Now & Zen

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Now & Zen

Sometimes you have to leave your everyday life to get a full view of all your responsibilities – and learn you can manage it all. Linda B. of Seattle came to Canyon Ranch for a stress-free respite far from home where she felt pulled in too many directions. Mom of 6-year-old twins, owner of a successful catering business, wife of a busy executive and caregiver for her ailing widowed mother, Linda was burned out and exhausted.

In between invigorating hikes and blissful spa treatments, she consulted a nutritionist about some troublesome symptoms including frequent heartburn, headaches and insomnia. The nutritionist suggested a session with a Life Management specialist, who believed that Linda was overdue for a stress management makeover. She had come to the right place by choosing Canyon Ranch.

Jeff Rossman, PhD, sees plenty of guests like Linda in the course of his work as Director of Life Management in Lenox. “Our guests show a variety of emotional symptoms of stress – worry, anxiety, irritability, depression – as well as physical symptoms,” Jeff says. “Unhealthy coping strategies like emotional eating, excessive alcohol use or drug abuse can make matters worse.”

Tracking the Source of Stress

The first step is always a thorough assessment to determine the primary cause of stress. A careful evaluation of symptoms, personality and stress triggers help determine the best approach to treatment, Jeff says. “For those with too much work or caregiving pressure, we’ll work on ways to develop and make time for self-care activities such as exercise, meditation, social outings with friends, time outdoors and other restorative activities.”

Sometimes relief is as amazingly simple as learning how to breathe properly. Often, there’s a clear disconnect of mind, body and spirit. Biofeedback is very useful for this purpose, Jeff says. “It can help guests understand how their bodies react to and recover from various types of stress.

“We often recommend user-friendly biofeedback devices to take home, where you can practice stress reduction skills. Some attach to your computer and others are about the size of a cellphone, so you carry it around. They are very helpful to get you to breathe slowly and rhythmically, lowering stress levels and often lowering blood pressure, too.”

Prescription to Stress Less

Linda’s stress management makeover included take-home recommendations: First, resume her daily walks after work, which she loved but had often skipped with the excuse of a too-busy schedule. Now she realized how necessary they were for winding down at the end of a frenzied workday. She enlisted the occasional paid help of a niece to run errands and prepare meals for her mother. She penciled in a “girls’ night out” every month on her calendar. And, whenever Linda caught herself in an anxious moment – taking shallow, hitching breaths from her upper chest – she learned to stop and focus on moving the breath slowly down to her belly and counting in and out. This never failed to steady her nerves.

Six months later, Linda returned to Canyon Ranch with a smile and a fresh spring in her step. The morning walks not only helped her relax – it turned out they were good for business, because they sharpened her mind in preparation for the hectic day ahead. The new “me time” brightened her outlook and made her a more patient mom and a generally happier person. She was excited to report that her insomnia was a thing of the past, the heartburn was gone – and she even lost a few excess pounds!

Moving Experiences

Stephanie Ludwig, MDiv, PhD, of the Spirituality department in Tucson, recommends a daily practice like meditation when you’re overstressed. Choose the form that suits you best. Can’t sit still? You’re not alone. Many people find the search for serenity stressful and prefer to work off tension with exercise. Running, walking and bicycling can be great stress busters, clearing your busy mind as you focus on a physical task.

“Moving meditation is very effective if your energy levels are high,” says Stephanie, “or if you suffer from anxiety or posttraumatic stress syndrome.”

A high exertion level supports a meditation practice, too, because of the rhythmic breathing and “automatic” movement.

Yoga offers a generally quieter approach, and its significant stress-relieving power is well documented in medical literature. Its many styles, forms and intensities make it a popular practice for achieving balance and peace of body and mind. Yoga means “union” in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India where it originated.

Hatha yoga may be a good choice for stress management; beginners in particular appreciate its slower pace. But any style of yoga can bring the benefits of greater mind-body-spirit balance, from gently guided chair and restorative classes to specialty classes targeting healthy back, flexibility and flow.

Other excellent forms of moving meditation are qi gong and tai chi, Eastern martial arts with similar traditions and flowing movements, which have evolved into healing, meditative practices. George Mera, who teaches yoga, qi gong and tai chi classes at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, says, “These exercises focus the attention within, helping to balance your energy (chi), relieve stress and resolve many chronic ailments. Often in the East, doctors will prescribe qi gong to advance the healing process.”

George says it makes sense for practitioners – whether at the Ranch or elsewhere – to introduce their clients to integrative models of healing to manage stress, because it reaches beyond solutions such as medication. “Assuming that people are not interested in something deeper is to underestimate them. We need to elevate, not simplify.”

Which Relaxation Technique is Best for You?

Use this checklist to determine the daily practice that matches your personality and lifestyle:

  • Are you easily angered, agitated or keyed up?
    Try techniques to quiet your mind such as sitting meditation, deep breathing or guided imagery.
  • Do you tend to become depressed or withdrawn?
    You may respond best to stimulating activities that energize your nervous system, such as rhythmic exercise.
  • Do you sometimes “freeze” – speeding up internally while slowing down externally?
    Reboot your system with techniques such as mindfulness or power yoga.
  • Do you need alone time?
    Solo techniques such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation will give you the space to quiet your mind and re-energize.
  • Do you crave social interaction?
    A yoga class or daily walking/running with a buddy will give you the stimulation and support you need.

Stress-Busting Meditation on the Move

  • Daily Cup of Yoga – comprehensive blog packed with inspiration, tips and more
  • Bicycling Meditations – site of bicyclist/blogger Clair Petersky of Bellevue, Washington
  • An Insider’s Guide to Zen on Your Bike – start an indoor bicycling meditation practice
  • Wild Mind – a primer and how-to guide for walking meditation
  • The Well-Fed Spirit – featuring an interactive map of labyrinths across the U.S. and Canada
  • The Peaceful Runner – mindful running to avoid injury and soothe the spirit