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Happiness – Mind over matter

Want to melt away stress? Follow five simple steps to mindful meditation

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Desperate to reduce your stress? Try Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). It’s a unique program that incorporates meditation and teaches you to ground yourself as you go about your day. MBSR is backed by dozens of medical studies proving its effectiveness for reducing stress caused by sleep disturbances, overwork or medical conditions, such as cancer.

The brainchild of Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, MBSR has been so successful in reducing stress that health professionals across Canada are now conducting their own research on the practice and teaching it to their patients. And respected medical institutions such as the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary and St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto include it in their treatment programs.

Start with five minutes a day and prolong your meditation by five more minutes every day. If you’re really serious, the MBSR Program entails 45 minutes of daily meditation, plus attending a once-weekly class for eight weeks and one full-day retreat. But even if you can only commit to 10 minutes daily, meditation can still help you combat stress, since you can use it as you need to whenever you’re feeling frazzled and be happier for it. Just follow these five practical steps:


Find your spot
You can meditate sitting up, lying down or standing next to a tree. It doesn’t really matter where you are as long as you feel comfortable. Sit cross-legged on a cushion on the floor, if that appeals to you. Your meditation spot should be free from interruptions: no phones, dogs, children or partners are allowed to disturb you.


Don’t do a thing
That’s right. Just close your eyes and be mindful of your breath. Pay attention to the air flowing in and out of your lungs. Inhale. Exhale. That’s all. Don’t force your breathing or try to control it. If you’re lying down, place your hands on your diaphragm between your rib cage and navel. Feel your hands rise and fall with your breath. Whenever you feel restless or fretful, return to your breath. It will anchor you in reality.


Scan your body
Mentally scan your body for tension. Start off with your toes. Wiggle them. In your mind’s eye, slowly move your awareness up your legs. If you feel tight muscles anywhere, relax them, especially in your stomach and chest. Breathe tightness away. Be aware of your hands, then arms and shoulders. Go to your neck, jaw and forehead. Gently exhale all the stress.


Follow your thoughts
You’ll be amazed at how often your mind will rehearse incessant monologues. Did you forget to send a birthday card to your sister? Have you signed that summer camp form for your son? At first, you may find your thoughts annoying and intrusive. In fact you may start judging yourself harshly (why can’t I control my brain?) or getting impatient (I’m not getting any better at this). Just follow the flow. Every time a thought pops up, breathe. Letting thoughts come and go without getting attached to them will help you stop reacting automatically to the strains and stresses of every day.


Give your emotions room
Whenever you allow yourself time to be still, repressed feelings may surface. You may find that anger or sadness starts bubbling up, especially when you breathe. That’s OK. Let your emotions be. You don’t have to act on them. Just name your feeling: is it fear? Then simply say to yourself, “Here is fear.” Your emotions will quickly lose their punch once confronted. In fact, it’s when you deny them that they can become overwhelming.

After a few days, you may start seeing a difference in your behaviour. Are you less impatient with your teenager? Can you get through a meeting without your eyes glazing over? The approach can also be applied to your normal activities. When your dog greets you at the door, register his excitement and wagging tail. On your way to work, notice the flowers in people’s front gardens. The more you practise, the better you’ll be at staying centred.