Meditation for men

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Cure stress before it kills you. Words by Adeelah Mir.

Having a bad day at work, getting in to a heated argument with your partner or feeling your blood boil as you get cut up once again on Dubai’s roads are all normal experiences for most of us. How we handle these stressful events however is what differentiates us, and men tend to handle stress differently from women.

For women, releasing stress is about talking it out and moving on. Most women can attest to the therapeutic powers of having a good natter about a problem; two cups of coffee, some tears and laughs later and the world seems a better place. Men however don’t usually discuss personal issues with their friends and so often don’t benefit from the old proverb of a problem shared is a problem halved.

DAMAGING EFFECTS OF SUSTAINED STRESS
Most men don’t realise the dangers of sustained stress until they’re sitting in a doctor’s office being told they’re suffering from high blood pressure as a result of chronic stress and fatigue.

Stress puts the body on high alert but if it stays there indefinitely, you burn out, meaning immune function is reduced, adrenal glands are exhausted and you’re at an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

Modern life sees many people living in a prolonged state of stress – and ongoing low grade stress can be worse than short periods of high stress.

The INTERHEART study published in 2004 investigated the relation between chronic stressors to instances of heart attacks and discovered participants that reported feeling “permanent stress” either at home or at work were twice as likely to develop a heart attack.

Psychological issues also abound for the man who’s under prolonged stress, including insomnia, mood swings, anxiety

and depression as well as the physical clues such as frequent colds and infections, fatigue, hair loss and a host of skin conditions including eczema and psoriasis.

UNDERSTANDING THE BASICS

We all get stressed out from time to time and in small doses this is absolutely fine, actually it’s designed to help us cope with the situation at hand.

When the body perceives a danger or threat the stress response kicks in, which in turn releases a cocktail of chemicals into the body. This heady cocktail consists of cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline, all of which help you get your A-game on – your senses sharpen, your response time quickens and your heart starts beating faster – excellent if you’re running away from a grizzly bear or dueling to the death.

However, unlike our early ancestors, most of us don’t face life or death situations these days so the ‘fight or flight’ reaction is triggered by what we perceive as a danger or a threat. In the modern world, these stressors are anything from a late bill payment to having a fall-out with your boss or a massive project that’s behind schedule and over budget.

It is also important to note that it is not always difficulties or threatening situations in life that can make you stressed; planning your wedding or the arrival of your first child can be equally stressful. Interestingly, the brain does not differentiate between these sorts of ‘happy’ stressors and stress brought on by danger; it releases the same steroids in to the body.

Kris Morton, a performance coach for Gazing Arabia, a Dubai-based firm of human performance specialists, says sustained stress is a main factor in reducing a man’s success and happiness. “Sustained low grade stress is difficult to spot because the symptoms aren’t obvious. It can be a cluster of small symptoms like skin condition, insomnia, irritability, headaches, a sore back… but the tendency of men is to rationalise those things, ‘‘I’m not sleeping well because I’ve got a lot on my mind but that’s ok we’ll be through this in a couple of months’ or ‘it’s my age’ or ‘I ate something…’ then it becomes part of what you live with so it becomes normalised,” Morton says.

“I had this myself. I had a sustained period of pressure, I didn’t think I was having a stressful response to it and it went on for a couple of years but I was getting good results at work so I didn’t worry even though I was having insomnia, digestive issues, stomach cramps, and sometimes I would feel a bit overwhelmed but I’d just deal with it and move on. But my behaviour became more unhelpful; I started needing to control more in the large team I was managing. So I was working more hours and taking on more stress and getting more insomnia, dragging myself out of bed and surviving on coffee. This became a pattern and eventually I developed chronic fatigue and I had to remove myself from work, my body said, ‘you’re not listening to me; you won’t heed any of these warning signs I’ve been sending so I’m going to shut you down’.

“When that happens, it’s a long, long way back but it’s what got me into this whole body-mind-matter-performance- spiritual stuff because I had to fix myself. So I taught myself to think and behave differently over a period of time and slowly I was able to come back to work. I learnt the hard way about the dangers of stress, it would be nice if other people didn’t have to learn the hard way.”

So before you get there, let’s take a look at how a little meditation can go a long way to improving your quality of life.

GETTING A GRIP ON MEDITATION

How can meditation help? Quite simply it helps balance out the hormone levels that surge in your body when you are stressed thereby bringing down your heart rate, respiration rate and blood pressure and bringing you back in to a state of equilibrium.

“Meditation is a great thing to do and that’s something I’ve gotten into,” Morton says. “For someone like me who’s quite busy mentally and can find it hard to switch off and just be, I find meditation helpful and I practice everyday.

WHAT WORKS BEST FOR ME?

Finding a meditation technique that’s right for you is all about trying out the different kinds. For example, if you get agitated and angry under stress try a calming meditation technique such as deep breathing or guided imagery. If on the other hand you tend to become depressed and withdrawn under stress then try something uplifting like rhythmic exercise (cycling, rowing, running or walking) while staying fully focused in the moment while exercising – a technique called mindfulness. For a bit of both, a yoga class that includes meditation at the beginning and end could be a good start.

DEEP BREATHING

This is a great starting point for anyone beginning their meditation journey. Deep breathing is a simple yet highly effective relaxation technique that allows you take in more oxygen with every breath thereby relaxing the body and releasing tension.

Begin by sitting up straight and putting one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Take a deep breath in through your nose – you are trying to breathe from your abdomen, as opposed to from your chest. When you do this correctly you will feel the hand on your stomach rise while the hand on your chest stays put. Exhale through your mouth, pushing the air out and contracting your abdominal muscles. Continue this for 10 minutes, just focusing on your breathing.

VISUALISATION/GUIDED MEDITATION
This type of meditation is where you employ your senses to visualise, hear, smell, touch and even taste an imagined setting in which you feel at peace and let go.

Choose a scene or setting that you find relaxing – a lush garden, a tropical island or the peak of a mountain top. You could even choose a favourite childhood spot – the point is to make it personal to you, something that brings you peace and tranquility.

Have a fixed window of time each day, 15-20 minutes where no one will disturb you and you feel comfortable shutting out the world. Begin your meditation by closing your eyes and breathing deeply and slowly, then start to focus on your chosen place, explore it, feel the earth or sand beneath your feet, and smell the fresh morning dew or the salty sea air, really experience the place with all your senses. Let go and enjoy the feeling of deep relaxation and when you are ready slowly open your eyes and come back to the present.

RHYTHMIC EXERCISE

Rhythmic exercises – like cycling, walk, running, swimming – when practiced as a mindful relaxation technique can be highly effective for combating stress. if you don’t much like exercising start with walking.

While exercising, focus on what you are doing, breathing deeply in through the nose and out through the mouth. Keep focused on how your body feels as you move; focus on the rhythm of the exercise and the timing of your breath. If your mind wanders, bring it gently back to the moment.

For some people meditation feels amazing on the very first try, if that’s not you don’t worry, everyone improves with practice and if you don’t enjoy it straight off the bat, give it some time. It can take the body time to learn to relax especially when you are stressed. Eventually you won’t know how you survived without it.

Here’s to a happier, healthier and calmer you!

MEDITATION MAN TOOLS

Tools to help you on your way to becoming a meditation master.

Online freebies: For free online meditations, there’s
• EdgarCaycemeditationsatwww.edgarcayce.org
• TheMeditationPodcastatwww.themeditationpodcast.com
• UCLA’sMindfulnessAwarenessResearchCentreoffersfreemeditationpodcasts,checkout

http://marc.ucla.edu

• For free guided meditation audios as well as meditation tracks that you can download and keep, subscribe for free to http://meditation.org.au

Beat it: Get a free 10 minute meditation audio track from Omharmonics, which uses binaural beats to effect brain wave patterns and get you in to a relaxed meditative state super fast. Visit www.omharmonics.com.

Go Go Gadget: If you have an iPhone or android phone, there are many meditation apps available for download. Anything from meditation widgets that remind you to meditate to chilled out meditation tracks. Here’s a couple we liked:
• BuddhistMeditationTrainer(bySpacebug)-Progressthrough10levelsofenlightenment

with this meditation trainer. Available free on Android.
• Relax&RestGuidedMeditation(byMeditationOasis)-Customiseyourmeditation

experience with music, sounds of nature or a voice to guide you through your meditation experience. The app also features three different meditation lengths. Cost $0.99. Available on iPhone.

Check out our listings on pages 46 to 48 for UAE meditation and yoga centres.

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