How to Change Your Reactions to Find More Peace

Meditation can help you control how you respond to stressful situations. Here’s how it works.

“No one, whatever their action, can deprive us of the ability to choose our own way of being.”The Anatomy of Being: Resolving the Heart of Conflict

The pressure is building. Each day presents new reasons to feel anxious, ungrounded and fearful. The current political climate, the “us and them” divisions in our politics, the growing concern for our health and safety, all seem to be contributing to a general feeling of instability and agitation. So many of our nervous systems are reacting to this constant pull of distress and anxiety.

With all that is happening, we may start to feel that our peace and happiness are dependent on our external circumstances and environment. “If only things were different, I would be happy,” you think. In some ways, our circumstances and environment can contribute to our feelings of overwhelm, but it’s also important to understand that it is our reactions to what happens around us that have the greatest impact. In fact, the way we react can make the difference between our suffering and our happiness.

How we respond to stressful situations is something we can control. This is why stress management practices are so important. The research on meditation and anxiety is mounting, with outcomes that now encourage clinicians to talk with patients about the role that meditation can have in addressing psychological stress. That’s because a yoga practice gives us the tools to manage the deluge of stressful situations.

In Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, the primary practices we recommend are yoga, meditation and visualization. They are meant to offer us the map we need to choose calm.

Step Back and Witness

When we meditate, we train ourselves to step back and witness without adding to the drama and chaos of our own thought process. As we practice, we begin to experience the spaciousness that emerges when we observe our thoughts and feelings without labeling or judging them.

By stepping back, thoughts and feelings begin to lose their power over us. We start to see things in a different way. We aren’t caught in the loop of our reactions. We have the space to observe the nature of what is arising in us and then decide how we want to react or respond. This begins to translate to our lives so that when we experience a bodily sensation or something potentially dangerous or upsetting, we are able to look at it from a more rational perspective rather than automatically reacting and assuming it has something to do with us. This practice builds tolerance and patience. When we are empowered to choose our own way of being, we stop feeling like a victim of our circumstances, thoughts and feelings.

We tell our Ornish Lifestyle Medicine participants “when you practice meditation your fuse gets longer.” Many participants report that things that used to bother them don’t seem to bother them in the same way. There is a feeling of freedom that comes from a regular meditation practice. Here’s how you can start.

A Meditation Practice

  • Sit quietly in a chair or on the floor.
  • Take several conscious slow deep breaths.
  • Gently close your eyes and begin to feel the breath’s rhythm in your body.
  • Don’t try to control the breath but let yourself breathe as if the whole body is breathing.
  • Begin to notice how you feel on the inside.
  • Relax any tensions within your reach, any tensions you are willing to let go of.
  • As the body settles and softens, draw your attention to the breath passing through the nostrils.
  • Let your awareness rest on the breath, as it comes in and as it goes out through the nose.
  • Allow the breath to be in foreground of your awareness while all thoughts and feelings settle into the background.
  • As thoughts or feelings come into the foreground, observe them without judging or labeling, and then return attention to the breath and let the thoughts settle again into the background.
  • Sit quietly for several minutes with your attention on breath, returning when the mind wanders.
  • When you feel ready, gently open the eyes and sit in that sense of peace and stillness.

Remember: This feeling of peace did not come from outside. Peace is always there inside of you, if you just stop disturbing it. It is your true nature. When the world starts to take over your peaceful presence, return to your meditation practice and see if you can choose calm.

*Resting attention on the breath may not be restful for you. In that case, you can also do this practice resting your attention on a word, a prayer or a mantra. Make sure it is something uplifting.

Practicing mediation and yoga are excellent tools for taking care of your mind and body and preventing disease. Learn more ways to take care of yourself with The Tools to Participate in Your Own Well Care.

This content was originally published on Ornish Living.

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