Pause, Breathe, Repeat

It’s no secret that stress is an issue during the holidays. We’ve examined the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder before, and a smattering of the ways to cope with it. But one method in particular deserves a spotlight.

Mindfulness and meditation go hand in hand when it comes to reducing stress. Take a break anywhere, anytime, with these tips on incorporating meditation and mindfulness into your daily routine.

Especially in cities where people are always on the go, it can be difficult to find the time for stress-reducing activities. Mindfulness meditation, which requires no extra equipment or time, is the perfect solution for this lifestyle caveat. The most traditional method is to close both eyes, clear the mind, and breathe deeply for around 20 minutes a day.

Mindfulness is a particular type of meditation rooted in Buddhism. Dating back about 2,500 years, it began as a method to strengthen the mind and reach inner peace. The practice focuses on a heightened awareness of both the body and its surroundings. As a result, it becomes easier to find a unifying perspective.

While most associate it with gurus and temples, meditation was originally conceived as a secular ritual. In fact, it also bears a strong connection to science and stress reduction. A study by the International Society of Psychoneuroendocrinology had a group of 66 young adults complete tasks after brief mindfulness meditation training. The volunteers meditated for 25 minutes a day over the course of three days, and then took tests to evaluate their stress levels.

The results showed that just meditating a little bit every day reduced stress. The subjects who meditated the most demonstrated the best results in the tasks. Technically speaking, this is because meditation enhances cortisol activity and lowers blood pressure–both of which cope with stress in real time.

Beyond anxiety, meditation has the potential to improve other qualities of life. For example, it’s a natural prescription for sleep. Organizations like JAMA Internal Medicine prove that insomniacs and others with difficulty falling asleep experience symptoms that decrease after meditation.

Dr. Kamau Kokayi is a homeopathic doctor with a background in Eastern medicine. A graduate from Yale who studies around the world with doctors and martial artists, Kokayi touts a wide knowledge of treating both physical and emotional ailments. He often sees patients struggling with stress this time of year at his office in Queens.

On the subject of mindfulness meditation, Kokayi writes, “A lot of people who breathe shallowly tend to have more problems with anxiety or feel more stressed out; meaning different states of being are associated with different breathing states.”

It’s not only doctors that recognize the importance of mindfulness. Film and music composer Jonathan Bash values the use of meditation in his everyday life. “Just stopping to check in and be with yourself can be a profoundly rewarding way to spend 10-20 minutes of your day,” Bash said.

Though he finds it a great resource, Bash resents the way mindfulness is rendered into a product. Companies give meditation a “new-agey” image that he thinks betrays what it should be. Bash cites Headspace as one particular site that, while helpful, promotes this problem.

“Unfortunately, modern corporate/tech/yuppie culture has also begun commodifying and commercializing meditation,” he explained. “It’s now become this hip thing that some folks seem to think will solve all their problems and Increase worker productivity.”

Though Bash may be right, there’s a good reason to implement meditation in the workplace: mindfulness meditation assists in brainstorming. Kokayi believes this is because meditation gets people in a state of mind that provides for an all encompassing rest; far beyond a nap, it rejuvenates the entire nervous system. During his practice, Kokayi gains new insights and ideas that would otherwise remain inaccessible.

So, whether you need to generate some ideas for your latest project, or just want to take a step away from the stress of your daily routine, sit back for a moment and breathe.

Feature image courtesy of Flickr user Moyan Brenn.