PICTURE THE SCENE. The morning session of the conference has just come to a close. I have just delivered a research paper to a room of over 400 delegates. As I sheepishly make my way to the refreshments table, a delegate approaches me to congratulate me on my presentation:
Wow! That was great. How did you manage to stay so calm and collected throughout? I’m impressed.
The truth of the matter was that my heart had been pounding the whole way through the presentation, my mouth was dry, my stomach was churning and I had not slept for the past two nights.
Like a swan: Calm on the surface, flapping like heck underneath, I think to myself.
For as long as I can remember, this has been my unconscious and automatic response to stressful situations. Acting as if you have it all under control is how everyone effectively manages stressful situations, right? What are the alternatives? Taking flight through the fire escape?
All those years of holding stress inside in this way had led to chronic muscle tension, fatigue and a host of other unpleasant consequences. Something had to give.
But when ‘fight or flight’ is not an option, is internalising stress (with all its unpleasant consequences) the only alternative?
Not when we realise that we have the power to control how we respond to stress and when we have an effective means of bringing our bodies back into balance should such stress occur.
We can’t avoid stress altogether but we can change how we deal with it. Managing stress is all about maintaining balance. In the traditional ‘fight or flight’ response, we give our bodies the opportunity to work off all those ‘stress’ chemicals and to restore balance. Animals demonstrate how it’s done naturally. When birds have been involved in disputes with other birds, they tend to take themselves off to a quiet corner of the pond and shake their wings vigorously for a while, releasing all the built-up tension and as such restoring balance to their bodies.
So what is our alternative?
Well, firstly, we can avoid letting ourselves tip too far out of balance from the outset and secondly, if necessary, we can do what needs to be done to restore balance after our autonomic nervous system has done its evolutionary thing.
Mindfulness can be a very effective tool in helping us to recognise when our stress response is kicking in and in helping us to respond to these triggers in a more healthy way. This begins with learning specific mindfulness techniques and eventually leads to incorporating mindfulness into our everyday lives, living every moment in the knowledge that we hold the power to choose how we respond to stress, thereby breaking free from our automatic, unconscious and often unhealthy reactions to stressful situations.
Taking control of our responses to life’s stresses will make a huge difference to how far our bodies swing out of balance as a result of these stresses. And in cases where the balance has already been tipped, I have found Reiki to be a great tool in helping body and mind recover and regain balance.
For example, I suffered for years from chronic muscle tension in my shoulders. The muscles were rock solid and painful to the slightest touch. I decided to place my hands gently on my shoulders each night as I went off to sleep, just by lying on my side and crossing my arms in front of my body. Over time, the muscle tension in my shoulders has disappeared and as a result I no longer suffer from pain in this area.
But it is with regular, sustained self-practice that we Reiki practitioners really get to reap the benefits in terms of mitigating against the worst effects of stress. Reiki works to balance our systems on all levels. If we incorporate Reiki into our daily routine, we are addressing the imbalance each day as it arises and as such it is much less likely to become a chronic problem. Little and often is the key.
Although Reiki is beneficial for managing stress in this way, I believe there is much more to be gained from having a regular Reiki practice. In my experience, Reiki opens us up to a different way of being, enabling us to approach life’s challenges in a very open, grounded and non-judgemental way, akin to mindfulness.
Frank Arjava Petter, the world-renowned Reiki teacher, once said:
Clarity in the Mind,
Love in the Heart,
Reiki in the Hands.
I can think of no better way to approach life and its challenges.
Jon Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues at The University of Massachusetts have developed a highly acclaimed stress reduction programme using mindfulness techniques to help people cope with stress, anxiety, pain and illness. His book, Full Catastrophe Living, explains the philosophy and techniques behind the programme.
Frank Arjava Petter’s new book, This is Reiki, is available via all good book stores.