Keeping Stress in Check as the Quarter Winds Down
November 12, 2009 - 10:30pm
Do you ever wonder about your own stress level? OK. We are not in the best of times, with a huge, economic crunch, world climate that is slowly going haywire, and a pandemic flu creeping around. But for all sense and purposes, we are still living in an incredibly high tech society of great wealth and natural resources, compared to the rest of the world.
Editor's Note: This is a special piece invited by the GSA.
RELAXING INTO LIFE
by Yukiko Amaya
How is it that living in the wealthiest nation on historical record, with all the science and technology to back up innovations in better and easier living, longer lifespan and plentiful food supply, has somehow created this overwhelming STRESS?
As I write this, I am sitting on a terrace, over looking a lush, green rice paddy in Central Bali. The cicadas are crying so loud, it is almost like a carpet of sound. It is mid morning. The Balinese women looking after my place are sweeping the floors, the rhythmic sound of a rough broom against tile almost hypnotic in its regularity. It is my 4th day in this completely new environment, and I am slowly starting to feel the edge melt around the iron monolith of my own stress.
The first thing I noticed about this stress had to do with my programmed, ingrained mind-set. That is the great boon of going on vacation by yourself to an unknown environment – you are sort of set up to start seeing things about yourself. I realized with quite a start, how absolutely desperate my mind was in hunting down and organizing things to DO, to fill up my day. It was as if without some sort of identifiable project to occupy my time, I was not making this vacation “worthwhile”. Namely, without a “plan”, I felt utterly vulnerable and lost. What was quite fascinating was that the moment I had a plan for the morning, afternoon, evening, the next hour – whatever time span it was – I suddenly felt relaxed. It gave me a sense of purpose that put my mind to rest and gave me a modicum of peace. My mind needed something concrete to anchor itself in an ocean of uncertainty in this unknown environment.
However, on closer inspection, that feeling of “relaxation” was just my mind releasing its panic attack grip. It didn’t really lessen the stress level per se. Instead, I started to catch on that it was my mind maneuvering to maintain its habitual tension instead of letting itself unwind. In fact, I was simply being duped into maintaining the usual stress level.
One of the banes of modern living in the West has to do with its emphasis on DOING, which usually translates as a preoccupation with either the future or the past. It is a life that is led from the head, continually analyzing the situation one has been in or might be in, and referring back to a value system that is mostly based on social/familial expectations coupled with one’s past experiences in order to DO the right thing. It has the potential to lead to a high amount of anxiety and stress, since one is very rarely in a fully, embodied state; i.e. being completely in the present moment and fully aware.
From various studies done over the years, we now know that relaxation is very intimately connected with the ability to “come back” into your body, and be open to feeling and sensing this present moment. Emphasis is taken from the brain leading the quest for action that produces quantifiable results in the future, to a more balanced relationship between mind, heart and body, coming more fully into the now. One of the quickest ways to become aware of your feelings and body is through breath. This is something that top athletes do naturally to gain focus and control of their mind/body/attention / energy continuum, and meditators and yogis through millenniums have been teaching systematically to their students as a crucial technique on the path towards self-realization.
When you become aware of your breath, you set in motion the “witness” mind. This ability to bear witness to what is going on within you becomes the key in uniting the disparate and seemingly uncontrollable energies of thoughts and emotions, which have a huge influence upon how your body functions, which in turn determines your general sense of well or non-well being. We are an interconnected, multi-layered circuits of energy, and breath is the master key that will regulate the smooth functioning of it all.
As my own witness mind shows me, my patterning, I simply embrace what is, and create a spaciousness around my mind’s drive for action. The splendor of this place, this moment is stupendous when I can relax and connect with what is truly around me right now. It doesn’t really matter how many temples I see or don’t see, or what activities I concoct or not. What truly matters is the beauty and fullness of this particular moment, and for me, as a living entity, to find the balance within me that is at the same time expansive and inclusive, between the eternal and the particular. So I take a deep breath, and smile at the world with great appreciation. My heart likes that a lot, and so does my body as I feel my stress palpably unwind and begin to dissolve.
Yukiko currently teaches yoga classes at UCLA, Los Angeles. She is also a skilled, private, yoga teacher and an intuitive healer, who brings years of experience in yoga, meditation, dance, music, movement, energy healing work, and shamanism, to guide her students and clients to open into higher states of awareness.