As a physiotherapist who believes that the mind and spirit are just as important as the body in the successful treatment of physical injuries and pain, I want to talk about stress and mindfulness for men during this month of Movember.
I think most people would agree that all of our stress levels seem to be rising – constant downsizing, new technology that means we’re expected to be on-call 24/7, pressure to be perfect parents, perfect partners, stay physically fit… But in the face of these added expectations, I believe that the code of masculinity still inherent in our culture doesn’t encourage men to express their worries, stress or fears openly, and that can amplify the pressure on men and limit their options for coping.
So what can men do? Practicing yoga is one area where men are still vastly outnumbered by women, but the balance is shifting, and more men are reaping the physical, mental and stress-reducing benefits of this ancient practice. The closely-related field of meditation still suffers from an “identity-crisis”, conjuring up images of turban-clad swamis sitting in lotus pose for days at a time. But have no fear. Mindfulness is a practice that you can do anywhere, anytime, and offers massive benefits without a big time commitment, or sitting in lotus pose.
I have been aware of mindfulness meditation for many years, mostly influenced by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work in using this technique for reducing stress, anxiety, pain and illness in people from all walks of life. And optimally one does “meditate” – which means sitting in a comfortable position for 5, 10, maybe 20 minutes every day, focusing on your breath, gently identifying when thoughts appear, and then returning to your breath, over and over. There are countless articles, YouTube videos, and even iPhone apps available online to get you started, and help you to practice regularly.
But what I want to highlight today is the way this technique can be used in any setting, at any time, to help reduce stress, bring relaxation and increase joy. Mindfulness is simply awareness of the present moment, which is always here, and always accessible. Try this. Instead of moving through your day on auto-pilot, take some breaks to “tune-in” – stop for a few seconds or a few breaths and focus on what you are doing or what you can feel, hear or see. Examples: at every red light, clear your mind of any mental chatter and just focus on your breath. While reading this blog, stop and notice all the sounds you hear. Before you start your next task, take a few breaths and scan your body for tension. When washing your hands, note the temperature of the water, the sensation of your hands touching.
These techniques can reduce your stress in difficult situations, lower your blood pressure, decrease anxiety, improve your interactions and relationships with others, and increase the positivity of your thoughts. So in this month of Movember, try a few moments of mindfulness – your body, mind and spirit deserve it!