The 15 Minute Stress
Reliever RoutineBy Kathy Smith
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Taking time for yourself each day, even as
little as 10 to 15 minutes to relax your mind, is as important as stretching
your physical body.
At home, on the road, and
at work, our senses are constantly being assaulted. If it's not the demands of
a spouse, a friend, a child, a coworker, or other drivers, then it's the
discordant clang of radio, television, billboards, traffic, or construction.
Someone or something is always there to intrude.
So ubiquitous are these
intrusions that most of us aren't even fully aware of them anymore. Our bodies
and minds have accommodated the onslaught through a process called sensory
adaptation. In essence, we become kind of numb to the pain. But conscious of it
or not, we're still in pain, and the pain still takes its toll.
At least half a dozen times
in the last year I've heard friends say, "I'm so burned out. I just feel like I
can't give to anybody anymore."
Words of desperation. They
indicate that these men and women, like millions of others, have been defeated
by the assault. By not giving themselves frequent vacations from the blare,
they left themselves vulnerable to its cumulative effects. And like it or not,
they're now forced by burnout to do what they didn't do all along: recharge
A better approach is not to
wait until the problem becomes acute. But how? In a perfect world, everyone
would be able to get away to a spiritual center for a periodic silent retreat
(though in a perfect world we wouldn't have to). In fact, not until you
actually go to a place where voices and media are forbidden do you realize how
loud our lives' usual cacophony is.
The days I've spent in
absolute silence, communing with my own thoughts and the sounds of nature, have
been utterly rejuvenating. Able to move at a slower, more natural rhythm
without having to worry about verbal communication, I found myself experiencing
the simple joys of living. In a dining hall with others who were similarly
practicing silence, I even seemed to chew my food with additional care and was
more attentive to its tastes and textures. Every activityreading,
walking, bathingI performed with greater mindfulness. By that I mean the
awareness of this specific moment, the here and now, as the place deserving of
my complete presence. What bliss.
Alas, five days of silence
every month or two isn't very realistic for most of us. But neither is a daily
solitary walk on the beach or in the woods. A more pragmatic antidote to the
pace and noise of daily living is to create your own peace through meditation.
Dozens of studies have
concluded, time and again, that meditation is an effective method of reducing
or even eliminating the physical consequences of stress. Practiced regularly,
meditation lowers heart and respiratory rates and strengthens the immune
system. It can improve diabetes and arthritis, anxiety and depression,
migraines and obsessive-compulsiveness, as well as many other disorders.
For many, the word
meditation conjures up images of Buddhist monks sitting with their legs crossed
in a painful yoga position, motionless for days at a time. But meditation
doesn't have to be exotic to be effective. Personally, I derive immense
benefits from 15 or 20 minutes a day of simply trying to focus my attention.
Sometimes I sit cross-legged, sometimes on my knees, often in a chairbut
always in a place that's as quiet as I can make it.
I begin by closing my eyes
and taking a few deep breaths, slowly in through the nose and slowly out the
nose, to initiate the relaxation process. Then I actually focus my attention on
my breathingon the air going in and out, on the places in my body that
the air touches. Every few seconds my attention will wander, led astray by a
thought. As soon as I become aware of that, I gently try to refocus on the
breathing. Even after as few as 15 minutes, when I open my eyes, I'm noticeably
calmer, more ready to face the day's challenges.
There are, of course,
numerous other methods of meditation. Some people focus their attention on,
say, the point of contact between their hands; others stare at fixed objects or
on geometrically symbolic designs called mandalas; still others repeat specific
sounds called mantras. What all these methods have in common is the goal of
mindfulness. After you've achieved mindfulness, even for just a few moments,
you'll understand why it's so important. Living in the here and now, as opposed
to the there and thenwhich is where we spend most of our timefeels
Better still, mindfulness
is a moveable feast. It can go where you go. So even as the hubbub and discord
continue on all sides, you can remain an island of sanity by creating your own
five minutes of peace.
Kathy Smith is
one of the most admired fitness and wellness leaders in America, with 16
million workout titles sold worldwide. Her latest creation is Project:
YOU Type 2.