Each day we are bombarded with excessive amounts of stimuli from multiple sources; at times this can render our Self quite incapable of commanding the space needed to simply navigate life.
We experience our perceived stressors in multiple different ways: from our environment, to the people who surround us, to those we choose to be surrounded by, to our perception of wealth and abundance. Even our experiences and events in love will vary the degree of how we react or act to the perceived external stressor/s. In the end it is how we handle the stress that will dictate how we navigate the boundary between the ebb and flow of the stress experience.
We all know without a doubt that stress is NOT HEALTHY. Science has adequately proven through many research tests that it is the number one killer in the western world; there are various symptoms of stress that include premature aging, dis-ease and the eventual speeding up of our journey into the coffin! So, long story short - stress is no good!
So, where do we start?
Think of stress or the things that make you stressed as a river - when stress compounds or is "dammed up" and begins to accumulate, we start to feel the effects more acutely and profoundly. When water dams and does not move it slowly becomes stagnant, and because fresh oxygenated water is not present, the river deteriorates and cannot sustain bountiful life. When stress begins to accumulate in our bodies, we begin to accumulate too much electric charge, muscles contract creating stiffness and restriction, blood cannot flow, which breaks down the chain of fresh Prana or life force energy to the body. The body begins shutting down at a basic level. This is one of the main reasons to alleviate stress, and discover new ways to overcome stress, so that we can clearly navigate our daily lives with ease.
Stress, like emotion, needs to keep moving, similar to the river, any stagnation brings ill-health. Once the body slows, it begins to fill with aches, pains, discomfort and dis-ease, then the mental-emotional self also becomes easily depleted. A cycle of mental-emotional fatigue begins to set in, making one more susceptible to depression and other psychological ailments.
Addressing how we handle and work with stress is número Uno!
Once we get a handle on how to navigate through our experiences we begin to set the tone for future stress-experiences. So that one day (hopefully soon through practice) we can be in any stress-experience without reacting or crumbling in a way that is harmful to our self. But, rather maintain poise and grace through various mindful practices.
Finally, to clarify what is deemed a stress experience: it is an event in which we perceive external stimuli that brings us into a state of discomfort, mentally, emotionally and physically. Our cardiac and respiratory rhythm changes, our nervous system alters our body’s physical reactions to the stimulus. Adrenals that are continuously stressed over time lead to fatigue and multiple other dis-eases.
The observance of how stress impacts us.
I would like to share a story with you about how clearly evident stress impacts our physical form, as well as our communities and cultures. Back in 2000 I moved from South Africa to Eugene, OR, one of the most impactful experiences was observing people's faces. I had not realized that stress was so visible in the face.
In Eugene it seemed that the general population did not carry this constant worried look, when compared to the people back in S. Africa who had this "look of stress". South Africa is a beautiful country, but is riddled with crime of all sorts; one could even say it is even dangerous at times. People are constantly “looking over their shoulder”, it does not matter whether you are in your car or safely tucked away at home. The look of stress was clear, causing pre-maturing aging and worry lines from the constant chatter of trying to be safe and ensuring one's family’s safety, whereas in Eugene, the general population "looked content".
Eugene is definitely a different little town, versus cities like New York or LA, where the level of stress is higher, more often times self-inflicted stress is more evident due to high demands of work and pressures to preform or even simply to pay the rent.
Stress is that one thing, which can take us down if we do not get it under control and claim our right to a non-stressed living.
How do we combat stress?
There are thousands of articles, ancient texts, books, social media posts, and YouTube videos all screaming the same or similar messages, and the truth of the matter is, most mindful, meditative, yogic pathways or practices work. We simply need to do the practices and practice regularly for the affect to take place.
Most of the time it is not the complex practices that work well, but rather the self-discipline of doing the simple methods that work most effectively.
The first step in navigating stress, is simply "wanting" to make a conscious change – simply intending to make a change will create the onset of the shift. Some people may feel the effects immediately, and for some it may take a while. Sometimes you may feel the most profound shift upon the very first few tries, and then the need to go deeper may be required to continue, to experience a deeper depth of changes or difference.
So, how do we safely navigate through the passages of stress?
There is so much we can tap into when navigating stress, we can acquire the necessary "skills" and abilities for safe passage though the mental and emotional realms of any stress experience.
Now, to break it down when navigating stress...
These are "key ingredients" to your success.
Breath work is a great "symptom reliever" when we are lost in the midst of stress, our breath can anchor us back into the present moment. Helping to re-calibrate the mind, and calm the body.
Thích Nhất Hạnh said, “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” This is beyond true, use your breath as a means of navigating back to a space of calm collectedness. This takes practice! Just as Pattabhi Jois said: "Practice, practice all is coming!"
The more we practice the easier it becomes to navigate our way back to a calm mind and body. Yes, it is our responsibility to take action for our lives; becoming more aware of our actions and reactions in situations will help us reclaim the reigns in the midst of our own disparity and despair.
Possibly this article’s message will anchor in the seed of remembering to connect to the breath when feeling anxious or stressed.
Creating a daily routine of mindful breathing is a good way to start breathing practice, with a seeded intention such as “In times of stress, I will remember the grace of my breath to bring me into a space of calm collectedness”. A useful tool could be as easy as programming a daily reminder into your mobile device to alert you to stop and breathe for a moment
Meditation is a great way to learn the meanderings of the mind, and an even greater way to harness the mind’s potential. Meditation uses practices, just like conscious breathing. Here are a few tips on how to acquire a meditation practice:
First off, do not think you have to jump straight into a 30-minute mediation. It is advisable to start slowly – aim for at least 1-5 minutes a day. Find a place where you can sit quietly undisturbed for a couple of minutes. Then choose something that you can focus on, such as your breath, candlelight, and/or soothing music.
Each day dedicate time for your meditation practice; it has been said that doing your practice at the same time of day will help create a cycle of awareness. Do not think of it as doing “nothing”, think of it as using time to become pro-active in your life. The changes you can instill during meditation can be profound. Meditation is a great tool in helping you navigate your stress, teaching yourself how to “be” in a calm state during a stress experience, the benefits are endless,
Mind over Matter: there is definitely a degree of positive mind-power and mind-strength, if you will, to overcome stress. This entails a degree of self-talk to start the process of recognizing, identifying and positively re-affirming better ways to be.
How we are within any situation is dependent on our mindset. If we say "I always get stressed...", "John always stresses me out...", etcetera, we already set our self up for a stressful experience. Our poor body already gets the onslaught of stress responses due to our negative mind chatter. This is where the Yoga Sutra “yogaś-citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ” has great potentiality! When we cease the “vrittis” or the fluctuations of the mind, we give way to “nirodhah” or tranquility as a way of being.
Positive self-talk can provide a bridge to mentor the self into navigating each experience. No, you will not be deemed crazy for positive self-talk, you will be honouring all your potential energy to create and instill a calm mind through the practice of instilling a positive mindset.
Keep this in mind. Stress is contagious! When we are stressed it not only affects our self, but those around us; this is called “empathetic stress response”. As part of our practice we can be mindful as to how our actions and reactions affect those in our environment, especially if you think of your children.
However, taking a more “positive viewpoint” on this subject - learning mindful practices helps you navigate stress in a good way, and induces a more relaxed atmosphere for those who are normally stressed. Just as the stone causes ripples in the pond, your newly acquired “less stressed” YOU can start to positively impact your family, peers and even strangers!
Mindfulness is key when we wish to transform our lives; it is part and parcel of navigating through, and past stress. Once you acquire these skills, and they become a “natural positive habit”, you will start to see the implications and affects of holding space for yourself and others.
On a side note: If we spent the same amount of time we dedicate to our social meanderings across the slew of social sites that we visit online, to a mindful practice, we would already have started acquiring the taste of a regular daily practice.
Creating a daily practice doesn't have to cost you a cent, that time spent cultivating it will be one of the most valuable gifts you can bestow upon yourself.
If we can simply get a handle on how we respond, react and act to stress experiences, we will begin to un-learn the habits and patterns that throw us into the out-of-balanced states. Navigating stress is simply a way to understand your own inner potential to overcome the impact of stress in our daily lives, providing us with an opportunity to live in grace more often. Stress is not necessary; we literally "do it to our self" therefore; unlearn and unpattern yourself so that you may simply "not get stressed out!"
To successfully navigate stress you have to "choose a path of mindful attentiveness". Stress can have a life of its own, and we can allow it to take full charge of our life and being. We need to say, "Yes! I wish to learn how to be without stress, and when I am in stress I choose to be centered."
The above article is one possible viewpoint on the "how to navigate stress". Personally, I have found being mindful and wanting to take charge of my reactions to stress has been helpful, and has definitely diminished the burden of stress and stressful situations. I prefer the “high-road” approach for my being, when recovering from our stressed-out culture. I choose to breathe, be mindful and keep in my heart that every situation is here to teach me, and is for my greater good. So how I accept these challenges will dictate the experience, and possibly the eventual outcome.
As part of this article I am including an intention that on a subtle layer you shall consciously seed a conscious choice to make a positive impact in your own life, to successfully navigate stress. It is my intention that you will willfully choose to walk away with new skills and tools that will bring more light and peace within your life: mentally and physically. That is my sprinkling of a little faerie dust <wink>.
May you and your human-self choose the high road in navigating stress.
Gratitude to my friend, mentor, and teacher, Brian Dorfman, for his valuable insights and encouragement.