Northside SF
Health Matters
Got Stress? Manage it with Meditation
Even in our magnificent city by the bay surrounded by ocean views and natural beauty, many of us are sinking under information overload. Our jobs and lives are wired 24/7. Combined with a flagging economy and political uncertainty, it is no surprise we are anxious, running on empty, and just plain stressed out.

The body’s stress response and overstimulation of our fight-or-flight system has a profound negative effect on our health: It raises our heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and stress hormones, while dampening our digestion and sexual response. Being tired but wired creates the environment for chronic suppression of the immune system and increases inflammatory conditions. While we cannot eliminate all stress, we can buffer it.

Meditation is a mind-body technique that can quickly and easily reduce our stress, produce deep relaxation, and increase physical and emotional well-being. Traditionally meditation was associated with spirituality; today it can be our go-to tool for stress management. We can practice it anywhere at anytime, and just 30 minutes every day can help us to offload the negative effects of stress while developing focus and self-awareness.

More than 10 million Americans claim to practice some form of meditation, and there are many different types. Some common elements are a quiet location, deep breathing, a comfortable position, focused awareness, the use of mantra or prayer, healing sounds, scanning different areas of the body, walking, and/or moving.

Relaxation response concentrates on progressive relaxation from the feet to the head while focusing on a word or sound. Mindfulness meditation, which is being studied at the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA, involves fine-tuning one’s concentration, returning to the breath when distracted. Transcendental meditation uses mantra or word phrases as a tool to focus awareness. Qigong, Tai Chi, yoga, and even walking can be considered types of moving meditations.

Meditation researchers like John Kabat-Zinn and Dr. Richard Davidson are investigating the link of meditation with body and brain function. A recent study showed that the breath-focused technique of Mindfulness Meditation increased grey matter density and activity in the hippocampus (related to learning and memory), while also delivering a corresponding decrease in the amygdala (related to stress and anxiety) in as little as eight weeks. Other research indicates meditation can have positive effects on medical conditions such as allergies, asthma, cancer, fatigue, heart disease, and high blood pressure and can even reduce chronic pain by up to 40 percent.

Here is a simple meditation exercise to get you started:
1. Find a quiet time and place where neighbors, family or pets will not disturb you. Wear loose and comfortable clothing.
2. Sit in a stable comfortable position on a chair, cross-legged on a soft, level surface, or lie down. Close your eyes.
3. Breathe deeply, and gently focus your mind on your breath as it goes in and out.
4. With each breath you may also choose to repeat a word that brings you a peaceful feeling, such as “calm” or “ahh.” Rest in the nature of the mind like a clear pool in the forest.
5. Begin with 5 minutes and gradually increase each day up to 20–30 minutes.

Goodbye, stress!

Gayatri Bhatnagar is a licensed acupuncturist and holistic healer at Senspa.

March 2012
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