Which stress relief exercises are the most effective?
Once you are clear about what stress is, you’ll quickly understand how best to manage it.
All three basic types of stress have the same nature.
Physical stress occurs in, for example, a bridge or a building when physical forces pull in opposite directions.
Mental stress occurs when different beliefs pull in opposite directions.
Emotional stress, which is a combination of both mental and physical stress, occurs when different emotions pull in opposite directions. I consider emotional stress in my book How to Survive College Emotionally. Since it’s readily available from Amazon, let’s here set emotional stress aside.
The best stress relief exercises for physical stress on our bodies simply involve aligning physical forces in the same direction. For example, if you have been doing desk work for hours and want relief, just go for a brisk walk or a run. Such aerobic activities seem to be better stress relief exercises than strength training. The trick is to focus fully only on your moving while you are moving.
By analogy, you might think that the best stress relief exercises for mental stress would involve aligning all beliefs consistently. Perhaps in theory that could work, but, in practice, it’s impossible.
I’ve studied the fundamental conceptual systems proposed by all the great philosophers and there is not one that achieves complete consistency. If our greatest thinkers have never been able to do it, forget about it.
Instead, the best stress relief exercises for mental stress involve letting go of all beliefs (judgments, conceptualizations). This means awakening from the nearly constant stream of thoughts into No-Thought.
There is no better stress reliever than experiencing No-Thought. Practicing liberation from thought produces abiding peace and joy.
Beliefs that you have detached from cannot cause stress. Since nearly all everyday beliefs are not known to be true, there’s no good reason not to be skeptical about them and to detach from them.
Furthermore, awakening can be practiced instantly and at any time!
Not only that, but, when you resume thinking, the sages assure us that you will have a changed perspective that increases the efficacy of thinking as problem solving while simultaneously decreasing its frequency. In other words, you’ll not have to think as much and, when you do, your thinking will be more productive!
Have no fear that you will somehow lose your ability to think well. In fact, you’ll increase it while freeing yourself from bondage to it.
Additionally, your ability to concentrate will improve. Why is this important?
The way to live with minimal stress is to focus fully on whatever task engages you in the present moment. This means not thinking any irrelevant thoughts.
If you have not experienced this for yourself, you should be skeptical. That’s good. Please test it for yourself. (Don’t confuse being skeptical with being negative, which is simply assuming that something will fail without testing it.)
I recommend “aliveness awareness” as the easiest way to free yourself from incessant thinking. I learned about it from the writings and audio programs of Eckhart Tolle, which I heartily recommend.
It’s very simple. To read my short posts on it, simply go to the spiritual well-being category of this blog and scroll down to the posts “Learn from Animals?,” “Concentration Exercises for Greater Happiness” and, most importantly, “Life Energy.”
If you already have a successful meditation practice of some kind, you don’t need aliveness awareness.
If your daily meditation sessions are less than wholly successful as stress relief exercises, I recommend supplementing them with aliveness awareness. It’s what I do.
The ultimate reason this works is because it enables you to realize that you are much more than just your thoughts.
Since suffering is caused by separation and since realizing that you are much more than what you think you are decreases separation, if you seriously practice these stress relief exercises every day you will soon begin to feel better and better as your suffering diminishes.
Suffering really is optional.