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Cultivating Calm


WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Hagar Scher

Good Housekeeping Magazine Logo

You Don’t Have to Go to a Spa. Here’s How to Achieve Peace of Mind (Plus Health and Happiness) from the Inside Out

 

Once upon a time, I had the time and money to go on an eight-day retreat in Costa Rica. One of the most memorable aspects of the trip was a daily walking meditation. My fellow travelers and I would line up and begin inching along. Each step demanded my full attention; I didn't want to nip the heels of the person in front of me. At first, the experience of moving so slowly was deeply uncomfortable. Soon enough, though, I was rewarded for downshifting. Eyes fixed on the ground, I encountered the little wonders a snail takes for granted: the unique contour of each blade of grass, the vivid hues of wildflowers, the fragility of the clods dotting the path.

I was reminded of those walks recently, as I rushed (yet again) to an appointment I feared I would be late for (yet again), feeling that familiar, toxic mix of self-recrimination, frustration, and anxiety.

Perhaps it was the depth of my exhaustion — my son was only 6 months old — but my body rebelled. Right there, in the middle of a busy street, I found myself replicating the ritual of those tropical mornings. My pace slowed, and soon so did my thumping heart, whirling brain, and churning stomach. I took a deep breath and felt my eyes, which had been shrouded by stress, open to the world around me. I took note of the chubby clouds grazing the turquoise sky and felt undeniably happy...and calm. I arrived at my destination five minutes late, but instead of being angry and upset, I uttered a smiling apology and went into the meeting feeling focused and energized.

"Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it," writes Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and author. We've all had those eureka moments of feeling that everything is right and good in our world. But we need to make a conscious choice to emphasize those feelings in our lives.

"We now believe 80 percent of illness is stress-related, that whatever your genetic weak link, stress will trigger it," notes Richard Brown, M.D., an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University. "Going to a spa is wonderful, but until you teach yourself ways to achieve peace of mind from the inside, you'll remain vulnerable to stress."

Learning to stay balanced is a lifelong endeavor. And yet, making small changes to your daily routine can help you reap big benefits.

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