By Diana Shepherd for Divorce Magazine
How do you beat divorce-related-stress? Many people try "treat" behaviors: smoking, drinking, taking drugs (prescription or "recreational"), eating a carton of chocolate ice-cream – whatever gives them feelings of pleasure and well-being. Unfortunately, all of these are band-aid solutions: they temporarily ameliorate some of the symptoms without addressing the root of the problem.
Here's a better solution: consider practicing meditation on a regular basis (daily is best). Anyone can practice meditation; you don't have to be on a path to spiritual enlightenment or have any religious beliefs. "Thinking you're unable to meditate is a little like thinking you are unable to breathe, or to concentrate or relax," notes scientist, writer, and meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. in Everywhere You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life (Hachette Books, 2005). "Pretty much everybody can breathe easily. And under the right circumstances, pretty much anybody can concentrate, anybody can relax."
There are as many types of meditation as there are colors in a rainbow. You can meditate while seated, standing, lying down, dancing, singing, eyes open or shut, listening to music, brushing your teeth, eating – the list goes on.
"Mindfulness provides a simple but powerful route for getting ourselves unstuck, back in touch with our own wisdom and vitality," claims Kabat-Zinn. "The key to this path... is an appreciation for the present moment." Too often, we ignore our present: immersing ourselves in regrets about the past or fears about the future. This is never more true than while going through a life-changing experience such as divorce. So now more than ever, you need to learn to bring yourself back into the present, to quiet and unclutter your mind.
The following meditation can help you to maintain your balance, offering a calm clarity even in very stressful situations. At first, you'll need a quiet space free from distraction to practice mindfulness meditation. Eventually, as you build these mental muscles, you'll be able to bring yourself back into the present moment and quiet your mind anywhere, anytime.
- Sit comfortably, your spine reasonably straight but not ramrod stiff, and close your eyes.
- Focus your attention on your breathing.
- From time to time, you'll become aware of emotions, thoughts, sounds, smells, or physical sensations that break your concentration. Acknowledge they are there, then let them drift past like a cloud -- without passing judgment or getting emotionally or mentally involved with them. Bring your attention back to your breathing and continue the meditation.
- If you're struggling with intrusive thoughts, try counting your breaths. Think: "One inhale, one exhale. Two inhale, two exhale," and so on up to 10 or 20. Then start again at one.
Here's another exercise that can help you beat stress. Dirgha Pranayama is called the "three-part breath" because you're actively breathing into three parts of your abdomen. The first position is the lower belly (between the pubic bone and the belly button), the second is the upper belly (between the belly button and the bottom of the ribcage), and the third is the chest (the ribcage). Here's how to do it:
- Sit with a straight back, consciously relax your body, and let go of thoughts and worries by focussing on your breathing.
- Breathe slowly and steadily, in and out through the nose and into the belly.
- Inhale slowly into the first position, then into the second, then into the third; then exhale in reverse: third, second, first positions. Rest your hands on the first two positions to feel your belly rising and falling.
Guided meditation can also be very helpful, especially when you're just starting out. Consider taking a regular class, or listening to a CD at home. Try Susie Mantell's award-winning relaxation CD, "Your Present: A Half-Hour of Peace", or one of Dr. Kabat-Zinn's "Guided Mindfulness Meditation" CDs – such as his "Guided Mindfulness Meditation: A Complete Guided Mindfulness Meditation Program".