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Meditating to Reduce Stress

The benefits of relaxation can impact the health so dramatically that people have been cured of things as fatal as heart disease or cancer simply by sitting down on a regular basis for calm reflection.

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But in the hectic pace of daily life, it may seem there's no place for slowing down until it's nearly too late. Problems arise when constant activity without relaxation creates health problems associated with stress—headaches, backaches, heart palpitations, stomach disorders and other physical illnesses have been shown to be caused or exacerbated by stress.

The age-old techniques proven to reduce stress are simple: deep breathing and quieting the mind create healing in the body. The study of yoga,

now a favorite among exercise enthusiasts, has its roots in Indian theology, where it was understood that meditation could be enhanced by assuming particular postures for holistic healing. The mind-body connection, while still undervalued in Western health, has long been understood by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners as an important component in health. Meditation, whether in yoga, Zen or other forms of prayer has been shown to lower heart rates, increase immunity and bolster feelings of well-being.

Learning to relax can be as simple as lying in a dark, quiet room and counting your breaths. Lie on your back with your hands folded on your stomach or placed at your side. Take a deep breath, hold it for a half-second, and let it out slowly, feeling your stomach rise as you inhale and flatten as you exhale. Keep your shoulders down: they shouldn't rise or fall with your breathing, but should stay relaxed. Breathe this way, counting each breath (just to give your mind something to do) for ten minutes (it helps to set a kitchen timer so you don't need to look at a clock.) This simple technique has been shown to lower blood pressure, calm anxiety and increase energy.

Practicing mindfulness helps chase away the demons that plague us to rush, rush through our days and activities in a futile effort to get it all done. There are different types of grounding exercises and meditations, designed to suit nearly anyone whatever the belief system or health requirements. Methods vary, but in general they center on creating a sacred space inside the mind for calming the mind. You can seek instruction at a local Buddhist meditation center, where exercises come complete with meditation cushions, bells or gongs in a special room or garden. Or you may feel more comfortable at home, playing soothing music on the CD player and practicing deep breathing. Meditation pillows make sitting more comfortable, especially if sitting in the lotus position is too tough on your joints. Wind chimes outside the window of your meditation room can lend a tinkling, energizing note to your quiet times. You can even meditate in your car: just take ten minutes at the end of your workday to sit in the parking lot a breathe while you clear your mind. Once you've learned some relaxation skills, you can apply them nearly anywhere: many people use them on lunch breaks, before meetings and in other workplace situations where stress can become overwhelming.

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