One of the first things we need to realize when working to change conditioned tendencies and habits of any kind, is that we don’t have to ‘stop’ something, but rather begin ‘doing’ something else. So to say things like “stop stressing out”, “quit worrying”, or “just relax”, don’t mean anything in the truest sense, because we’re not telling them “how” to do it, or “what” to do instead. Just as you have to learn how to quit thinking in terms of what you ‘don’t want’, and focus on what you ‘do want’ instead, when changing any behavior or practice, we simply direct our attention into a different activity and concentrate on doing it, knowing that in doing so, we’ll give ourselves a new behavior to do in place of the behavior we’re eliminating. All creation and transformation begins by learning to control and direct our attention into what we want to do, rather than what we don’t. We don’t ever quit habits, but rather transform them into new habits.
The first component to learning how to systematically relax your body is by learning to breathe correctly. While this idea has a funny sound to it, because it’s something we all do naturally and therefore are hardly ever instructed on ‘how’ to do it, comes by becoming aware of the power of our breathing, and the relationship it has with all other mental, emotional, and physical functions of our mind-body system. Just by focusing our attention on our breathing, turns our attention inwards and we become centered in our body. By first taking a couple of deep breaths, regulates our breathing, which can then be allowed to fall into a smooth and consistent rhythm. By breathing deeply, extending into the abdomen, we influence all major body systems with the same rhythmic motion, synchronizing them. When we inhale deeply, then pause in a slight hesitation, before exhaling, then slightly hesitating again before drawing in our next breath, prevents us from hyperventilating, and also introduces a form of timing, that calms the mind and relaxes the whole body by way of the same double count. Draw in, relax, release, and relax.
You’ll notice that just by regulating your breathing in a conscious way, simultaneously calms your mind, releases emotional tension held in the body, and slows your heart rate down. As your heart rates drops to a relaxed state, your blood pressure drops with it, and more tension is released. If your mind starts drifting away from your breathing, simply redirect your attention back into the rhythm of your breath and become present once again in your body. As you continue breathing in a relaxed pace, bring your attention to how different parts of your body feels. Get a good sense of anyplace in your body that your holding tension of some kind.
Then, become aware of your feet, place your attention on your feet, and set the intention to relax them, and gently, but firmly tell them to relax. Feel them relax. Tell yourself, my feet are relaxed. Then become aware of your calves, and mentally direct your calves to relax. Repeat the same process to relax your lower legs. Then, repeating this process move systematically through your thighs, hips, abdomen, lower back, up your spine to your shoulders, into your chest, yours arms, shoulders and neck, up the back of your head, your ears, jaw, face and eyes. Systematically using your mind to relax your whole body. If you notice at any point that some part of your body already relaxed is starting to tense back up, simply stop and relax that part again, then pick up where you left off. Once your whole body is relaxed, just take a moment to notice how it feels. Be present with the feeling of your body, and sense yourself in a fully relaxed state.
Allow yourself to notice that as your body relaxes, so does your mind. Your mind is in sync with your body. They share the same feeling state. You feel a distinct calmness and inner peace throughout your entire being, and just allow yourself to notice . . . how good it feels . . . to relax. Give your full attention to this feeling of inner peace, and relish in it for a bit. Then, move your attention outward, expanding into your peripheral while staying centered in your body, and simply ‘feel’ everything around you. Notice how it feels to be there, to be present “in it” and a part “of it”. Notice the things around you, while refraining from “thinking about them”, and instead simply notice how they feel as you give them your attention and how that feeling resonates in your body.
Notice that when you calm your obsessive thinking, and focus on how it feels to be present with life, that time seems to stand still, your awareness expands out away from you, and you become intimately part of the space around you. When you’re no longer focused on listening to your own thoughts, and blend into the silence outside of you, you begin realizing that there’s a whole reality going on, that, for the most part, you’re completely unaware of, because you normally exist primarily in the reality produced by your own thinking and imagining mind. And while you hear the sounds around you, which are outside of you, you simultaneously feel the pulsation of your own heartbeat and feel an inner silence that brings a strange feeling of contentment and inner peace. Content . . . to just BE.
As you continue to practice this, starting with a couple of times a day, you’ll begin noticing that you not only feel better and have more energy (tension requires a lot of energy to maintain), and that you can concentrate deeper and for longer periods of time, but that you aren’t experiencing “negative” emotions nearly as often. This is because most emotions, particularly negative ones, form tension in your body. Notice that whenever you experience strong emotions, your whole body tenses up, with distinct concentrations of tension and strong sensations in particular parts of your body. You can work to control and regulate your emotional states just by learning to keep your body in a relaxed state. By managing your physical state, you simultaneously manage your emotional state to be equivalent, and you also manage your thoughts.
Notice, that when you feel relaxed, you have a tendency to feel positive (or neutral) emotionally, and your thoughts which are normally produced by others, environmental influences, and your emotional states, slow down, become relaxed and take on a somewhat pleasant quality. Also allow yourself to notice that some emotions actually produce a relaxed state, specifically feelings of love, beauty and grief. So as you begin releasing tension from your body, and develop the ability to maintain a relaxed state consistently, you begin naturally experiencing more pleasant emotions and the type of thoughts that go with them.
Start off doing this practice for short periods of between 5 and 15 minutes, once or twice a day, and begin using it to go to sleep at night. The more you do it, the easier it gets, and the quicker you can enter the full state of relaxation. By practicing for 4 to 6 weeks, a couple of times a day, it’ll become natural to you and you’ll be able to induce the state at will in an instant fashion. The more you do it, and the easier it gets, you may notice that you start extending the length of time naturally (relaxing feels good). Do whatever comes natural that you’re comfortable with doing. Once you’ve been doing it for awhile, and realize how good it feels, you’ll start doing it more often. You’ll begin using it like a tool for “self-management” anytime you feel stressed, anxious, or having a strong emotional event of some sort. The more present and relaxed you become in your life, the healthier and happier you’ll be in the most general sense.
Dr. Linda Gadbois
Integrative Mind-Body Medicine
About the author:
Dr. Linda is a Spiritual Scientist and scholar of Hermetic Sciences and Ancient Wisdom traditions. She’s a professional educator and trainer for all areas of personal transformation, self-creation, mind development, and soul/spiritual evolution. She practices Integrative Medicine with a special emphasis on Psychology and Creative therapies. She conducts ongoing classes, Playshops, and Adventure Seminars, and is available for private or group training, mentoring, and speaking engagements.
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