we are. We are running a commentary all of the time. It is that commentary that we need to switch into the "off" mode if only for a few moments each day, but it takes practice and discipline. Don't be too hard on yourself. Everyone has to start somewhere. Give yourself a break. You probably didn't grow up learning how to meditate and you need not set up expectations that you are unlikely to satisfy right away. Give yourself time to practice...take five minutes tomorrow to set aside the commentary, the regrets, the fear...just five minutes to sit and be still and to quiet your mind. After you have mastered the ability to do five minutes, increase it by a minute a day. But be gentle with yourself. Some days will be easier than others. Don't make creating a meditation practice something that adds to your stress! That would definitely be self-defeating.
If nothing else works for you, try remembering the first lines from the "Serenity Prayer." Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs use that prayer. When I was a child, I remember that my father had a little plaque in my parents’bedroom that had the Serenity Prayer printed on it. My father never drank a day in his life, so I don’t know when or how he came across that prayer, but it had had an impact on him, and he would sometimes refer to it when he was trying to impart some sort of wisdom or life lesson. I find that the opening lines of the prayer work for me in moments of stress. It starts with the words, "God grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference." Just remembering that there IS a difference between those things that I can change and those things that are outside my realm of control give me a peace that I find very comforting.
So, the six things I suggest you consider incorporating into your life for greater health and an increased sense of general well-being again are staying hydrated; eating well; getting adequate sleep; exercising regularly; indulging in something that makes you smile or laugh each day (having fun); and engaging in a practice of mindful meditation or prayer. Next week, I will tackle the subject of a recent talk that I heard about the effects of stress and how it may not be the stress itself but how we THINK about stress that is the real culprit. More on that next week.