We hear it all the time: “stress is just a part of life.” While it is certainly true that an adult life is, often, a stressful one, there is no reason to simply swallow all of that pressure, anxiety and stress. In fact, letting it get the better of you is bad for you. Science and medicine have told us over and over again that stress isn’t just a mental issue. Stress is a physical issue. When our minds encounter stress, it is our bodies that bear the brunt of its influence.
There are a lot of different ways to deal with and work through stressful situations. Some people work their stress out through exercise or hobbies. Others help themselves feel better by helping others. Chip Wilson, for example, the founder of Lululemon Ahtletica, channels his stress into his foundation Imagine 1Day, a charity dedicated to educating children in Ethiopia. Others take time away to be alone and “get away from it all.” Still others learn to meditate and to practice mindfulness.
It’s Not All Hogwash
Your first reaction when you hear the words “mindfulness” or “meditation” might be to roll your eyes or to snort derisively. That’s because, as Liz Kluze points out in The Atlantic, a lot of us were raised to believe that eastern philosophy had not root in reality and was an excuse to get out of problem solving.
It’s also true that, in some respects, mindfulness and meditation have been co-opted by the profit makers and snake oil salesmen. In the fall of 2013, The Economist took a closer look at those peddling mindfulness and meditation products in its article “The Mindfulness Business.”
The real truth, though, is that mindfulness and meditation are powerful therapeutic tools that people can use to counteract stress and anxiety. Some people find that it is a powerful motivation tool as well. If it weren’t so helpful and it didn’t yield such good results for those who are able to master it, it wouldn’t be such a target.
So what is it? There has to be more to it than simply staring at a wall and not thinking, right? Right!
What Mindfulness and Meditation Actually Are
Believe it or not, there is a high level of focus that is required for mindfulness and meditation. There is language about “clearing your mind”, sure but most people find their way into these practices by focusing intensely upon something. It might be a spot on the wall. It might be a candle flame. Some people chant, focusing all of their attention on the word and how their bodies feel as they say it. Yes! It turns out that the “ohm” that so many people giggle over, has a real purpose! Meditators find that by focusing so completely on that one thing, they’re able to “clear their minds” of everything else.
How to Learn Meditation and Mindfulness
While there are some who have found success by reading books, most have found that the best way to learn how to meditate and how to practice mindfulness is to follow the examples of someone who has gone before you. Then, in keeping with eastern philosophy, teach someone who is coming up after you. Some say that’s why Chip Wilson (we mentioned him before) started his YouTube Channel, Whil.
What’s important is that you not give up after your first try. You’re going to feel stupid the first few times you try to meditate and during the first few mindfulness exercises you do. Don’t let that deter you. It can take a long time to learn these skills, but the work will have been worth it when you can cure your own stress and anxiety attacks!