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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Mindfulness As Preventative Medicine: Incorporating these simple tools can make a big difference, says Steve Price

Jan 02, 2015 12:41PM ● By Steve Price

The impact of the mind on the body is not only obvious, but profound. Mindfulness has been shown to be effective in addressing everything from high blood pressure to depression. Through simple awareness practices, we can dramatically change our relationship to our bodies and nip a number of issues in the bud. An estimated 75 percent to 90 percent of doctor visits are stress-related. However, stress itself is not the problem. It's how we think about stress that affects the way in which our bodies respond.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found people that report high levels of stress in their lives, but don't view stress as necessarily harmful, live longer than those that report little or no stress, but view stress as detrimental. In many cases, it's our resistance to stress that puts the body in a state of distress. Where does this resistance originate? The mind. When the mind is conditioned to react to certain stressors, the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system is overstimulated and a chain reaction ensues: stress hormones are released in excess, blood vessels contract, breathing becomes disturbed and several other issues arise and become aggravated over time as the cycle is perpetuated.

Through mindfulness, we can interrupt the fight-or-flight response and balance it by activating the parasympathetic (rest-and-restore) nervous system. Stress is inevitable. Even if we decide not to get out of bed in the morning or go to a cave to meditate for 20 years, there will be stress in one form or another. The good news is that we can train our minds to respond, rather than react. Here are three simple, but powerful preventative tools:

Pause. Physical reactions to stressors are often habitual and unconscious—perhaps tensing the jaw or the shoulders. It may seem counterintuitive to do nothing, but a simple pause is sometimes all it takes to interrupt a reactive pattern. Instead of gripping, do the opposite. Relax.

Breathe. When we react, we tend to hold our breath. Soften the abdomen, and let the breath flow slowly and deeply, without strain. Our breath mirrors our mental state. Noticing our breath throughout the day whenever it occurs to us will help establish a calm, clear mind.

Feel. Be it a physical sensation or an emotion, we must allow ourself the time to actually feel it. Don't stop the feeling by judging or analyzing it. By staying with the feeling, we can process and release it relatively quickly, rather than stuffing it and storing it as tension in the body. Through mindfulness, we can increase the amount of stress we can handle before we go into distress. In other words, we learn to relax with more.

The body is remarkably intelligent. As we begin to eat, breathe, exercise and live more mindfully, we develop a deeper awareness, understanding and appreciation of our bodies and the compassion to treat ourselves with kindness and respect.

Steve Price directs and teaches at A Mindfulness Life Center, in Scottsdale. For more information, visit AMindfulnessLifeCenter.com.

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