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“Suffering is part of our training program for becoming wise.” ~ Ram Dass
Are you perpetually stressed out? A perfectionist? A workaholic?
Perhaps stress is so intertwined into your daily life that you hardly notice it anymore. Maybe when there’s not enough “natural” stress, you go about creating dramas or situations to up the stress level back to your “discomfort zone.”
While stress is a part of life, it doesn’t need to be the foundation of our way of being, which it surely is for many of us in modern society. I know it was true for me as a young adult. My stress blossomed into clinical depression and later anxiety and bipolar disorder. My stress stemmed from simply living in a culture that tells you to study hard, work hard, play hard, and buy lots of stuff.
For the past decade and then some, I’ve lived in a different culture, a slower-paced, more heart-centered than head-centered one. This sometimes means things are not logical and take forever to get done.
There is still stress in my life, but my stress level is way lower than it was 15 years ago. I can cope with the stresses in my life today. The fact that I was locked up in a psych ward 16 years ago this month seems like an alternate reality from a different lifetime.
So, I’m no longer maniacally stressed, just dealing with the everyday, typical stresses of midlife—aging parents, raising a child, working for a living, maintaining a healthy marriage, the grocery list. A utopian state of constant bliss and a total lack of stress would actually be rather dull, if it were even possible.
How does chronic stress manifest in our lives?
The detriments of chronic stress are many and well-researched, but stress also has its benefits. Say, what?
It’s true that chronic stress wreaks havoc on the body on many levels. Stress even kills by causing anxiety, insomnia, exhaustion, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, depression, weight gain, and more.
The good news is that our human bodies are quite capable of handling everyday stressors. With a low to moderate stress level, our well-being actually improves. In fact, moderate stress (as opposed to chronic) is said to enhance cognitive function, boost our immune system, and cultivate resiliency.
Three Simple Ways to Reduce Stress:
How do we let go of chronic stress—stress as a way of being—and embrace a more sustainable, relaxing, healthy, and happy alternative?
Well, it won’t happen overnight, but there are paths that lead to more peace and less stress, more contentment and less anxiety, more love and less hate. In any case, I recommend yoga, spending time in nature, and doing what you love.
Yoga is the practice of peace and a practice that reduces stress. We cultivate inner peace in order to bring more peace to the family, community, and world into which we are integrated.
Yoga is the practice of breathing consciously. It is the practice of expanding awareness. Of stillness, of quiet. And it both requires and multiplies our self-discipline and self-love and transmutes them into discipline and love and realization of self as other and, ultimately, self as all.
It doesn’t require a sticky mat or any props or accessories. It doesn’t even require actually doing asana (yoga poses), although they are helpful for keeping the body strong, flexible, and balanced.
Maybe yoga—at least for the typical 21st-century stressed-out professional global citizen—is the practice of letting go of stress as a way of being. Inviting more patience, peace, and kindness into our daily lives.
Maybe it’s as simple as that.
2. Commune with Mother Nature
Nature has also been my church, temple, and savior. Living in rural Guatemala in communion with the trees, dirt, lakes, tropical flowers, butterflies, hummingbirds, spiders, and scorpions is nothing short of splendid. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t (okay, won’t) spend more than a day in any city.
Spending more time in nature translates to less stress. The seasons, weather, plants, and animals (including our beloved feline and canine pets) have much to teach us daily about being present, content, instinctual, intuitive, and embodied beings.
3. Follow your Heart
Finally, doing what you love is the best medicine. Take the time to discover and feed your passions and interests. Paint, draw, sing, dance, read, write, walk, run, hike, cook; do what makes your heart sing.
May all beings enjoy a consistently lower stress level.