Have you heard enough about the wonders of meditation to want to try it? Or maybe you’ve tried it and felt like you weren’t doing it right. What’s the deal?
These days, mindfulness and meditation are the go-to recommendation for stress management. But do they really work for regular people?
The American Psychological Association estimates that almost 20% of Americans struggle with anxiety. It’s safe to say we could all use a healthy new way to deal with stress, both in the moment and in the long term.
Maybe you’ve heard about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, but you haven’t found the time for that. Or maybe it just sounds weird. Or maybe you’re used to dealing with stress, you’re managing to cope.
Coping yes, but are you able to focus on moving forward with your goals? Or are you stuck in a situation or a habit that’s standing between you and a more fulfilling future?
Experience in coaching hundreds of women through life change has taught me, the key to getting unstuck in any challenge you’re facing is knowing how to manage your stress and anxiety.
I’ve learned that until you’re able to find a way to feel calm and grounded, it’s impossible to commit to your goals. You need practical mind-body strategies for reducing stress in the moment and overall, no yoga pants required.
As I tell my coaching clients, the first step to reaching your goals is to start with a calm and stable foundation. Meditation is amazing, but it’s too challenging for most beginners, I know, I was one of them.
And yet when the covid lockdown hit last year, I felt the same stress, and the feeling of overwhelm that my coaching clients experience. I knew that until I could find a way to manage my anxiety, I would stay trapped in my spinning thoughts.
I had been planning to write a book and relaunch my coaching business to focus on helping women to show up more powerfully in their next chapter, but I couldn’t focus.
Instead, I began second-guessing myself. Everything I thought I knew was suddenly up for grabs. Maybe I’d been successful at helping people to move through change because they had to find a new job. No one has to find more purpose or even reach their goals, it’s all optional. Would people want to do those things enough to hire a coach for help with?
I let the noise and confusion of the moment distract me from facing the real challenge; my looming self-doubt in the face of change. The same self-doubt I’d helped so many clients to overcome. When I couldn’t be my own support system, I found myself searching for a lifeline.
So when the opportunity to train as a meditation and yoga instructor through a highly accredited program became available online, I thought why not? I’ve practiced yoga for years, this will be a way to carve out some me-time doing something I enjoy.
Plus, I reasoned, it was month to month program so if it wasn’t a good fit, no problem.
I showed up that first morning in my yoga pants, ready to move. Instead, to my surprise, we learned new ways to breathe. Yoga, the teacher explained, is about being in the present moment. And if you’re coming from a place of anxiety, like most of us are these days, your thoughts are either in the past or the future. Neither of which you can control, so the stress level remains high.
This is where breathing practices come in. Most of us habitually breath more quickly and less deeply than is good for us. This leads to a shortage of oxygen and energy that contributes to a faster heart rate, higher blood pressure and elevated stress.
According to the American Lung Association, the most effective way to manage your oxygen level is by breathing through the nose and by bringing the air all the way down toward the belly. As the diaphragm contracts, the belly expands to fill the lungs with air. Diaphragmatic , or “belly breathing” pulls the lungs downward, creating negative pressure inside the chest to more efficiently bring air into the lungs.
Beyond the yoga class, diaphragmatic breathing is a proven practice for activating your relaxation response, reducing your heart rate and blood pressure and lowering your stress level in the moment and beyond. A 2017 study notes that diaphragmatic breathing reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body, keeping that grounded feeling going long after the exercise is done.
The yoga instructors cited numerous findings based in neuroscience about the importance of managing emotions through a daily mindbody practice. As someone who would rather move than sit, a meditation practice wasn’t overly appealing.
But the breathing practices were so approachable. As we learned the techniques I thought, I can do this. I can get up 10 minutes earlier every day to breathe and maybe even meditate for a few minutes. I decided I needed to make a commitment. Otherwise I would never know whether it would really work for me?
The message that really resonated with me was “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. Rather than waiting until you have an hour to meditate, do something every day even if you only have 5 or 10 minutes.
So I did. And every day for the past 7 months I’ve woken up and hit the floor to do my breathing and meditation practice. Which has grown to 30 minutes, and it’s the best part of my day. And I published my book, launched my website and am about ½ way through my second book, which now incorporates everything I’ve learned.
I’ve also watched my ability to deal with stress shift from reactionary to mindful, as I’m able to stay grounded and present instead of getting emotionally hijacked.
I know for sure mindfulness and mediation work, as proven by thousands of studies, but I also know this is too hard a first step for most people.
Which is why I’m so excited to share the baby steps it takes to break free from the stress cycle that keeps us stuck. I’ve taught dozens of clients the mind-body strategies that pave the way for anxiety reduction and with it the clarity and motivation to take action.
It’s been so rewarding to see even a short daily commitment to these simple techniques take place within 8 weeks of practice. Clients are able to focus on the present instead of feeling too overwhelmed to know where to start, they’re able to prioritize in a way that tracks to their goals, instead of getting swept up on the moment. And most importantly, they’re able to let go of the anxious and negative thought patterns that make life less enjoyable.
And right now I’m launching a daily breathing series to teach these proven practices to anyone interested in discovering the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, no yoga pants required!
Click here to stay tuned for Breathe Into Breakthrough, a free online workshop launching in April. Commit 10 minutes, 10 days to less stress and greater focus, you deserve it!