I have been there in the thrilling rush of life: school, dating, getting married, traveling, kids, work, obligations, buying and remodeling a house, money, duty, getting along with the family and neighbors, laundry, grocery shopping, exercising, … to the point that all of it kept swirling around in my mind.
Without a minute of rest.
And then one day the harmful effects of stress become too much and you crash. Your life is turned upside down and you are tumbling left and right, dealing with anxiety, depression, panic attacks, insomnia or worse. It can happen to everyone of us. The most important is what you will DO in order to get back on track. Not just like before. Not as if nothing had ever happened. But finding a rhythm of life where you can juggle the demands of modern life while keeping your balance and sanity.
Relaxation and meditation have helped me recover from a severe anxiety disorder. They are an important part of my self-care and I practice as often as I can, ideally every day.
Do not be afraid when you read the words relaxation or meditation. It has nothing to do with god or religion. You will not experience an alien encounter.
It is just a time when you stop living outside in the world around you and simply visit for a while the quiet place inside of you.
It is hidden under several layers of thoughts, worries and to-do lists. I could use names like your inner sanctuary or your private garden to describe this place, but they make my teenage girls laugh. So let’s just call it the quiet place. If you have not been there before, you might not know exactly how to reach your destination. I will come to this later when we talk about the relaxation response. The more time you spend there, the better you will feel after: grounded, calm, connected. You will be stronger to face whatever happens to you, whichever storm you have to go through. In my opinion, no pill can give you the strength, courage and fortitude you need to overcome adversity as relaxation and meditation will ever give you.
One of my favorite relaxation technique is the Relaxation Response.
In his book called “The relaxation Response”, Herbert Benson, M.D., gives you a mind/body approach to conquer the harmful effects of stress. In a nutshell, the book explains how we come equipped with the survival instinct of the fight-or-flight response. When faced with a stressful situation our bodies release hormones (adrenaline or epinephrine) to increase our heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, metabolic rate and blood flow to the muscles, gearing our bodies to do battle with an opponent or flee. However in modern times, anxiety and tension often keep us in this fight-or-flight state and this is detrimental to our good health.
Fortunately, our body comes equipped with another survival instinct: the ability to heal and rejuvenate our bodies by inducing a physiologic state of quietude called the relaxation response. Regular elicitation of the relaxation response can prevent, and compensate for, the damage caused by daily stress and anxiety.
How to elicit the relaxation response? Two essential components are required:
- Repetition of a word, sound, phrase, prayer or muscle activity
- Passively disregarding everyday thoughts that come to mind and returning to your repetition
That’s it! It is that easy! You can repeat any kind of word (like one, two following your breath in and out), any kind of short prayer (like “Hail Mary full of grace”). You can practice your relaxation quietly sitting in your bedroom or while exercising. For example, if you are jogging or walking, pay attention to the cadence of your feet on the ground (left, right, left, right) and when other thoughts come into your mind, disregard them and gently return to your focus. Do not worry if you are doing it right or wrong.
Practice this relaxation response for 10 to 20 minutes, once or twice daily. Good times to do so are before breakfast and before dinner.
Let me know your thoughts on this and which other relaxation or meditation technique you would recommend.
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