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Natural Awakenings Boston

Tips to Increase Focus and Decrease Stress

Nov 29, 2013 07:26PM ● By Dr. Emily Chan and Taylor McHugh

With many tasks, little time and an attention span that’s pulled in many directions, it can be a struggle living the modern life. Luckily, certain types of stress can be positive and motivating, while other types can feel heavy or draining. Becoming aware of which stressors trigger a negative response is the first step in realizing that our angst and pain can become constructive tools when reframed into a healthy perspective. Here are three approaches to managing stress better and enhancing concentration this winter:

Walk in the Rain

Meditation is an art form with processes that attempt to cleanse the mind and bring it to a quiet, more focused place. Contrary to popular belief, there are many ways to meditate beyond the preconceived idea of a monk sitting cross-legged, surrounded by a sea of nothingness. Actually, it’s possible to meditate while doing nearly anything. The key is to focus on the present moment and the breath.

Walking in the rain can be a great form of meditation. Meditation does not need to be traditional; even a simple nature walk can decrease stress and increase focus when we allow the mind to release worries or running thoughts and remain focused on the breath. It is important to set aside time daily to engage in something meditative and fun.

Do One Yoga Asana

Performing a daily restorative asana, such as Uttana Shishosana or Extended Puppy Pose, can do wonders for the soul, even if the pose is held for only one to five minutes. According to Yoga Journal, this posture reduces stress, invigorates the body, calms the mind and decreases insomnia. Additionally, Uttana Shishosana stretches the spine and shoulders. It is similar to Child’s Pose, but with the thighs perpendicular to the floor so the hips point to the sky. The spine remains straight, with the abductor muscles pulling up and in. To move deeper, keep the hips above the knees as the forehead relaxes down to the ground and stretch the arms in front of the head, resting them on the Earth.

Delete One Thing from the To Do List

Choose one thing to “not do” today, write it on a piece of paper and tear it up, then enjoy a sense of liberation. Try this exercise in the morning, especially if there is a full day ahead. By making the choice to forgo one thing on the list, it is easier to let go of unrealistic expectations, along with the associated guilt, that everything on the list should get done. This simple act can help to create space in the mind to choose “best” over “good” and empower us to focus on forward progress rather than on what is holding us back.

In addition to mind-body practices, sometimes it is important to address other physical, energetic or dietary needs in order to get faster results. According to “Less Stress When You Don’t Guess”, an article published in Naturopathic Doctor News & Review by Bradley Bush, ND, many pharmaceutical medications that are prescribed for anxiety and stress ignore glucose, stress hormones and neurotransmitter balance. If the sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive due to the constant stimulation that stress causes, it may be wise to seek guidance from a professional, such as a naturopathic doctor, that is mindful of natural stress management.

In the meantime, be spontaneous and open-hearted in finding various ways to meditate, practice a yoga posture daily and eliminate one “to do” by making it a “not to do.” These approaches can help decrease stress and enhance focus this winter.

Dr. Emily Chan, naturopathic doctor, author and lecturer, specializes in helping people with physical problems, especially when there is an emotional component. She treats digestive, hormone- related and cardiovascular/metabolic issues, fatigue, autoimmune disease and mood disorders. Her practice, Modern Integrative Medicine, is located in Cambridge. For more information, visit

Taylor McHugh is interested in holistic medicine and currently teaches yoga and spin classes in the Boston area.