Try meditation

Learning some easy techniques can help you think clearly, make good decisions and manage whatever comes your way. Simple meditation is one way you can do that.

Different people like different types of meditations. There are some written descriptions here as well as some audio and video files that you can use. Try a couple of them that seem appealing, or try all of them. Chances are you’ll find something that you like and that helps you feel more calm and able to deal with the world.

homevideo1

Watch this meditation video
and feel your stress melt away.

Get Focused

listen-iconLearning to focus works to calm you and relieve stress.
Listen to the audio
  1. Begin with some gentle, focused breathing. Breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth. Breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in. Continue this breathing throughout the exercise.
  2. With your eyes open, focus attention on one thing. Choose an object or a point in the distance that allows your eyes to relax.
  3. Let your awareness expand. Pay attention to what you notice around you, to the sides, above, below; even as you keep your gaze on the object of attention you have chosen.
  4. Begin thinking and saying to yourself, “I am.” If possible, link the thought to the pattern of your breathing.
  5. Visualize what you want for the moment, for the day, or for a particular situation. Then let go of the image when you are ready.
  6. Continue breathing, repeating, “I am.”
  7. If your mind wanders, don’t worry about it. Just notice any distractions and let them pass, returning your attention to your breathing and to your object of attention.
  8. When you are ready to complete the process of the meditation do steps 1-3 in reverse.

You can do this for as little as five minutes, once or twice a day and it will help. After a while you can increase the time if you like. Once you have some experience with it you might even find that you can use just the breathing or saying “I am,” or even a few moments of focusing on an object to calm yourself and relieve stress. 

Head-to-Toe Relaxation

listen-iconAfter you tense and release every part of your body, you’ll feel lighter and less stressed.
Listen to the audio
  1. Get into a comfortable position. You can sit or lie down.
  2. Close your eyes, if you feel comfortable doing so. At first you’ll need to keep your eyes open to read the instructions, of course, but once you get the hang of it you’ll just remember what to do.
  3. Focus on relaxing your entire body as much as possible.
  4. Start by tensing your toes; curl them up into your feet and hold them tight for 3-5 seconds. Release them. Take a deep breath and repeat for another 3-5 seconds.
  5. Next, tighten all your muscles from your feet up to your waist. Do a quick mental scan and make sure you have them all: your calves, your thighs, your bottom. Hold for 3-5 seconds, release and repeat.
  6. Now do the same thing with your stomach. Tighten it as much as you can. Hold it. Then release and repeat.
  7. Then do the same thing with your chest. Tighten, hold, release. Do this twice.
  8. Now your whole torso, including your shoulders, which will probably lift slightly off the ground or away from your chair when you tense them.
  9. Now move to your hands. Tighten them into fists, hold for a count of five and release. Repeat this two times.
  10. Then tighten your entire arms, bending your fists back at the wrist. Hold for five seconds and release. Then repeat.
  11. Tighten your neck by turning your head as far to the right as you can without feeling any discomfort and holding it for 3-5 seconds, then release. Repeat this one more time.
  12. Do the same thing on the left.
  13. Now scrunch and tighten your whole face and hold it for five seconds. Do this one more time and then you are done.

Now that you’ve tensed and released every part of your body, do a quick scan. How do you feel? Are there places you’d like to tense and release again for a little more relaxation? Go ahead and do that.

When you are ready, open your eyes and begin to slowly move around. Enjoy the calm feeling this activity is sure to bring!

Awareness Experiment

This short experiment gives you a taste of what the Buddhists call mindfulness. The instructions are very simple.

  1. Sit in silence for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Notice thoughts, sensations and emotions.
  3. Simply watch and rest.

Don’t worry about whether you are doing it right or not. What you are doing is practicing open awareness. This means being awake and present; not controlling or directing your experience, just noticing it.

Open awareness is like coming home after a long, busy day; plopping into your favorite chair for a while and simply being…not doing anything at all other than resting (not sleeping), being alert and relaxed (yet aware of what is going on) and feeling open to what is going on inside you and around you.

This may seem difficult at first, though just like learning a new skill like playing the piano or hockey, but it gets easier with practice.

Perhaps you notice when you try this that thoughts flood your mind almost immediately, like a rushing waterfall. This happens to many people. Don’t worry, it is not a sign of failure…it is actually a sign of success! It’s an important step to recognize just how many thoughts typically pass through your mind without you even noticing them. You may also have experienced what some people call “Puppy Syndrome:” Noticing a thought, then following it over the hill and yonder, just like a puppy following something of interest. Again, not a failure. In fact, when it comes to open awareness there is no such thing as failing.

If you were to keep up this experiment for a fragment of time, you would discover that thoughts come and go, feelings come and go, and by simply looking at what goes on in the mind, without judgment, you will begin to notice changes. Below the surface, where all the mental chatter and drama goes on, there is a natural clarity that is never disturbed or disrupted. It’s kind of like a lake on a stormy day: The surface may be all churned up, big waves might be crashing against the shoreline and the water may look muddy and grey, yet underneath it all the water is calmer and clearer the deeper we go. In the same way, when we allow the mind to rest naturally in a state of relaxed awareness, we will find calmness and clarity.

Just Breathe

listen-iconTo de-stress fast, take a few minutes to breathe and observe that rhythm of expansion and contraction.
Listen to the audio

Sit comfortably, with your back upright but not rigid. Holding your spine straight provides a stable feeling in your body, which in turn helps you stabilize your mind. It will help you remain alert, yet relaxed.

Here’s one easy way to straighten your spine:

  • Breathe in deeply.
  • At the top of breathing in, raise your shoulders up a bit.
  • Then as you breathe out, roll your shoulders back and down.
  • Next, tuck your chin in slightly.
  • Feel your spine like a tree trunk, rooted into the ground and up to the sky. Or if you prefer, think of the spinal vertebrae as a stack of coins, one on top the other. Guard against a feeling of stiffness—you are not a wooden soldier. Sit lightly and easily, yet with a sense of mental alertness.

Giving the mind something to focus on helps you develop concentration, calm and a sense of ease. In this next meditation, you will be concentrating on your breath quietly, but with intensity.

  1. Begin with a few moments of simply resting in open awareness.
  2. Then gently move your attention to your breath. Breathing is an act we all do 24/7. The expansion and contraction of the abdomen and the chest are parts of a universal rhythm. Everything in the universe has this same rhythm of expansion and contraction. Focus all your attention on each breath, with newfound interest, as though it were something you’ve never done before (and that is true, you’ve never taken this breath before). Rest lightly on the breath, like a butterfly on a flower.
  3. Observe the movement of your belly up and down. You may want to experience breathing in as a wave coming in to shore, breathing out as the wave going back out to sea. You do not need to change your breath, just observe it.
  4. Notice the movement of air into and out of your body.
  5. Notice the temperature of the air when it enters and leaves your body.
  6. Notice the flow of air into your body, filling your lungs in all directions.
  7. Feel the moment of stillness between breathing in and breathing out.

homevideo1Watch this meditation video and feel your stress melt away.

 

Mindful Eating

Everything can be incorporated into mindfulness practice, even eating. To begin mindful eating, look at the food you have chosen. Just observe it. Notice the thoughts in your mind as you look at it.

Then, use the acronym TASTE to experience a mindful eating meditation:

T= TAKE A BREATH before diving in. Notice the sensations in your body as you anticipate eating.

A= ALLOW yourself to come into an awareness of this moment and all it brings with it, without criticism or judgment. Are you experiencing physical hunger (like stomach rumbling)? Other sensations? Is it perhaps your mind that is hungry?

S= As you take the first bite, employ all of your SENSES to experience this bite of food – see it, smell it, taste it, feel it, hear it (all food has a sound as you eat it).

T= Take TIME to explore each bite, being mindful of when you feel the urge to take another bite. (Before you finish this one? Even as you are chewing this one?) Experience the fullness this food or drink has to offer.

E= When finished, EXPLORE the terrain again. How does it feel now that the food is inside you?

Adapted from At the Table: Mindful Eating, Maureen Doran, RDN, LD.