Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Take Refuge

An excellent way to combat stress is to take refuge or as I call it have a scared place.  A place where you can be by yourself to sort out your thoughts calmly.  A lot of people do this by chilling in front of the T.V., having a drink etc., however those aren't the best ideas.

A better way would be to find a stress reducing environment for you, some people make it their bedroom or another special area in the house.  Others take refuge in nature, the valley, the beach etc.  I personally set up a sacred space in my home.  I didn't want it to be my bedroom as that is where I sleep and I didn't want to fall asleep while trying to combat stress, that just turns into avoidance much like drinking or watching t.v.  

My Sacred Space
Instead I took an empty space in my apartment and made it special, I have a Buddha on a table where I also keep my Mala, a candle, my singing bowl and some chimes.  I chose the chimes and singing bowl because I have learned that their vibrations reach us at a cellular level and help us heal.  It is the same reason chant is so restorative.  I also put a picture of my beloved pets there.  Nothing goes there but sacred things, when I want to meditate I light the candle and sit on my meditation cushion in my scared area.  Yours can be what ever you want it to be but make sure it's a sanctuary and not a television.  Be active in combating stress.

Take 15 minutes each day, more if you are particularly stressed, to sit and breath.  Breath deep through your nose into your belly and exhale slowly through the nose.  Take it gently deeper with each breath, imagine you are releasing tension.  I like to imagine a swirl of wind going in through the breath, taking hold of the tension and exiting the body with the exhale.  Use whatever helps you relieve the tension, you may just prefer to focus on the tense area while breathing.  

What ever place you chose should be a safe place where you feel protected.  Refuge means a place of shelter but it isn't taken so literal in this instance.  You should make your place of refuge where ever you feel, safe, protected and free of distraction.  So figuratively, shelter from the storm of life.  

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Top 5 Stress Reducers

I just finished reading an article on the top five stress reducers as I was reading the article I was thinking, yeah this makes sense, of course, I know this.  Then it occured to me that it wasn't all the long ago I didn't know all this.

It wasn't until 2008 when I started yoga that I learned that when humans are stressed out we only breath into the upper portion of our lungs.  When stressed out most of us carrying it in the upper chest and back which is why your shoulders and neck often hurt.  As a rule we don't breath properly even when not stressed out and it is purtinant that we stop and breath fully belly breathes.  This helps us get more oxegen and helps rejuvinate our blood flow.  This is always important but especially when we are stressed out as the stress prevents us getting the right amount of oxygen through normal breathing.  So stop inhale deeply through nose until your beely has expanded, hold, then release through the nose.  Three times is a good rule but doing more will not hurt you.  It's easy to incorporate, at your desk, at a red light, while waiting for the bus or in bed.  It is also a good wake up practice as it helps provided energy.  Deep breathing is natures little miracle as it helps energize when needed and helps us rest when needed, what a powerful funtion.

The article next refers to walking and this seems self explanitory but I think the key is how you walk.  It doesn't mean your rushed walk to the bus stop.  More like a relaxed walk where you are mindful of your surroundings.  Breathing properly while walking, taking in sounds, smells, the feel of your body.  Use all five senses when you walk outside, feel the air on your skin, your feet hit the groud.  Your walks will have much more impact on reducing your stress this way.

Walking ust to be a chore for me something I had to do to get to work etc.  Now I've made it a pleasure, I no longer have to walk to work but I have to walk my dog.  This to me is the most joyful parts of my day, I would almost go as far as to say the dog saved my life that is how much he's given me.  When I was stressed out and just wanted the walk over he would refuse to go up my street as he didn't want the walk to be over.  How could I deny him something that is good for him?  It wasn't too long after I started to look forward to our long walks togehter, just him and me.  I can enjoy the fresh air and my surroundings, I focus on my dog and don't consume myself with ruminating thoughts as I use to while I walked.  Walking has brought great peace to my life and it is an activity in which I enjoy the solitude.

From talking to a lot of my friends and people I meet it seems a lot of people are afraid of yoga.  They know of it's benefits to mind, body and spirit but there is something about performing that inherantly scares a lot of people.  It is truly a great stress reducer and the thing about yoga is it is non judgemental, you aren't meant to be a pretzel no matter how go those poses look on the cover of a magazine.   Yoga teaches us that where we are is where we are suppose to be.  If I can't touch my toes, that's ok as it isn't about getting to your toes, it's about embrassing the posture in a comfortable position and taking in breath.  If you can touch your toes one day, great but if not you are still receiving the benefits.  It's about starting where you are and not competing.  Some folks worry people will be watching them but it's truly hard to concentrate on doing yoga and watch someone else.  It simply doesn't happen, I know as my shirt has gone over my head a couple times in downward dog and everything was okay as everyone was in their posture and not focusing on me.  If you haven't given yoga a chance I really encourage you to try it, even at home if that is more comfortable for you.  That's how I started but now that I go to class, I wouldn't give it up for the world.  

The fourth stress reducer the article referred to was meditation, even into my early adulthood I didn't know anything about meditation.  It was something people from other cultures practiced and I had no idea why or how.  Then I learned there is no real how, you just do.  That doesn't mean it is easy, it takes years to master a quiet mind but even before that the benefits are astounding.  I first started to learn about it when I was suffering from depression and anxiety and a doctor referred me to the works of Jon Kabat-Zinn.  I quickly caught on that if mindfulness can do what it claims, I wanted in.  So I began to practice but I didn't know what I was doing so I needed resources, I turned to itunes and found some guided meditations to start.  Meditation Oasis instantly became my favourite and over four years later I am still using it on my iphone.  The next step  was learning to do it on my own so I joined a work group Toronto MBSR Workshop that taught Jon Kabat-Zinn's method and I have gained such relief from having done so.  Now when something upsets me, I can't sleep or I have pain I meditate and have found it's benefits are priceless.  I only wish I had found it sooner.

The final thing the article says will help reduce stress is guided imagery and I agree it is helpful in reducing stress however I do not agree that it should be number five.  I think the author forgot a healthy diet, one that will keep you energized, promote a healthy immune system and will not cause you harm.  So no chips and chocolate bars are not a part of this healthy diet.  Not being a dietary expert I can't tell you what or how to eat but I do know that not eating healthy will lead to fatigue, depression, increased/decreased weight, illness and your body aging more quickly.  It is hard to fight of stress if your body doesn't have the proper nutrients.  We can't be happy if our bodies aren't well and keeping the body well means treating it right.  Feeding it enough food, not too much or too little.  Feeding it the right foods and at proper times of day.  I truly believe if we follow all these steps we will find happiness and peace.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Over the years I have noticed that I have become more and more pleased while giving gifts.  Excited at Christmas for friends and family to see what I had got them.  Then my family started telling me to save my money and not waste it on them.  I did not like this idea and refused to do it.  So it wasn't shocking that I recently learned that giving is a true way to gain happiness.

This may be surprising to us as a culture as we are often caught up in material wants which become needs.  however studies show that shopping for yourself does nothing to increase our personal happiness.  Buying something for someone else increases the hormones associated with happiness.  Brain scans show giving stimulates the same area in the brain as sex and food.  It can be as simple as buying a friend a coffee next time you are out.  

Research from Harvard university proves that, universally, spending our money on others makes people happy.  It doesn't matter what country you are from or you socio-economic status.  And spending money on others certainly makes us happier then spending it on ourselves.  As a person whose had some issues with shopping, I'm definitely going to take this into consideration.  :)

Giving bigger or more expensive gifts do show we experience more happiness.  Giving doesn't have to include buying someone anything.  I recently made my neighbours an afghan, they were away for the weekend when I finished it.  Monday couldn't come fast enough as I couldn't wait to give it to them and it felt so good, it was a happiness that stayed with me.  

There are many other options, pass on a sweater of yours a friend loves.  Give your used books to books to a friend, give a card of appreciation to someone who has showed you kindness. Make a charitable donation.  Volunteer your time.  Have a talent or skill, teach it to someone.  There are many ways to be generous I'm sure readers will have many other ideas.  I would love to hear them.

The important part is to give without expecting anything in return.  One way to get in to trouble with happiness is to have unmet expectations.  Almost all of your expectations will be too high as not everyone thinks like us.  If I expect someone to make a big deal over my birthday because I made a big deal over their birthday could leave me feeling needlessly hurt.  If I didn't hold such expectations I can't get hurt and would end up feeling angry.  Of course this is a simplified example but as humans we get ourselves into trouble this way.  It is best to give, just to give and not expect anything in return, that way you will experience the happiness of giving and not have to suffer from disappointment when your high expectations are not met. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Material Worth Versus Happiness

We are living in a society that idolizes material worth but you knew that already.  As the saying goes the one with the most toys wins.  When it comes to happiness though, studies show that they really don't.  Gandhi knew it and that is why he chose to live a material free life.  Unfortunately when we are surrounded by all kinds of fancy things we come to believe we need them.  Soon our wants become needs and in order to achieve those needs we as a society are working ourselves to death.  Stress and anxiety rates are rising, families are breaking up.  Our children have everything they could ever want but us as we're working to pay for those things.  The children are not happier for it, bullying is becoming a majour issue, children are suffering with depression and anxiety at earlier and earlier ages.

I recently read "Me to We," by Craig and Marc Kielburger who have gone into some of the poorest areas of the poorest countries in the world.  They found happy people.  Of course this doesn't mean that their lives were great or that they had everything they needed it simply means that even though they had little or nothing these people appreciated life and celebrated the very things our society moans about.  

Marc Kielburger told the story of street children in Bangkok, he learned that these boys were working in the sex trade and didn't know who their parents were.  The amazing thing is these children would get together to celebrate birthday's.  Being street kids, they didn't know when their birthday's were so each year they gathered together and celebrated everyones birthday.  It was simply a celebration of life, despite having nothing.  That's an amazing occurrence that westerners could take a lesson from.

Craig visited a tribe in Africa, material good here were few and far between but what Craig noticed was that these people were far greater at sharing, food, tools, anything they had.  He also noted that they were happy and celebrated small blessings that our society often take for granted or even complain about.  How many times have you heard someone groan, "ugh, it's raining again.  My coat is soaked."  In this African tribe the people celebrated the rain and ran out into it to enjoy it.  It is considered natures gift.  This is truly a lesson us westerners need to learn.  Rain gives us food and drinking water, why do we complain about it.  We should be thankful for it but we have lost sight of where true happiness comes from.  We're busy contemplating what cell phone to get next or how to own a bigger house.
Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain.

My challenge to you is, celebrate the little things in life.  Appreciate the things that matter and don't take them for granted.  I'm doing this myself.  Keep a journal of the things you are thankful for.  I keep mine by my bed, that way I go to bed thinking of the things I am thankful for rather then negatives.  Try to keep these things non material.  Think about the person who makes you happiest, the last time you laughed until you cried, all the things that make you happy.