The Good Old Ways of Stress Reduction

By Makana Risser Chai ©copyright 2015 by Makana Risser Chai. All rights reserved.


If your family is like most, they have illnesses, diseases, addictions and obesity.

Many families try to solve these problems with piecemeal solutions—or they’ve given up and assume that’s just life. But according to long-term research, all of these problems are caused or made worse by stress. Whether it is post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic or acute stress, it affects most people today.

Will reducing your stress really make you healthy?

For more than 40 years, the Canadian Institute of Stress has been studying the answer to that question. The Institute was founded by Dr. Hans Selye, the physician who discovered stress in the 1930s, and uses the latest medical research to create practical programs that get measurable results.

In clinical studies with more than 10,000 people, the Institute discovered there are five choices we can make every day to stop stress, feel better, live longer—and even look younger. The five choices are:

  1. Love what you do at work, do what you love at home
  2. Get moving and play hard
  3. Eat right
  4. Breathe, sleep and relax
  5. Love everyone

These are not new. In fact, they are the good old ways. Think back to the time of your grandparents or great-grandparents. How did they live their lives? Probably they lived on a farm or at least grew much of their own food. They ate right. They didn’t need exercise, they worked hard. Then they took a day of rest. They were early to bed and early to rise. In their quiet way they loved everyone.

We have their love, discipline and hard work in our genes. We have it in us to live our lives more like they did. Reflect on the lessons you can learn from your ancestors. They can guide you. When it comes to the choices you make every day, to live a healthy life ask yourself, “What would my ancestors do?”

  1. Love what you do at work, do what you love at home

Our ancestors may not have liked their work, but they loved it. They knew the value of work.

Love your work, and love what you do at work. Notice this is the opposite of the advice to “do what you love.” Many books, articles and speakers say to have a healthy happy life, you should quit your job and get the perfect job. Well it’s not easy to find the perfect job, and even if you do, the research shows if you don’t consciously love what you do, if you don’t practice what the scientists call satisfaction, the job will become routine, you’ll start noticing the negatives, and next thing you know it’s not the perfect job any more.

Right now, think about your job. What do you love to do at work? When a group of nurses was asked that, they said lunch! No—what part of your job do you love? They were silent. Finally, one nurse said she loved to give back rubs. She was asked, “When was the last time you did that?” It had been years. She was encouraged to schedule her work so that every day she could give a back rub, if even for just 10 minutes. She later said that not only did she feel good, but also the patients felt better and they called the nurses less frequently.

Schedule what you love to do for your down time. The research shows if you schedule it for later in the day, most of the day you will be looking forward to it, and that makes the day go a little faster. While you’re doing it, you’re loving it. And then afterwards, you have the warm glow of having done it.

In your personal life, do what you love. Life is for delight! We can delight in little things as we go about our days. They don’t take any time, just a change in attitude.

For example, during the holidays newspapers and magazines run articles counseling us to do less to stress less during the holidays. But sometimes we can’t do less. Does that mean we’re doomed?

No. Busy people thrive—if they love what they do. While you wrap presents, write cards, run errands, bake and shop, remind yourself you’re doing this for people you love. Picture them in your mind. Recite all their wonderful qualities. Smile! Sing! Give thanks for all the people in your life, from family to fellow shoppers.

Science shows that if you make the conscious decision to enjoy, you will.

Another example is commuting. The Hawaiians have aloha ‘āina, love of the land. When they walked from their homes to the taro fields, they did not zone out like we do while driving. They observed the plants, they watched the skies, they wrote and sang songs of the beauty of the land. We can do that. Use commute time to sing, reflect, or recite poetry. Listen to uplifting messages or laugh with comedy.

Then add some time to your day to make it fun. It could be just 15 minutes to read a book, garden, create crafts, write a letter. Have big fun once a week—a class, a project, an outing. Do something that makes your heart sing. Live life!

  1. Get moving and play hard

The second choice we need to make every day to live a healthy life is to play hard. Don’t exercise. Play hard. Research has now proven that running is not good for you—unless you love to run. It only counts if you’re having fun.

You know the science about the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual benefits of exercise. But how do you motivate yourself to actually do it?

The Hawaiians traditionally love playing hard games. One missionary said when he arrived in 1823 he was appalled at their grass shacks. He tried to get them to build wooden houses but they refused. Then came Makahiki season. He watched them play hard, hard games day after day, week after week. Finally he asked one Hawaiian, “Why do you play such hard games when you won’t work to build a proper house?” The Hawaiian said, “Because my heart is in the game.”

What game is in your heart? Think back to when you were 12 years old. What did you love to play? Play it today. Or maybe you didn’t like to play as a kid. What looks like fun now? Dancing, bike riding, boxing, gardening, golf? Golf is fine—as long as you don’t ride in the cart. When it’s fun to move, you don’t need motivation. You can’t wait to do it.

  1. Eat right

You know you have to eat right. How did your ancestors eat? Local, in season, fresh vegetables and fruit. Minimally processed foods such as cheese, bread and cereal. Dessert might be once a week, not once a meal.

They didn’t eat huge slabs of meat, but small pieces. The research says we should eat no more meat at each meal than the size of a deck of cards. One serving of rice is the size of a baseball. That sounds big, but it’s half the size of one scoop of rice, much less two scoops.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to eat. When you go out or at home, find the healthiest person there and eat what they eat.

Today there is a slow food movement. They use fresh ingredients, cook at home, and take an hour to eat slowly and enjoy the conversation at the table. Even if you have to go to a fast food restaurant, you can find healthy alternatives, give thanks before eating, talk with each other, and eat slowly, savoring each bite.

  1. Take time to breathe, sleep and relax

Modern science has proven that breath control can lower your blood pressure, end heart arrhythmias, improve digestion, increase blood circulation, regulate insulin, decrease anxiety, and improve your sleep and energy.

Traditionally, Hawaiians know that breath is the key to good health. The word for breath is hā, but hā has many other meanings. It means exhale. And since the old Hawaiians were deeply aware that without breath there is no life, hā also means life.

Breath was sacred, but the Hawaiians of old also had fun with it. Children played a game to see who could exhale the longest, called Na‘u.

To release stress, you too can play with your breath. Most people, when told to focus on breathing, try to take a deep inhale, straining to get more air in. The way to truly get a deep breath is to first let the old air out.

Right now, exhale as long as you can. Keep exhaling, through your relaxed mouth, making a slight “ha” sound. Squeeze your belly a little at the end to get out all the air. Then allow yourself to inhale. Breathe into your belly. Expand your ribs, front and back. See how much more air you can take in.

Continue two more times, exhaling as long as you can, and then allowing good, fresh air to fill your lungs. Congratulations! You just lowered your blood pressure, improved your immune system and increased your natural insulin.

You can play with your breath whenever you think of it. Good times to practice are when you are waiting:

  • at the computer
  • for the microwave
  • in traffic jams
  • at stop signals
  • for commercials
  • in line
  • on hold
  • in meetings

The best time to practice exhaling is when you are in a stressful situation. Do you ever get emails or phone calls when just seeing the name of the person makes you start to get upset? Breathe.

Sleep. Our ancestors slept. When was the last time you got your 7 or 8 hours of sleep? The research shows the number one way to look younger is to get your sleep.

Relax. The Institute developed a guided relaxation script proven to make people relax. They also found that silent prayer and meditation induce relaxation, if they are done at least 10 minutes a day. We need that relaxation because it actually gives us more energy.

  1. Love everyone

There is a story in the book, Kitchen Table Wisdom, about a devout Jewish man who goes on a retreat to learn how to live with cancer, and how to die. The doctors tell him he has to love everyone. He can’t believe it. “Everyone?” he asks. “Even strangers?” Yes, they say, even strangers.

The next day he walked on the beach and talked with God. “God,” he cried. “They say I have to love everyone, even strangers. Can this be true?” And God said, “Strangers? What strangers? I don’t make strangers.”

Love everyone. Unconditionally. Start with family, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, everyone you come in contact with, everyone in the world.

This is not a passive love, it’s active. Show your love. There are many ways you can show your love. Here are three examples.

First, you can practice your breathing and add love to it. Breathe in the love that surrounds you. Breathe out love to everyone you see. Treat everyone you meet with the gentle attitude of love.

Second, forgive. Recent medical studies prove that forgiveness is good for you. The University of Tennessee found that people who hold grudges have higher blood pressure and more anxiety than people who forgive. The Stanford Forgiveness Project has achieved remarkable medical results teaching people to forgive everything from bad traffic to the murder of their children. Hundreds of years before this research, Hawaiians had a system of forgiveness called ho‘oponopono that they knew was essential to good health.

Some people say that we should never forgive certain things because they are “unforgivable.” The problem with not forgiving others is that it only affects you, not them. As the saying goes, “Holding a grudge is like eating rat poison to kill a rat.” You do not have to forgive the behavior, just the person. We can choose to forgive anyone, simply to have peace within ourselves.

Who can we forgive? Family members. Ex-spouses and ex-lovers may need forgiving, as well as current ones. Bosses, co-workers, neighbors, friends. Clerks, waiters, customers, drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists. The list is endless.

How do we forgive? There are many ways to practice forgiveness. One way is to picture the person in your mind and say silently to them, “I forgive you.” Say it over and over until you feel your heart soften. Try saying it silently while you are with the person. You also can combine this with the hā breath practice.

If you are mad at someone, they can tell, even if you “act normal.” When you have forgiven them, they can tell that, too. Just this morning my husband and I got into a disagreement. While he was making his point I breathed and silently forgave. He stopped in the middle of a sentence, thought for a few moments, and then came up with an idea that was better than either of us had been arguing for.

For other disagreements, traditional ho‘oponopono brings the family together to talk, confess, reconcile, forgive and release. Hawaiians knew what science has since proved—when you practice forgiveness, you release your stress and improve your life.

The third way to practice love is to trade massage. My grandmother, who was of Gypsy ancestry and grew up in France, used to give neck and shoulder rubs to everyone at family gatherings. She taught me massage. It is a way to literally touch someone, to heal them. Traditional Hawaiians, from grandparents to small children, give and receive lomilomi massage every day. They know the power of loving touch.

Taking a massage class is a wonderful way to bond, but you don’t need special training. You both will feel better when you simply lay your hands on the neck and shoulders of a loved one, while thinking and feeling love.

The Good Old Ways

The five choices we need to make every day to live healthy lives are:

  1. Love what you do at work, do what you love at home
  2. Get moving and play hard
  3. Eat right
  4. Breathe, sleep and relax
  5. Love everyone

Though they have been proven by science, it’s reassuring to know these choices are also the good old ways of our ancestors. They made healthy choices every day, so we know we can do it too.

If you and your team want to learn how to manage your stress, call Makana at 808-282-2743 or contact us.