Meditation to Combat Stress

If the truth were told, I am not really the yogi-climb-to-the-top-of-the-mountain-to-be-at-one-with-the-universe kind of guy. I do not know any monks and I’ve never been in a monastery. However, I would also have to say that if I were in total control of how I spend my time, I would choose not to spend it curled up vomiting in a corner of a dark room while everyone else is partying. It’s funny how life can teach you the lessons you need to learn, especially at times you do not wish to learn them.

As I mentioned before, meditation was a big help in driving Meniere’s disease into remission the first time I battled it. My first introduction to meditation was through the book The Relaxation Response. Back in 1975, The Relaxation Response was a revolutionary book by Doctor Herbert Benson. He has championed meditation for decades and has continued his studies and written a number of books; his most recent title, released in 2010, is called The Relaxation Revolution.

Dr. Benson starts out The Relaxation Response by addressing the hypertension epidemic and discussing how this condition is brought on by chronic stress.

Humans have an inborn response to stressful situations. This is known as the fight-or-flight response. When invoked, the fight-or-flight response causes our blood pressure, heart rate and respiration rate to increase. Our bodies prepare us for conflict or escape. Long ago, this response was beneficial. Today, it can be detrimental. If the fight-or-flight response is elicited repeatedly, it may lead to serious problems like heart attack or stroke.

Studies have shown that meditation can lower blood pressure. Meditation causes the body to enter a hypometabolic state. In this state, the body experiences lower oxygen consumption, lower heart rate, and lower blood lactate. This is known as the relaxation response.

The relaxation response causes the body to act in direction opposition to the fight-or-flight response. Regular use of the relaxation response will offset the harmful effects of the fight-or-flight response

The physiological changes that happen during the relaxation response are not unique to a specific type of meditation. There are, however, four basic requirements to eliciting the relaxation response:

  • A quiet environment
  • An object or word to focus on
  • A passive, indifferent attitude (this is the most important factor)
  • A comfortable position

 

The suggested technique from The Relaxation Response is:

1)     Choose a word to repeat. You might choose something like heal or calm. Doctor Benson suggests one.

2)      Sit quietly in a comfortable position.

3)      Close your eyes.

4)      Deeply relax all your muscles, beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face. Keep them relaxed.

5)     Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, say your word silently to yourself. For example, breathe IN OUT, “ONE”, IN OUT, “ONE”, etc. Breathe easily and naturally.

6)    Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm. When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes open. Do not stand up for a few minutes.

7)    Do not worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of relaxation. Maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace. When distracting thoughts occur, try to ignore them by not dwelling on them and return to repeating “ONE” or your word of choice. Practice the technique once or twice daily, but not within two hours after any meal, since the digestive process seem to interfere with the elicitation of the relaxation response.

Everyone experiences slightly different feelings in their relaxation response. Most people experience a sense of calm and deep relaxation. A few people experience ecstatic feelings. Some have felt very little change. Regardless of the feelings you detect, those who elicit the relaxation response experience physiological changes that may be hard to identify right away.

Anyone can elicit the relaxation response. It requires no formal education or specific aptitude. There is no one way to elicit the response, but you do need the four basic elements intact to create what we might think of as a good “relaxation environment”. You may choose to change your focus word from “one” to something that is more natural or meaningful to you.

While meditation can produce dramatic turnarounds in illness, it is even more valuable as a preventative measure.

There are all kinds of methods of meditation. Most of the methods have the same three basic steps:

1) Focus on an object (often it is the breath).

2) When your focus drifts from that object, quickly and gently bring your attention back.

3) Let go of any sensations or thoughts that come up during your meditation practice. Even if you suddenly have a wonderful thought — a great solution to a nagging problem or a daydream that transports you to a warm beach — try to let those thoughts go, too. Just focus on your object or chosen word and keep bringing your mind back to it.

The first thing that beginning meditators learn is that it is very hard to think of nothing. Your mind is always buzzing about something. That is its job–to think about stuff. They also learn that they cannot focus on only one object for very long. It takes time and practice. However, the ability to focus comes with patience and repeated practice.

Relaxing when suffering from Meniere’s symptoms seems counter-intuitive. It is far easier said than done. Just start and take it one step at a time. As you practice your meditation technique daily, relaxation will come easier and easier.  If starting out at 20 minutes turns out to be too long, start with 10.  Slowly work your way up to 20 minutes.

 

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