So much has been written about how to relax your mind and let go of the stress in our lives, and for good reason – it’s extremely beneficial for us. So with this in mind (excuse the pun) I’d like to offer a brief introduction and some simple but effective tips and techniques I have learnt to calm my world.
They’ve been doing it for thousands of years
…..so there must be something in it! It is commonly believed that meditation and mindfulness originate in prehistoric religions involving rhythmic chants or mantras. In ancient times the earliest evidence of meditation practice was from wall art in India showing people in meditative postures with half closed eyes – circa 5,000 to 3,500 BCE. The earliest textual records are found in the Hindu Vedas dating from 1700-1100 BCE. And so the practice has continued over thousands of years to the present day, from a predominantly religious and spiritual focus to include it’s use as a way to reduce stress and improve healthy living since being introduced to Western society in the 20th century.
Mindfulness or Meditation?
If you think about how to relax your mind and de-stress you may well be thinking mindfulness or meditation? We hear both of the terms used so often these days. Are they the same, do they overlap, does it matter? One very simple comparison is that mindfulness is the awareness of “some-thing”, whereas meditation is the awareness of “no-thing”. But then it is also said that minduflness is a form of meditation. And what is awareness! It is such a vast subject and we can be forgiven for being totally confused before we even start and therefore maybe never start. So, let’s have a look why we should definitely start considering some of the many benefits of these practices and look at a simple technique.
What’s in it for me?
Meditation really is the way to go, the benefits are numerous and scientifically proven – far too many to list here. Here are just a few you can expect if you take a little time to consistently get quiet:
- Lower Stress levels
The Daily Telegraph reported that “After meditation training of 20 minutes once a day for only 5 days, people, had measurably less anxiety and lower levels of the stress hormone “cortisol”. The paper also said that levels of anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue had also gone down.”
- Improve cognition.
It’s well known too that meditation and mindfulness can boost our cognitive abilities – mental clarity, stability, creativity and an increase in the length of time we are able to focus. A few minutes of mindfulness meditation every day improves what is called “working memory”, the ability to keep information active in one’s mind. The brain does this by becoming more efficient needing fewer brain resources to complete its tasks.
- Better attention span
A Harvard study carried out a few years ago reported that we spend a whopping 47% of our waking hours thinking about something other than what is happening right now. To help combat the wandering mind, the practice of meditation can improve focus similar – to the effect a physical workout has on your muscle tone. And in one California University study students who took a mindfulness class, meditating for 10-20 minutes four times a week for two weeks scored higher on memory tests and attention exercises than an alternative group who focused instead on healthy eating and nutrition for improvement.
- A Healthier You
The health benefits of mindfulness and meditation are many fold and scientifically well documented. It is known to reduce blood pressure, improve the immune system, general energy levels, breathing and heart rate. Not only living healthier but longer too. So much research is now being conducted around this practice, there is evidence of a reduction in heart and brain problems, a lessening of inflamitory disorders and asthma. Imagine what even just one of these health benefits could do for our lives! That’s just a few, but don’t take my word for it, there are countless studies reported online documenting the health benefits.
Getting down to it
So, how to relax your mind and lose the stress. Now we’ve learnt a little more about it, let’s try it. I recommend taking just 5 minutes if it’s your first time and gradually build from there – there will come a time when half an hour feels like 5 minutes. Find a place where you won’t be disturbed – where you can relax, feel secure and comfortable.
- Sit upright in a chair or cross legged on the floor and rest your hands on your lap. If you find this uncomfortable don’t worry, just get yourself in a comfortable position otherwise you’ll be distracted even before you start.
- It will help to close your eyes however, you may prefer to focus on an object – the flickering flame of a lighted candle being one of the most popular.
- If your place space is free from external noise, you may sit in silence or chose some relaxing music to play in the background. If sounds from the outside world disturb your quiet, music will really help. I live by a main road with a fair amount of traffic passing by and find noise cancelling headphones really help.
- Prepare to meditate. Take a few slow deep breaths, notice any tension areas around your body and try to relax them. Think of 3 things in your life to be thankful for and smile while your doing so. Gratitude is so effective in this process.
- Now, just be still, focus on your breath or an object if you prefer and enjoy the calm and restful state you’re in. And just like the passing traffic on my road, when the thoughts come into your mind – and they will – acknowledge them and let them pass by.
- Try this for just 5 or longer if wish. If I’m taking a few minutes lunchtime at work, I set a timer on my phone so that the clock is not a distraction. When you’re done, sit for a moment and reflect on how it felt, hopefully you’ll have improved your mind and spirit and feel refreshed to some degree.
How was That?
Congratulations you’ve just made a little investment in your overall wellbeing. Hopefully you’ll want to go again soon. By sticking with it, making this a daily habit you will begin to notice positive changes in your life. Keep a notebook or journal handy to record how each session was (some are better than others) and any changes you notice generally in your outlook, temperament and health. Those few minutes are your time – precious moments out of busy lives.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my thoughts on how to relax your mind and lose the stress – a simple technique but one, amongst others I use regularly. There’s nothing new here but I hope that my thoughts may give you some encouragement to give it a go and enjoy the benefits getting quiet can bring. I would really appreciate your comments, so please, leave one below.