A Word About Anxiety
For most people experiencing anxiety, you are out in the future worrying, fretting, stressing out about what might or might not happen.
All of these emotions result from living outside present moment awareness.
We all do it. We worry about the mundane, and we worry about circumstances that are out of our control. The mundane are situations we can do something about, for example, the laundry that didn’t get finished, the taxes that have not been filed, the house that has yet to be cleaned this week, the studying that has yet to be done, the car that has yet to be washed.
Examples of anxiety out of our control include:
- Is our country’s economy going to remain in recession?
- Am I ever going to earn enough money to pay my outstanding debts?
- Am I going to die of cancer?
To manage anxiety, we have to stay in present moment awareness, and do what the present moment requires.
Speculating and worrying about future events that may or may not happen is not productive and can lead to health consequences.
The Art of Meditation to Lessen Anxiety
The ancient Buddhist practice of mindfulness has become a part of mainstream America in the last couple of decades. The first hospital stress-reduction clinic, at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, Massachusetts, began in 1979, directed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Dr. Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) guru, has facilitated thousands of MBSR workshops for professionals and lay persons alike. MBSR is about letting the mind be as it is in the present moment. It is not about getting somewhere else. It is allowing yourself to be where you already are.
Breathing mindfully is a simple remedy for reducing our ever-increasing levels of stress.
The question I receive most often is “Can anybody meditate”?
The answer is: yes, you can.
Meditation involves intentionality.
If you can breath, you can meditate. Meditation is not about feeling a certain way. It is contemplation and reflection. It is truly about moment- to-moment awareness. I tell students that the thoughts will come in, so let them. Just allow yourself to let them pass through.
Make a commitment to meditate and stick with it.
You may start with sitting or lying down for at least five minutes, and just relaxing.
Make it a regular part of your life each day. When people say they can’t meditate, what they are really saying is they won’t make time for it.
I was teaching a class years ago at the Vail Athletic Club one evening. We were just getting positioned and suddenly the door was flung open! “What is this class”? A woman asked loudly.
I said, “It is mindfulness meditation class. Would you like to join us?” “I don’t have time to meditate,” she exclaimed as she ran away.
I feel sorry for those who think they have no time to meditate. Once someone experiences the positive changes that meditation brings to his or her life, he or she will always find time to meditate.
How do you know when you are out of touch with the present moment?
You might be thinking of other things like work while you are playing with your children. When you are in the shower, your mind is on dinner.
When you are making love, you are thinking of other things you should be doing.
While walking, you are oblivious to the beauty of a sunny day, because you are lost in thought and missing out on life in the moment.
When you have problems, it is always easier to find solutions with a clear mind.
Meditation increases clarity of mind and present moment awareness. Meditation is not only for emotional well-being. It is an excellent tool for lessening physical ailments and improving them. One of the physical benefits noted is a stronger immune system. One technique is being aware of one’s sensations in the body and one’s thoughts about those sensations.
Here are a few examples of what students in the 8-week MBSR course had to say about their physical well-being:
- “I was diagnosed with hypertension before the class and now my blood pressure is lower.”
- “I am an asthma sufferer and since I have been in the class, my asthma is under control.”
- “I suffer from chronic back pain, and I am in less pain now than I have been in years since I have started the course.”
- “I have suffered from migraine headaches for years, and now that I meditate every day I can honestly say that my migraines are less frequent. Maybe they will be totally gone with more meditation practice.”
Kabat-Zinn teaches that through the practice of mindfulness meditation, you can learn to develop greater calmness, clarity and insight by embracing all of your life experiences, even all the trials, and turning them into occasions for learning and growth so your wisdom deepens and strengthens.
Some of the tools that you will begin to use and experience with MBSR are:
- Reduce stress by responding mindfully rather than carelessly reacting
- Access your own deep inner resources for learning, growing, and healing
- Bring greater clarity to your daily life and everything you do
- Reduce or overcome addictive or self-destructive behavior patterns
- Enrich your experience of everyday living by being fully present in the moment
Mindfulness meditation is a way to develop a high degree of self-awareness in your life.
Practicing mindfulness can help us be aware of cause and effect. We begin to realize that if we react with anger that it returns in some way. If we express love and kindness, love and kindness returns to us. We gain more knowledge of how to create peace and harmony in our lives.
Mindfulness can free you from being stuck in fear or uncertainty about the future (what many people are now experiencing) and assist you in living your life as an adventure one moment at a time.
Let’s Get Started Practicing Meditation
The first step is to find a quiet space. Get into a comfortable position that feels right for you. Be open and receptive to the thoughts coming in. Simply be aware of them without judgment or criticism and allow them to dissipate. This may take some time, so please be patient, and relax.
Meditation is an acquired skill, the more time you commit to practice meditation, the more benefits you will receive. There is no good, bad, right or wrong way to meditate. It is simply your way.
In the mindfulness based stress reduction classes I led, a majority of the students had taken transcendental meditation (TM) back in the sixties and somehow gotten away from the practice of it. They were ready to begin again. Again, the practice of TM or any other form of meditation is designed to promote a greater sense of well-being and inner peace in both mind and body. Mindfulness can also be experienced while gardening, by focusing awareness of the true beauty of soil and the plants.
Awareness grows through the practice of meditation, and we become mindful of everything we do.
Remember the practice is about being in the present moment and fully experiencing where you are in that moment. No judging or criticizing, just being.
In the mindfulness meditation classes I used to take my students for a walk outside, and they would come back with a new awareness of how beautiful nature truly is. There is really no set time for meditation; however, most people who meditate seem to enjoy the early morning.
Begin with a few minutes. Then as you become comfortable with meditation, increase your time to 20 to 30 minutes a day.
You will find when meditation becomes a part of your daily routine and you skip it, you will miss it and return to it quickly. However long you meditate, be patient. It takes time to clear the clutter of thoughts from your mind. With increased practice you will find that meditation conveys a sense of peace and relaxation and may lead to an awareness of how much less stressed you feel.
Another Form Of Meditation
It starts with the breath.
In our fast-paced society, we often don’t breathe as deeply as we should, especially if we are stressed or anxious.
This slow, deep and focused method of breathing, also referred to as diaphragmatic breathing, is how infants breathe.
This focused breathing has been a practice, especially in the Eastern cultures for centuries, to induce relaxation. This practice is also incorporated into other techniques such as hypnosis, guided imagery, progressive muscular relaxation, and autogenic training.
Focused breathing is helpful for expectant mothers during labor, and is reported to reduce the pain of delivery. If it can be an effective tool for childbirth, then it can be effective for anyone experiencing pain.
Meditative breathing has two parts: inhalation and exhalation.
When we inhale, the diaphragm contracts and pushes downwards, causing the abdominal muscles to relax and rise. When we exhale, our diaphragm relaxes, the abdominal muscles contract and air containing carbon dioxide is expelled.
1. Get into a comfortable position either sitting or lying down and close your eyes.
Focus on your lower abdomen, by placing the palm of your hand there and begin to feel the belly expand as you slowly take in a deep breath. Slowly exhale, feel all your stress and tension and negative thought patterns releasing from your body.
2. Continue to repeat this breathing cycle.
You should begin to feel your body relax as you follow your breath in and out. Continue for five to ten minutes and then observe how your body feels.
Getting Comfortable with Silence
Some people have a difficult time dealing with silence. I have had people from New York City stay in my home on Sanibel and they could not sleep because it was “too quiet.” They are used to sirens, taxi horns, and other street noise. The opposite has happened to me. I have spent time in New York City and had difficulty sleeping because of the sirens, taxi horns and street noise.
When we do have the opportunity to really engage with silence, we have a chance to focus on the inner self rather than what is going on around us.
Silence offers time for reflection and introspection, often allowing answers to unanswered questions to surface. It is during silence that we can hear what the soul knows.
I know that times when I am silent and there are no distractions, I often receive information that is invaluable to me. Perhaps the reason that I was feeling stressed during the day becomes so clear that I have to laugh, and the laughter elicits in me a pleasant shift in consciousness.
Revel in silence when you can. Listening to your higher self helps you to live on a more evolved level. This is a challenge for most of us; yet it can be achieved. Do not force anything. Relax into the moment. Silence is your friend.
Some people think they don’t spend enough time alone, while others think they are alone too much.
What is alone time?
Being at one with the activity you are doing without the distraction of other people or responsibilities. Make time for yourself. It may be a few hours to go into another room to read, write, or just be. Go for a walk or a bike ride. You may even need a weekend away in a private setting. Whatever works for you is fine. Alone time is a way to rest and rejuvenate.
Being single until age 53, I spent much time alone, yet I would make time for friends and family, and I felt I had a comfortable balance. Now that I am married, I am not alone as much. When I need alone time I walk on a beach, or hike in the mountains, or bike ride. This feeds my soul, and I like hanging out with myself from time to time.
It may be helpful to create a sacred space. It should be in your own home in a special room or space where you can display items meaningful to you: photos, rocks, shells, religious objects, or art you have collected.
Make your sacred space a place of comfort and peace. When you enter it, leave your cares outside. This is where you give thanks for all the good that life has given you. May your life’s journey be full of sacred spaces and places.
This article is an excerpt from Constance Clancy-Fisher’s book: The Gift of Change: Embracing Challenges Today for a Promising Tomorrow and has been published with the author’s permission.
About the author
Dr. Connieʼs seminars focus on various topics related to our health and well-being including embracing change in our lives. She also facilitates mindfulness meditation classes in top health clubs and spas throughout the country.
To know more about Dr. Constance Clancy-Fisher, visit her website www.drconstance.com.