I’m a pragmatic person, so why write about this squishy concept called “inner peace”? It turns out, there’s not a standard definition of inner peace. Some consider serenity and calmness as synonymous with inner peace. But inner peace seems so much more substantial to me. Perhaps inner peace means something different to each of us?
Even though it’s difficult to define inner peace, its opposite seems obvious – anxiety. Now that term has a solid definition: an emotion carried out by an unpleasant state of inner turmoil. Americans seem particularly prone to high levels of anxiety: approximately 40 million adults or 18% of the population have anxiety disorders. Why is it so common? And what can we do to calm the inner turmoil?
Odds are you have at least one co-worker, friend or family member who suffers from an anxiety disorder. Perhaps you also experience anxiety or you have in the past. Do you worry about little things? Do you neglect yourself to please others? Are you haunted by the past? Does anxiety cause physical problems? Even if you are a pretty calm person, you can benefit from four practices that are designed to decrease anxiety, connect body and soul, and promote self-acceptance.
I’m going to share my personal approach to cultivating inner peace. Each key is based on scientific studies that link the practice with a greater sense of well-being. I’ll admit, it’s difficult to practice all four components regularly, but I do the best I can.
I am a great meditator – in January and February as my new year resolution is still fresh in mind. But come July, I’ve lost the routine and can go weeks between meditation sessions. So once again, my resolve is to become a habitual meditator. I’ve tried a ton of free and low-cost meditation apps to keep me on course. I keep returning to Headspace (see the co-founder’s TedTalk). The Headspace introductory meditation series is free and there’s a premium subscription option (check for occasional discounts). Keep in mind that meditation is always free: You don’t need an app or any special equipment. So it’s up to you if you need a guide or not.
Mindfulness is all the rage today. It seems every conference I attend has at least one session on mindfulness. To really get the benefit of mindfulness, your best bet is the 9-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, which was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. If you go this route, look for a certified MBSR instructor. There can be a substantial price tag, so if you don’t have the cash now, consider putting funds aside into a Dream Account so that you can attend. I completed the program and my experience was extremely positive. But it did take a lot of commitment – I had to carve out time for daily practice and I missed NFL games to attend the Sunday classes.
The energy arts (such as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong) focus on balancing and rhythmic movements that connect the body and mind. If you’d like to lower stress, improve your mood, and diminish anxiety, give these programs a try! In this day of the Internet, many of these forms are very accessible. Even small communities are seeing an increase in yoga studios and tai chi classes. My current favorite is a Udemy course called Qi Gong for Health and Healing. Udemy courses periodically go on sale and you can usually purchase the course for $10 to $15. This particular course has some downfalls – the text doesn’t format properly on a tablet. However, the exercise videos are top-notch. I regularly do the morning routine and it has improved my flexibility tremendously and increased my energy level. Another good resource is Sounds True.
I grew up in the country and took wide open spaces for granted. After living in urban areas, I’m now lucky enough to live in a smaller community that is incredibly rich and diverse in terms of its natural resources. I am an hour from the ocean and an hour from the mountains. Of my four keys to inner peace, spending time in nature is absolutely necessary to my well-being. You might have seen the YouTube series on Nature Rx, which are spoofs of prescription drug ads and are based on scientific results that show that spending more time in nature improves your health and well-being. For me, exploring the great outdoors is a triple victory – I’m healthier, happier, and more content after spending time outdoors.
Finally, I want to emphasize that these are MY four keys to inner peace. Your keys may look quite different. For instance, millions of people find solace in prayer. If that’s your thing, then go forward. Let’s recognize that there are different paths and that your path will look different than mine. One is not better than the other. Ultimately, inner peace is about your own peace. We are all unique, so be bold and take the steps you need to take to lessen anxiety and unlock inner peace.