How to Achieve Stress Relief

 

 

 

I’ve talked in the previous posts about the vital importance of engaging in stress relief. According to Joe Dispenza, most people spend most of their time in what he calls survival mode. That is, we are reactive to our environment and we experience stress with adrenalin and cortisol pumping through our veins. This is a state of being that is detrimental to wellbeing and good health. Most significantly, in this state cell renewal and body maintenance do not take place – and these are essential to vibrant health and longevity.

The desirable state of being, the one that is supportive of good health and thriving in life, is what Joe calls the creative state. This state is optimal for cell renewal and wellbeing. In this state we are not reactive, that is to say we don’t simply plot along until some external factor such as a partner, teenager, colleague, traffic jam or missed appointment causes us to react with a negative emotion and stress response. We are in a creative state, we purposefully engage our attention (better still after having planned and/or organised our project – as well as our long-term goals – in our minds beforehand.

A creative state itself does not require planning. For example if you are engrossed in and focused on the chosen task – may it be writing, painting, singing, organising a work project – your attention is fully on the task. A tell-tale sign when you are in a creative state is when time seems to disappear. You might have been engaged in something for a couple of hours and it seems like 15 minutes. Even external factors such as a noisy truck outside your window or a cold air-conditioner are not registered by your brain. In other words, your brain – more specifically your highly evolved frontal lobe – has the power to tune out all unrelated external stimuli that have nothing to do with the task at hand. That’s very cool, isn’t it. You feel engaged, joyful, content, alive. You are literally outside of time and space when you are 100 % focused.

Now, focused attention is a skill that we can learn. Just like playing tennis or driving a car. Meditation is a way of training the mind and the body to concentrate on one thought alone. Meditation is the antidote to stress like antivenom is to snake venom. Science has now come on board and confirmed what eastern mystics have known for eons: meditation quiets the mind and stops stress in its tracks.

Now, the thought of meditation scares many people. Sitting still and doing nothing is not taught in our schools. Our society praises action, action and more action. Many people fear what thoughts might come up when they sit still. Others simply don’t think they can sit still even for a short period of time such as 10 minutes.

I believe that everyone who is motivated to learn how to meditate can do so. Because it is a skill, a learned skill. If you decide to put your full attention on something that is important enough to you because you realise the benefits to your life you will learn it. You might not attain mastery, after all people who learn to ride the bike don’t become Tour de France riders overnight. Like every other skill, meditation also requires practice. But just as you get from A to B when you first manage to ride a bike, even if it is wobbly and you might feel a little unnerved, when you start to meditate you will reap immediate benefits.

Also, it is good to remember that there are many different forms of meditation: going into nature is a form of meditation. A bushwalk, a stroll along the river or the beach usually quietens the mind. That is, as long as you actually focus on the nature around you and don’t think about your bills or other worries. As long as you stay focused and don’t let your mind wander off. If you focus your attention on your surroundings – the trees, flowers, mountains or water – you will relieve stress and help your body to return to homeostasis or balance (at least until the next stress factor comes along).

I would like to inspire you to start to learn the skill of focused attention. It will bring you incredible benefits such as joyfulness, contentment and peace. Start small. Take time out on your next walk to really look closely at a flower and become engaged in the wondrousness of nature.

 

Allow all of your attention to be focused on the flower. It does not matter what you choose to put your attention on – water, the sand under your naked feet, trees, the blue sky – as long as you are 100 % focused. If your thoughts wander, no worries, don’t chastise yourself, simply stop and decide to put your attention back onto whatever you were engaged in.

 

The skill of focused attention is like a muscle that needs strengthening and building. Once it is build up, it only needs to be maintained. There are so many ways in our life where the ability to deliberately and purposefully focus our attention will reward us with gifts such as inner peace and joy. The biggest benefit of all is wellbeing and stress relief.

 

Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection

Making sense of change

 

 

 

 

Emotional health and the integration of our experiences

 

 

Whilst kayaking on the river the other day I was really taking note of the movement of the water. I was about half a kilometre off shore and observed the large body of water that surrounded me. There were picture book conditions: a bright blue luminous sky coupled with a still surface. Yet there were constant small movements of this enormous amount of water I was hovering on. Suddenly waves came seemingly out of no-where. Surprised I looked around for the source of the waves, yet to my astonishment I could not see any boat, jet ski or the like. During the rest of my paddling this happened again a couple times. Intrigued I started to think about the flow of water. What happens at one end of any body of water, even a large one, effects other parts even if they are so far away that they are out of sight.

This was a visual reminder for me how our entire body system is connected to and affected by our emotions.

Emotions have always been likened to water. And our bodies are made up of about 70 % of water. Watching the flow of water in a river or the ocean is a good reminder of how everything in our bodies flows as well – our entire internal body communication system relies on the flow of energy.

Speaking of flow, our brain is also the flow of energy. It flows whether you like it or not. There are basically two states of flow:

–       an integrated flow

–       a disintegrated flow

Our emotional health – and our physical wellbeing – is dependent on an integrated flow.

An integrated flow goes hand in hand with positive emotion.

Negative emotion is a signpost for a disintegrated flow.

Many physiological processes happen on autopilot; whether they are integrated or disintegrated, they will go unnoticed by the conscious mind.

Now, a mindset is a process that regulates the flow of energy and information. This means that the way you look at something, your perspective, influences whether the flow is integrated or disintegrated.

Neurobiofeedback is the capacity of the brain to take a thinking process and to change the body.

Your thoughts literally change your body.

We all have disintegrated brain sequences, based on our life-long experiences. But here is the good news:

Our brains are plastic!

This means that our brains can change, in particular the neural pathways can change and new pathways can be created. Our brain is not set in stone. It can be altered.

There are 100 billion neurons in the brain. The brain has the capacity to create new neural pathways quickly. It does this on the basis of experience and repetition. The more a thought is repeated, the stronger the neural pathway becomes.

This also works the other way: if you don’t use your neural pathway, you lose it. That is to say if a particular skill or way of thinking benefits you, or you simply like it, it will wither away if you neglect it. The neural pathway will shrink.

Because our brains are plastic, disintegrated experiences and brain sequences can be re-integrated.

Our emotional health depends upon this integration.

You cannot pretend an emotion into oblivion. It affects not only your awareness and mood, but also your physical health and the functioning of your entire body system, including digestion, blood flow to your organs, including your brain and therefore your ability to reason, etc.

You cannot resist an emotion away. But you can allow it to be – in other words to feel it – and it will dissipate.

Kayaking is a visual example of this. When I first got onto my kayak, which isn’t stable in choppy waters (it glides smoothly and fast through calm waters though), even small waves really rocked my boat. Head-on waves were alright, but when they come from the side – a bit like emotions coming out of left field taking us by surprise – they are very challenging. Initially I got worried. It was an unpleasant feeling. Then I learned to loosen the hips and to allow the kayak to go with the flow of the waves. To let myself be rocked from side to side. Voila, the waves were no longer scary, no longer a threat of toppling me over. (I’m going kayaking on the river, although a tidal river, not to be compared with ocean waves). Sure, the waves slow me down; in fact, if they are strong I need to stop until they have disappeared. But I have recently developed an attitude whereby I enjoy whatever comes my way during kayaking. Mostly anyway. The other day I got a bit frustrated with all the waves made by skiboats, especially if the boats come pretty close. However, shortly afterwards I was rewarded with some magic: three dolphins surfaced very close to me. Two of them proceeded to dive right under my kayak. Wow.

Kayaking is a good reminder to go with the flow. You cannot stop the flow anyway, in the same way that you can’t stop waves, but you can have a mindset that allows the flow to integrate, thereby supporting contentment and a thriving life. Equally you can stop the flow from integrating, thereby harming your emotional and physical wellbeing. You cannot control everything, but you can develop a mindset that supports your wellbeing, that allows your emotions to be, to come and go like the waves instead of locking them into your cells through suppression.

May you develop this new muscle of going with the flow – it’s like riding a bike, you won’t enter the Tour de France overnight, but hey, you are getting better and better with practice. Perhaps 2013 could be the year of going with the flow.

 

Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection

Making sense of change