My YouTube show this week features Kim Colegrove. In 2014, Kim lost her husband David, a former police officer, to suicide. She created Pause First: Mindfulness for First Responders to honor her husband’s memory, and to help other first responders cope with stress and trauma.
The stress of police officers has been much in the news lately. But it’s not just first responders who lead stressful lives. If your life is stress-free, you are unique and unusual!
I don’t need to give you all the details of my wonderful, overly full life for you to understand that sometimes it feels like I’m spinning out of control.
It is the norm for most of us.
Stress is so common that a Google search generates millions of results with opinions about what stress is doing to us, and advice about how to manage it.
According to an American Psychological Association survey in 2012, on a scale of 1 to 10 (where 1 is “little or no stress” and 10 is “a great deal of stress”), 20 percent of the respondents said their stress was an 8, 9 or 10. And over the past five years, 60 percent of them had unsuccessfully tried to reduce their stress.
I love all of my busy-ness. After all, I am the chooser who puts all these pieces into my life. But when things get too stressful, I lose the sense of peace and joy that is key to living my life filled with joy.
Much of the advice, including Kim’s, about managing stress has to do with focusing our minds on the present, rather than letting it wander to “what ifs” about the past or “shoulds” about the future.
It’s the advice that often comes next that doesn’t work many of us:
Sit. Close your eyes. Feel your breath. Gently bring your thoughts back when they wander.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe mindful meditation can be a powerful way to become centered and present in the moment. My husband Ed and I practiced Transcendental Meditation (TM) for decades, and we have attended numerous 10-day silent Vipassana Meditation retreats. Indeed, we have experienced moments of profound serenity and peace as a result of doing so.
But all too often, I find that my monkey-mind never shuts down for long. And sometimes the longer I sit in silence, the louder it shouts at me.
Ed and I have found an alternate route to peace and stillness that has become our daily routine: Tai chi.
Tai chi quite literally slows us down and centers us when life begins to feel out of control.
Research studies have conclusively demonstrated the benefits of tai chi for falls prevention, chronic disease alleviation and improved memory and cognitive function. And our teacher, Dr. Paul Lam, has developed a series of Tai Chi for Health programs that are supported by many leading organizations and government bodies around the world, including the USA Centers for Disease Control, the Arthritis Foundations and the Administration on Aging. He has trained many hundreds of instructors who provide classes throughout the US and worldwide.
But there’s another benefit of practicing tai chi that doesn’t get as much press. And it has literally changed my life.
When I practice tai chi, I don’t have to calm my mind; the practice does it for me. I don’t have to pull my thoughts into the present; I’m already there. And I don’t have to open my heart; half the time during my practice, tears of joy well up in my eyes and I feel one with the universe.
This all happens as part of my tai chi practice, rather than something I hope the practice will help me accomplish.
So when I feel like my life is spiraling out of control, I often rely on my tai chi practice to bring me back to my center.
It has rarely failed.