Alternatives to bad habits
I had a great question from one of my blog readers, Keith, from the US. With Keith’s permission, I wanted to share our dialogue with you because his question represents what a lot of people wonder about – how to better deal with stress, and avoid some potential bad coping mechanisms.
Here is Keith’s question:
“One of the ways I deal with stress is to drink beer. Not the hard stuff. Just beer. Now, I know intellectually this is not the smartest thing to do, and it can be habit forming. But, it brings immediate results – relaxation.
What can you tell me about how meditation can help with this and/or reducing stress? Is there a particular method you’d recommend? Any advice is appreciated.”
Here was our dialogue:
Wendy: Thanks for writing and your question. This is a big subject, but when you boil it down, it’s pretty simple. Having a meditation practice creates a ‘blanket’ of calm in your life. It’s like turning down the volume knob so the stresses of life are dialed down, or when something stressful happens, you’ll be able to recognize it sooner and easier, and not stay as stressed for as long. Everyone is different in terms of exactly what benefits they will get, but overall, it reduces stress, increases resiliency and brings more joy into your life. However, it is something that needs to be cultivated, meaning you can’t just meditate once every few weeks or months and expect a result. The good news is that I have many students who tell me that they are too busy to meditate for long periods of time, so they meditate about 5 minutes per day, and they get wonderful results. Some people meditate about 15 minutes, 3 or 4 times a week. That’s good too. There are numerous benefits, but the first benefit that most people see is stress reduction. From there, other things like reduced anxiety, depression, increased patience and joy start to happen.
Here is a nice infographic about meditation: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/09/meditation-skeptics_n_5954090.html
Mindfulness is a practice that can be done anytime during the day, and gives a lot of the same benefit as sitting to do meditation. Here is a post I did about the similarities and differences of meditation and mindfulness: http://thecalmmonkey.com/2014/08/08/is-meditation-different-from-mindfulness/
To answer your question specifically, most meditations are likely to provide you with stress reduction. When I teach my classes, I teach several types of meditation so people can find what works best for them. The most basic meditation is probably paying attention to the breath. It teaches you how to become present in your body, to learn to concentrate better, and it is very centering and grounding to pay attention to your body breathing. May I recommend that you download my meditations and give that a try? They are simple, 15 minute guided meditations good for beginners or experienced meditators. Start by trying the free breathing meditation: http://thecalmmonkey.com/meditation-recordings/
I’d recommend setting a goal for yourself, perhaps ‘Do 10 minutes per day for 2 weeks’, then evaluate how it’s working for you. Sometimes people try meditation a couple of times, and unguided, and that’s usually not successful. Being guided is best for a beginner, that’s for sure.
Good for you for being curious and reaching out to ask the question. And you’re right, drinking beer to relax on a regular basis isn’t the best idea 🙂
Does that help, Keith? Please let me know.
Keith: Yes, that does help. Let me ask another question. So, you would say that acquiring the benefits of meditation takes time, then? And, I’ve heard something about “alpha” brain waves that one can get to with practice. Is this the “peaceful” brain wave pattern?
Wendy: Hi Keith, yes, absolutely the benefits of meditation is acquired over time. Having a regular practice means cultivating and maintaining the benefits. Many people who have meditated for awhile agree that a fairly regular practice creates a ‘blanket’ of calm in your life. Your resiliency builds so things don’t bother you as much, and you can bounce back faster from setbacks. Also it brings more joy to life. Many of my students report lowered anxiety and depression, and their ability to reduce or stop pharmaceutical meditations for such conditions.
Here is a post I did about brain wave states:
As your practice improves, you may be able to recognize when you are in the alpha and theta states. This would take some instruction, however, to help you recognize this. Alpha is the relaxed, inward facing state. Theta is a much deeper state which you may feel just as you wake up in the morning, or just before you fall asleep at night. This is the state where the brain is most ‘plastic’ and can be changed/rewired.
Keith: I’ve read the link and it is very informative and easy to understand. I have started re-reading a book called How to Meditate by Kathleen MacDonald. I appreciate your responses and I’ll stay in touch.
Thank you to Keith for reaching out and asking some great questions. I’m sure others will benefit by reading our conversation!
All the best,