Holidays are a blissful escape from the pressures, stresses and sheer pace of our everyday lives. It’s been proven that we come back feeling destressed, more relaxed and happier.
The only downside is the inevitable stress that creeps in as we start to think about going back to work – was everything okay while you were away? What happened with that tricky client? Did everything get done? It’s easy to let these thoughts zap all the positive effects of a holiday before you’ve even set foot back in the office.
In fact one study has shown that the positive impact of a holiday can disappear after just 3 days at your desk. So how can you beat back-to-work stress and keep that calm, happy inner you? Zen might just hold the answer.
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An ancient Japanese art first practised over 1,000 years ago, zen is one of the key sources of the meditation and mindfulness trend that has swept the West.
Julian Daizan Skinner is one of London’s leading meditation teachers and is first Englishman to go to Japan to train in Rinzai Zen tradition and become a Zen Master. Here, he shares some of the ancient wisdom and calming, happiness-boosting exercises he has discovered and developed on his journey…
Don’t try to fight your feelings
Simply be present with the tension or butterflies in your stomach or whatever stress-related sensation arises. Just be with it. Try this simple exercise to help you achieve this: Lie on the floor and move your attention through your body. Land on any areas where you can feel stress or tension bubbling.
Now all you need to do is simply be here. Don’t try to change it or make it go away or suppress it. Simply be with what’s here. This presence of mind reduces the strength of your reaction, reduces your stress, even to the point where you start to find that many things no longer push your buttons.
Use your breath to soothe your mind and body
When you sit in stillness and connect to your breath, it immediately helps you experience a sense of calmness, even if events around you are chaotic. Rest your attention on your natural, relaxed breath at the lowest place you can feel it, perhaps your lower chest or even down into your belly. Begin to mentally count the breath – in-breath, mentally count one, out-breath, two and so on, up to ten.
Don’t try to block or reduce any thoughts or other processes of life, just allow them to be as they are. Simply centre your attention on the sensation of the rising and sinking of your breath at the lowest place you can sense it. After you’ve counted to ten, allow your eyes to lift. Notice how you feel.
Establish simple changes to boost your wellbeing
It’s easy to put your own wellbeing last on the list when you’re back in the hubbub of normal life. Before you go back to the work, do this simple exercise to help you prioritise your wellbeing going forwards by making a few small but impactful changes.
- First, what three things come most immediately to mind that you can do to increase the nourishing, happy aspects of your life?
- What activities, things or people currently deplete your energy and increase your stress levels? Write down three ways that you can approach these activities differently to minimise this depletion.
Pledge to make time for a daily Zen meditation practice
This can be either first thing in the morning or before you go to bed. It can be as little as 10 minutes if that’s all you have time for, but 20 minutes is ideal – the longer the better! 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; centre your breathing and begin by counting your breath in and out up to ten.
Later simply follow your breath. Let all the thoughts and feelings come and go without engaging with them. You will emerge feeling refreshed.
Start a meditation diary
Try taking a few minutes at the end of each meditation period to write in a diary. I suggest treating it as a brain dump. Simply allow anything and everything on your mind to be transferred on to the paper.
In the process you can digest it and let it go. If there’s any thinking-through the material that arises in your meditation, let it happen with your pen in your hand. This really helps the meditation period to remain non-analytical.
Shake those hips!
Did you know movement can release tension? Anything from testing out your vocal chords to dancing round the house or practising a Downward Dog can work wonders… Research has revealed that even humming or singing in the shower can release a cocktail of feel-good hormones. Singing also helps you breathe better – using your diaphragm – and this will reset your physiology.
Dancing is also a great way of coming into the present moment. In Japan they hold a 400-year-old Buddhist dance festival in the streets each year. Thousands of people in brightly coloured summer kimonos dance right through the night for four nights straight. It instantly brings joy!
Put on your favourite feel-good song and shake all that stress out! Yoga is another brilliant way to feel positive effects on your physical, energetic and emotional health. Try one of the many yoga apps out there, sign up to a class or buy a yoga book.
About Julian Daizan Skinner
Julian Daizan Skinner is a leading meditation teacher, founder of Zenways and co-author of new book Rough Waking, which is out now. All profits from the book are donated to Zenways’ charity work with St Giles Trust.