1. Abdominal breathing
This technique is so simple and effective that it will become addictive. You will find yourself seeking a quiet corner wherever you are to practice it. You do not need to purchase anything either! Twice a day, for 15-20 minutes, lie down on the floor, sofa, or bed and breathe deeply while staying awake. Stretch out in a comfortable position on your back, bending your knees and putting your feet on the floor. Place your hands on your lower belly, below the navel. Breathe slowly into your abdomen so that your hands move up and down gently. Stay awake but very relaxed. You may, if you wish, do progressive relaxation. This entails relaxing each part of the body in turn from the head down. This can help you stay awake. Of course, you do not need to feel like a failure if you do doze off. Consider yourself a master of the power nap!
This method of relaxing is completely different from the one above. They can be combined easily, however. Our minds are responsible for a lot of our stressed reaction to life. We worry and obsess about the future and about things we cannot control in any way. We also give ourselves negative messages about our capabilities and appearance on a regular basis. A diet of this erodes self-esteem. A lack of self esteem can convince us that we cannot cope with events. You see how this produces a never-ending cycle.
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Replace your negative thoughts with a positive thought. If you try to do this every time you have a negative thought, you will probably get into arguing with yourself. For example, if you were planning to attend a class reunion, your mind might say, “They are all going to notice how much you’ve aged.” Then your mind must say something like, “I’ve lived my life as well as I could, and if I look older, so be it.” Then another part of your mind will say, “But you could have lost a few pounds for the reunion.” See how it goes? You get nowhere. The way to replace your negative thoughts is to come up with a universal, comprehensive, positive statement that is true for you. Once you have this worked out, say it to yourself all the time. That’s right: say it all the time. Say it in the shower, driving the car, vacuuming; say it whenever your mind is not concentrating on something worthwhile. Believe me, this is a lot of the time. Once you begin to do this, you will also notice how useless and repetitious most of your thoughts are.
You may have heard the statement that the late Dale Carnegie is said to have repeated to himself daily. “Every day in every way, I am getting better and better.” We tend to laugh at this because it sounds a little egotistical. But think about it. How often do we tell ourselves just the reverse in constant, nagging inner chatter full of doubts and negativity.
Some people are able to feel comfortable saying something like, “I always do my best.” This does not mean you are perfect; it simply states the truth that you do the best you can. Statements like, “My heart is full of love for all” create a wonderful mental atmosphere. If you are spiritually oriented or religious, you can say something like, “I am always guided and protected.” Remember: keep it simple; keep it positive. Do not say something like, “I will not think negative thoughts.” Rather, say, “My mind now focuses on the positive.” See the difference? Also, make your affirmation believable. If saying “I respond with love to all around me” causes a small “Oh, yeah?” response in your mind, then step it down to something you can believe. Perhaps, “I bring more love into my encounters” feels more appropriate.
The important thing is to choose an affirmation and get started with it. Say it all the time. Write it on Post-it notes and post them around the house. After a while, you will want to change it. Feel free; it is your affirmation. What will this technique do for you? First, it takes up mental space so that your negative thoughts have no room. Secondly, it fills the mental space with peaceful and powerful messages that keep the autonomic nervous system relaxed because it does not sense any danger.
Meditation is a technique to quiet the mind and relax the body on a regular basis. For some people, it has spiritual overtones because if you are not experiencing yourself as a mind or a body, who are you? People who meditate come into contact with the timeless and formless sense of themselves. This is truly relaxing and highly desirable for many reasons. Although there are many types of meditation, all types focus on relaxation through awareness of the breath and emptying the mind of thoughts. Many people find this very difficult to do. I will try to give you some tips that may relieve the pressure if you are just learning to meditate. Of course, there are many wonderful meditation teachers who can work with you individually, and I suggest you find one if you are drawn to do so. It is also true that a form of meditation is usually included in yoga classes because it is easier to meditate when you are physically relaxed. If you learn to do this in yoga classes, you can practice the same techniques at home.
4. Relax your body
People new to meditation are usually daunted by the advice to “sit in a relaxed posture on the floor with your spine completely straight and your legs crossed.” Most of us do not spend much time sitting this way in our daily life, and it feels uncomfortable. It is just fine to sit in a chair, with a pillow supporting your back, and your feet flat on the floor. Or sit on the sofa and cross your legs. The goal is to stay erect and comfortable without going to sleep.
5. Relax your mind.
Worse than the fight with the body is the fight with the mind! Thoughts seem to cascade through your consciousness just when you want none at all. This is another good time for your affirmation. You see, sophisticated as it is, your mind can only hold one thought at a time. If you are thinking “I am now relaxed,” thoughts about whether it is time to change the oil in your car cannot intrude! With practice, you will find little islands of time appear when you are not saying your affirmation and you are not thinking about anything else. That’s great. Consider it natural when your mind suddenly realizes it has switched off and kicks into high gear like a drowning person taking a first breath. Just go back to the affirmation. Be gentle with yourself.
6. Control your breath.
We have already demonstrated the importance of controlling the breath as a way to control the stress response. Controlling the breath is also an integral part of meditation. Just as you may experience moments without thought, you may find that you require fewer breaths while meditating. You will be able to go for several seconds without breathing. This is fine and normal when it happens, but do not force it. Focusing on the breath is a way to control the mind. Since it can handle only one thought at a time, if it is thinking about breathing, it won’t think about anything else.