Stress is a physical and emotional reaction that people experience as they encounter changes in life. Stress is a normal feeling. However, long-term stress may contribute to, or worsen, a range of health problems including digestive disorders, headaches, sleep disorders, and other symptoms. Stress may worsen asthma and has been linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
The good news is that yoga and meditation can help manage stress. Some studies of yoga for stress management have shown improvements in physical or psychological measures related to stress. The scientific evidence also suggests that mindfulness meditation — a practice that cultivates abilities to maintain focused and clear attention and develop increased awareness of the present — may help reduce symptoms of stress, including anxiety and depression.
One kind of meditation that has been show to be effective for reducing stress is a form of mindfulness meditation called body scan meditation, in which the practitioner focuses their attention on the various parts of their body. Body scan meditation is one of the techniques that the Buddha taught and it continues to be taught in many different present-day settings. Body scan meditation — which can be performed sitting, lying down, or in other positions — is frequently used in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs.
In one study that found daily mindful body scans may reduce stress, 47 participants were randomly assigned to listen to audio recordings for 20 minutes each day for 8 weeks, with the intervention group listening to a body scan and the control group listening to an audio book. The body scan group was given a phone pre-loaded with body scan meditations and the audio book group was given John Katzenbach's book The Madman's Tale.
To measure the effect of the body scan meditations, the researchers did more than just ask participants if they felt less stressed. Before and after the intervention, the participants completed a survey about their stress levels and the researchers used hair samples from the participants to measure the levels of cortisol and DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), both of which are biological markers of psychological stress. After 8 weeks, the biological markers indicated that the body scan meditations reduced the levels of stress in the intervention group.
In addition to relieving stress, body scan meditations have been found to be effective in treating a variety of conditions, including tobacco withdrawal symptoms, chronic pain, and multiple other conditions.
If you would like to try a body scan meditation, the following episodes of Pretty Good Meditation include body scans:
Additionally, to try a body scan in a real life, friendly, and supportive setting, join us for tonight's (March 29, 2022) meditation group at Spirit of the Lake or respond to this email and let me know that you would like to attend.