Despite living in a world which is more digitally connected and convenient than ever before, many of us are feeling more disconnected, broken and stressed. Statistics prove stress is killing us and according to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety affects around 40 million adults in the US. So how can the traditional wisdom of Zen help us to tackle the root cause of stress so we can experience a lasting sense of inner peace instead?
Since 2007, Zen Master Daizan Skinner Roshi has been travelling across the globe, guiding students in ways to replace inner worry with genuine peace. Daizan Skinner entered a Zen Monastery in the 1980s, intensively exploring the practices of mindfulness and meditation. After mastering many challenges, internal and external, he was granted permission to teach by his own Zen teacher. Returning from Japan he discovered that the modern world is crying out for ancient techniques to alleviate stress levels. If you’re living in a chaotic city and feel like you’re close to the edge – just stop for a second and take a long, slow deep breath. You don’t need to live like this! Daizan Skinner gives us 5 ways to feel Zen today:
1. Simply worrying will not change the outcome of any given situation. In Zen, you learn how to disentangle yourself from your monkey-mind. The first step is awareness: realize that you have the choice whether to create heaven or hell in your own head. Next time, you find your mind clogged with worrisome thoughts, simply act as a witness and say to yourself: I am not my mind. These thoughts are simply passing through me.
2. In Zen, it is believed that when the hara (the belly area) is strong and energized, you are powerful and grounded. When it is weak, we can feel overly emotional and susceptible to stress. There is a powerful breathing exercise you can do to cleanse the hara and immediately release stressful emotions (which are often stored in our gut area). Simply inhale deeply and as you exhale, make a ‘ha’ sound, gradually opening your mouth as wide as it comfortably goes. Repeat this 10 times.
3. In Zen, we learn that physical and emotional pain is part of life but it is also temporary. It might come to us disguised as a message or a lesson. Ask yourself this: what is this pain trying to teach me? Is it a wake-up call to change my lifestyle? Or to learn coping strategies? In Zen, being aware is the first step, and then taking action is crucial to bring about change. So listen to your body. If you are exhausted then sleep more. If your mind is racing with fear, slow down. Prioritize your health.
4. Make time for a daily Zen meditation practice – either first thing in the morning or before you go to bed. Meditation reduces the stress hormone cortisol. It also alleviates existential angst – feelings of separation and isolation. It’s best to learn zazen (sitting meditation) working with a Zen teacher but you can still begin on your own by sitting in a comfortable cross-legged position, kneeling or even on an upright chair. Keep your spine long and tall; center your breathing and begin by counting your breath in and out up to ten. Later simply follow your breath. You will emerge feeling refreshed.
5. When you feel anger bubbling up inside you, don’t react immediately. Just sit quietly with your emotions for a minute or so. Learn to shift from a stress reaction to a positive stress response. You can even name what you’re feeling: ‘Oh you’re back again, Angry Bird!’ Allow yourself to process what has happened rather than say or do something in haste that you may regret. Scan your body and then take 10 long deep inhales and exhales and breathe positivity into any areas of tension.
To book a Zen Meditation & Mindfulness course or retreat with Daizan Skinner Roshi go to www.zenways.org
Sarah Bladen is a freelance writer, Zen meditation & mindfulness teacher, intuitive light healer and Chakradance facilitator. After spending a year studying with a Himalayan Yogi, based in India, Sarah is passionate about guiding others to overcome heartbreak, anxiety and stress so as to connect to the source of bliss within. A free spirit, Sarah currently lives between Dorset and Dubai and when she isn’t meditating, she loves horse-riding, doing yoga on the beach, travelling and reading. To book an online session with Sarah go to www.oncloudzen.com. You can follow Sarah on Instagram @sarahjbladen