Stress less in 2010

War. Economic uncertainty. Bitter cold. Unachieved goals.

Welcome to 2010. The year's only just begun, but there's already plenty to be stressed out about.

"At this time of year, generally people are recovering from overdosing on sugars and alcohol," says Donald Dossey, a behavioral scientist who's the founder of the Stress Management Center/Phobia Institute in Asheville. "Fear about the economy is a big factor right now. There's tax time coming up. And we're at a time when a lot of people feel that they haven't accomplished what they should have, so they set up goals, or resolutions, which are notorious failures."

Strike a pose: Sunny Keach, right, of the Asheville Yoga Center says yoga's an excellent stress-beater because it combines meditation, movement and breathing techniques, which all can help someone melt away tension. Photo by Jason Sandford

"You add all that together," notes Dossey, "and you've got a pretty stressful situation facing a lot of people."

So what's the answer to de-stressing in a stress-filled world? For Dossey and other health experts, it's all about slowing down, taking a step back from your fast-paced life and mastering a few basic techniques. Here are some suggestions from local experts on how you can ratchet down the tension in your life.

Good goals

Dossey is a strong believer in setting goals.

"Not New Year's resolutions: They don't work. But goals. They'll work if you set them up correctly," he asserts.

First, write down what you want to accomplish, then work backward on the steps you need to accomplish to get there, says Dossey. Keep them simple. And consider breaking them into categories, such as spiritual, health, financial and relationship goals, he suggests.

Then let your unconscious mind help you out by visualizing success. "If you focus beyond the goal and get the feeling that it's already completed, your body will help you get there," he advises. Think of how your mind reacts when you get that sensation of hunger, says Dossey. Suddenly you're noticing every deli sign and scent of a sandwich. The same holds true for goal-setting.

"If you feel stuck, you've either got the wrong goal or the right goal set up wrong. If you have them set up correctly, you'll get excited and you'll have fun about going after those goals."

Meditation goes mainstream

Once the sole province of mystics, meditation these days has gone mainstream, because science now recognizes the measurable physiological benefits of giving your brain a little vacation, says Tom Ball of The Transcendental Meditation Program of Asheville. Ball, who co-directs the program with his wife, Jeanne, reports that more than 6 million people now turn to TM for relaxation as well as self-development.

"Stress is epidemic," says Ball, citing a National Institutes of Health study which concluded that 85 to 90 percent of either the cause or complications of disease is tied to stress. "Stress is serious stuff."

Ball's answer is the technique known as Transcendental Meditation. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced the program to the world in 1957, says Ball, then invited scientists to investigate. The result, he says, is a "vast body of scientific research" documenting beneficial effects.

Transcendental Meditation enables practitioners to quiet their brain and delve deep within themself, he explains. The twice-daily practice requires 15 to 20 minutes of sitting quietly with your eyes closed and settling into a state referred to as "restful alertness."

The results can include increased creativity and happiness, as well as a high state of consciousness, says Ball. "It's not mysticism or mythology: It's reality."

Breathe right

Breath is life, and when it comes to proper breathing, less is more.

So says Dorisse Neale, a registered nurse for 32 years who grew up severely asthmatic. Eventually, Neale's long-standing interest in holistic medicine led her to the Buteyko breathing method, which see says healed her asthma. Dr. Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko, a Ukrainian physician, developed this system of controlled breathing in the late 1950s, based on his research.

Neale, who calls herself a "respiratory educator," teaches the technique through her in-home clinic, her in-home, BreathDance Studio where she teaches wellness, movement and what she calls remedial breathing education.

The method, she explains, is based on "gentle breath-holding. Holding breath back slightly after an exhale can increase the level of carbon dioxide in the body. Carbon dioxide is essential for the body to use oxygen, and for maintaining the body's proper acid/ alkaline balance, she says

"Carbon dioxide is a waste gas only in excess," says Neale, noting that your grandmother's advice about breathing into a paper bag if you're feeling faint is all about breathing in more carbon dioxide to boost oxygenation and circulation.

Faced with stress, the body goes into its classic fight-or-flight mode, which includes restricted upper-chest breathing and mouth breathing, notes Neale. But by training yourself to breathe consciously, you can learn to de-stress.

"I like to quote a Tibetan saying: 'The breath is the horse; the mind is the rider.' So we have to take the reins with our breathing," Neale maintains. "It's an every-day practice to pay attention to your breath."

Bringing it all together with yoga

The practice of yoga brings together meditation, breathing and movement. And for Sunny Keach of the Asheville Yoga Center, that combination is a potent stress-beater.

The movement, the guided imagery and just the "time to be present with yourself" all add up. Stress, says Keach, is essentially fear of the future or the past, and yoga "gets you in the present moment."

Keach and his wife, Stephanie, own and run the Asheville Yoga Center on South Liberty Street, which has been in business for 14 years now. The center employs about 20 instructors and offers a variety of classes seven days a week.

"We have something for everybody, but we've probably got more flow yoga classes" that focus on dynamic movement," says Keach.

And though some 16 million Americans already practice yoga, he notes, his center is still seeking out new students.

The center is kicking off a "yoga challenge," which rewards people with a T-shirt, guest passes and discounts depending on how many days in a row they practice, Keach reports.

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22 thoughts on “Stress less in 2010

  1. jamesmdallas

    Over the last 45 years, I’ve tried all types of Meditation, I agree Transcendental Meditation (TM) is Superior, not only as a technique for gaining deep relaxation or stress release but because of the very organized approach to instruction and the lifetime follow-up always available at centers all over the world, always at the students option. Yoga & TM together are without a doubt the MOST effective routine in having a Happy, Healthy Lifestyle no matter whats happening with our Economy.

    As part of our Greek Heritage we always believe in the Trinity and a balanced development of Mind, Body & Spirit… unfortunately, especially in very materialistic nations, very few ever experience their true spiritual nature. It was through TM that I had that first true deep experience of the simplest form of myself and I’m ever thankful of that…

  2. Dominic Mayers

    Thanks to science, it’s not based on mysticism or religion any more. We can understand the important differences in what we can gain from the different meditations and pick what we want.

  3. bukchop

    Years ago, when I was sick with ITP and had stopped practicing my TM, I happened to get my meditation checked,a free service offered to anyone who learns TM, just before getting my weekly blood test. My doctor was doing platelet counts to determine if he could lower the doses of Prednisone he was treating me with. My platelet count had to go up for the steroid treatment to go down. That day I got my TM checked just before the blood test was the first increase in platelet count indicating the doctor could reduce my drug treatments. I started having my meditation checked before every blood test and the treatments continued to improve until I had a full recovery and never needed convincing of the value if TM again. Now that I am 50 years old I find the breathing and yoga exercises taught with TM especially helpful too.

  4. R. Boes, Ph. D.

    WOnderful article, here at the beginning of the new year. Great to hear that one can gain such benefits in life spending 2o minutes 2x day enjoying a restful, alert inner state. Thanks to science for all of its research into this field.

  5. Julie Parker

    Me too! I have been doing TM since 1974 and it has certainly stood the test of time.

  6. jean scrivner

    Great article! Thanks for running it. I am especially interested in trying that Transcendental Meditation. I am already doing some Yoga and find that helps but mind and emotions still need more.

  7. NiaOndine

    Great article, very succinct and practical info. I do TM every day, and it really enhances my life profoundly. It gives me balance, a better perspective on life, refreshing rest, inner happiness. I would also add to this list of suggestions: exercise. Something that you enjoy so it’s not a burden, but is fun playtime, a treat you reward yourself with, that gets your heart rate up.

  8. Useful article! I’ve been doing Transcendental Meditation for years. Yes this particular technique is a powerful stress buster but that’s the least of its benefits: it gives you the experience of the Transcendent–pure consciousness at the source of thought. There are many good forms of meditation and the best ones aim toward this same spiritual experience, but TM pretty darn well guarantees that you’ll transcend every meditation, to the deepest, most peaceful level of the mind… and in an effortless, natural way.

  9. Miville Couture

    I learned Transcendental Meditation 36 years ago mainly because I had serious problems of insomnia. After a only few days of practice I was able to sleep normaly and from then on, every aspect of my life improved so much that many members of my family followed my example. I have been meditating regularly for all these years. I am presently 64 years young and I feel better than many people who are 40 years old. Many thanks to Mountain Xpress for this very useful article.

  10. JWTJr

    Relaxing and stretching are good for you no matter what you call it.

  11. killarue

    Sorry to be the cynical one here, but isn’t this another Western approach of addressing the effects and not the causes of our stress and other negative areas of our life. I have no doubt that meditation is beneficial; however, the way one lives their life must have some impact. The modern world continues to add stress to our lives whether we like it or not, so even with the benefits of these meditation techniques it doesn’t eliminate the stress causing forces. Actually, I think the secret is to own a yoga studio:) Geez, I need to relax!

  12. jamesmdallas

    Dear Killarue,

    No amazingly this is not the case, again specifically with the TM Technique, I can also speak for other meditations I’ve also tried, not even 100th as effective. TM allows the mind to experience the source of thought itself and the state of absolute rest of human physiology, this regular mind/body experience as a forth major state of consciousness, Transcendental Consciousness; actually ELIMINATES Stress at its root cause; a very important distinction which is completely supported by extensive independent scientific research, some 700 published studies; See TM.ORG….

  13. tom mckinley ball

    “Killarue” asks, interestingly, “isn’t this another Western approach, addressing the effects, not the causes.” With TM (and perhaps other approaches here as well), one goes straight to addressing the basic cause of negative, unhealthy behavior: stress and imbalance, in both the individual and in collective consciousness. The deep, coherent rest one gains during TM allows the physiology to dissolve stress, to restore and reset itself, as so many research studies show. The meditation teacher who founded TM, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, would say that the basic cause of all suffering is underdevelopment of the individual—or the fact that people in general are not functioning from full human potential. This all comes down to the ultimate cause of all problems in life: loss of the Self. All these approaches are about re-establishing our true integrity and “cosmic” identity as Enlightened human beings. This is what’s been missing from our great educational systems.

  14. Consciousness is the most fundamental thing there is in life. You change consciousness, you change the world.

  15. Consciousness is the most fundamental thing there is in life. You change consciousness, you change the world.

  16. Mr Sandman

    Everybody here just needs to have a cigarette, calm down and speak with their inside voices.Your negative vibes are messing with my vision board.

  17. Ryan Kurczak

    Meditation is an excellent way to improve health and well being. I’ve been practicing Kriya Yoga Meditation for about 10 years now, which incorporates similar mantra techniques as TM, and it has been very good. Of course, stretching has also been good.

  18. There’s a crucial different between meditation and mere relaxation, and between yoga and just stretching. Yes you relax during meditation and stretch during asanas. But these practices in their pure forms (their original effectiveness) are powerful technologies for self-development from the most ancient and, arguably, most advanced tradition of knowledge on earth. Scientist in the physiology labs at UCLA first studied the effects of TM in 1971, declaring the discovery of a major 4th state of consciousness (unlike waking, dreaming, sleep) with its own physiological parameters–decreased oxygen consumption, unique brain patterns and changes in biochemistry. The 4th state (turiya) had been known for thousands of years in the Vedic tradition. The range of benefits from TM now identified by science goes far beyond relaxation; studies show that the technique stimulates the basis of human evolution, developing more coherent brain function, peak mental performance and a higher state of health. Science is finding that effective meditation awakens the untapped potential of our consciousness and creates a more productive, fulfilling state of human life, just as the ancient rishis said it would, when properly practiced.

  19. tom mckinley ball

    “Killarue” asks, interestingly, “isn’t this another Western approach, addressing the effects, not the causes.” With TM (and perhaps other approaches here as well), one goes straight to addressing the basic cause of negative, unhealthy behavior: stress and imbalance, in both the individual and in collective consciousness. The deep, coherent rest one gains during TM allows the physiology to dissolve stress, to restore and reset itself, as so many research studies show. The meditation teacher who founded TM, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, would say that the basic cause of all suffering is underdevelopment of the individual—or the fact that people in general are not functioning from full human potential. This all comes down to the ultimate cause of all problems in life: loss of the Self. All these approaches are about re-establishing our true integrity and “cosmic” identity as Enlightened human beings. This is what’s been missing from our great educational systems.

  20. yogini

    I began exploring meditation 35 years ago & appreciate the rich diversity of practices. Many forms of meditation will provide relaxation & inner nourishment, but a common mistake is to lump them all together & assume the same results. Medical schools used to teach that meditation is just the relaxation response & that all meditation can be explained in this easy, simplistic way. But the research now shows otherwise & a new paradigm is emerging: that different meditation practices have different effects, not only on the brain but on all levels of mind & body. This is also common sense. I find TM to be very different from Zen, mindfulness & other mantra practices I’ve done. It’s much easier for me & so natural. TM is also unlike any Kriya techniques; there’s no focusing on your breath & no intention to control or direct attention. But I love Yogananda and his great teachings, which got me started in meditation at age 15.

  21. There’s a crucial different between meditation and mere relaxation, and between yoga and just stretching. Yes you relax during meditation and stretch during asanas. But these practices in their pure forms (their original effectiveness) are powerful technologies for self-development from the most ancient and, arguably, most advanced tradition of knowledge on earth. Scientist in the physiology labs at UCLA first studied the effects of TM in 1971, declaring the discovery of a major 4th state of consciousness (unlike waking, dreaming, sleep) with its own physiological parameters–decreased oxygen consumption, unique brain patterns and changes in biochemistry. The 4th state (turiya) had been known for thousands of years in the Vedic tradition. The range of benefits from TM now identified by science goes far beyond relaxation; studies show that the technique stimulates the basis of human evolution, developing more coherent brain function, peak mental performance and a higher state of health. Science is finding that effective meditation awakens the untapped potential of our consciousness and creates a more productive, fulfilling state of human life, just as the ancient rishis said it would, when properly practiced.

  22. Kell

    I find that breathing is a great stress management tool. When stressed I breathe from the chest and breathing from the diaphragm helps to counter the shallow rapid breathing – a typical stress symptom. Most breathing exercises involve diaphragmatic breathing increases the lungs capacity to oxygenate the blood, counters the stress response and has a calming effect on the body.
    For more breathing exercises visit http://www.stress-management-for-peak-performance.com/breathing-exercises.html

    All the best
    Kell

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