It is shocking when problems “just go away” after practicing a powerful technique. I’m not talking about while feeling good in the midst of using a technique but afterwards.
Eye Movement stress clearing comes on fast, very fast (like under a minute). Suddenly a troubling thought, feeling, or visualization goes, goes somewhere but in our head, heart, or body.
Self-hypnosis has a way of doing its thing so quietly in the background we frequently forget not only the problem but that we used hypnosis to get rid of it! “What are you talking about? I never had a problem with that. You must be thinking of someone else.”
Mantra meditation tunes our emotional reactivity way down. Quietly but firmly inner resources that had been hidden away come into the foreground. Our thinking is astonishingly clearer. We see more options out of nowhere. We a natural confidence pops up. What was overwhelming before we started mantra meditation seems like no big thing.
Alpha production practices have the same general effects as mantra meditation but also release large amounts of positivity. Positivity should not be confused with positive thinking. Positivity is a natural upwelling of good mood and capabilities such as heightened creativity, optimism, and a connection to the world that makes us want to approach life problems. Goodbye to avoidance or running away.
This does feel weird when it happens to us the first few times.Can this be true? Can we feel good even while thinking about our problems? Where did all these options come from? Confidence? Wow.
These techniques, few in number, are what I call: the ultimate techniques. The get to the heart of stress-relaxation and give us everything we are seeking.
This sounds too good to be true, but it is a common side-effect of these very special techniques. It will happen to you, too.
Analogies to Know Series – Learn these analogies and you will know a lot about stress and relaxation
Shortly after the turn of the 20th century two Harvard professors developed a bell curve that has remained tremendously important in stress research to this day.
Their curve shows in very simple terms where our physiology is when we are relaxation or arousal. Our heartbeat, blood pressure, stress-related hormones, and many other bodily factors change whether are relaxed or stressed out. The curve doesn’t show any medical measurements because most body changes increase or decrease in a progression matching how much relaxation or pressure we are experiencing.
Yerkes and Dodson established that stress and relaxation:
Runs along a continuous path
We find ourselves somewhere on this path and we can only be at one point on the path not two, three, etc.
relaxation and stress are in a mixture nearly always, sort of a yin-yang setup. At points on the path relaxation is increasing and stress is decreasing. At other times, stress is increasing and stress therefore is on the fall
Beyond showing that we live and shuffle along a relaxation-stress path, there are locations that considered to be ripe for peak performance, where we are doing our best and usually feeling very, very good as well. Researchers looking at the psychology happiness find that people who frequently experience the peak performance points report higher levels of happiness than those who don’t
Peak Performance Peak
Now we need to take Yerkes-Dodson’s nice linear path and put a hump in it to form the bell curve. At the top is the point of recognized peak performance. It is a mixture of moderate relaxation with moderate arousal (stress). If we are too low down on the peak, on the left-side of the peak, we have too much relaxation. If we reach the peak and start to slide down to the right, we have too much arousal. The sweet spots are at the top and around it. Flow, the special experience of sports people and anyone else who brings skill, work, and attention to the moment and focuses in, sits at the top of the peak.
So this means we aren’t chasing after pure relaxation and avoiding arousal. If we pursued relaxation to its end point at the left bottom of the curve, we would experience extreme lassitude. If we pursue arousal to the far right side of the curve, we would be in pure panic.
Yerkes and Dodson have given us a map. We can always ask ourselves: “Where am I on the curve right now?” If the answer is not where we want or need to be, then we can pull out a variety of tools to pick up our arousal or to tone it down. That’s where this blog comes in….showing you the tools to move you along the Yerkes-Dodson bell curve. Keep reading.
Wikipedia entry on Yerkes-Dodson – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yerkes%E2%80%93Dodson_law
Stress seems like such a simple thing when we first start. We know that we are stressed and we know the sources of our stress so we start practicing a relaxation technique.
With just a little bit of work we feel stress lift from our body, heart, and head. At last we are free….totally free.
If we don’t stop and we keep practicing, we notice things we had not seen in the beginning. Under the first layer of stress is another. “This must be it, the final layer, no more,” we tell ourselves. We go after it and in time, we peel that one back.
If we continue to practice our technique and try others that will deepen our experience of relaxation we will find: “Wait! This can’t be….there is more tension/stress!”
We have layers and layers of stress.
This can be seen as a burden, or, as I hope you will see it, a journey of discovery followed by a journey of work. Discover one, work it to peel it and then go again to find more layers. This journey will be profound because with many layers, comes not only less stress, but heightened awareness, positivity, and creativity.
Find a handful of practices, practice, discover, and peel.
There are times of particular importance and need when we should work stress techniques hard. Many of these instances will be so charged with energy, mainly negative, it will be a real challenge to do a technique plus handle the situation. This is why we should practice our favorite techniques during the quiet, regular times so we can be really ready to bring them out in the hard spots.
Relaxation techniques are not a cure all, at least if we are beginners or intermediate users. They do: clear our heads, help put things into perspective, sharpen the brain’s executive function, slow things down, open us to intuition and insight, speed our reflexes, reduce our reactivity, add some wise distancing, and open the imagination.
Before Some Important Event – This will clear your head and center you to deal with what is happening in the moment
After Some Important Event – At some point we need to absorb what happened and clear our head so we are ready for what comes next. Relaxation techniques can help us reset.
When We Doing Something Too Much -If we are feeling anxious, fearful, depressed, hyper, or worried, then we are already too energized. When we are too energized we are reacting rather than seeing what is going on and we are moving too fast to realize that we have options.
When the Past Comes Up Trying to Link Our Present to Our Past Our mind is primed to compare what is happening in the moment with what it already has experienced. When it finds a match, even a very faint match, it serves up what it already knows and have experienced. If it had a early negative experience involving someone who was bossy it will find that same bossy person in anyone who largely or slightly resembles the original offender. Up will come the early emotions that typically are very energetic, filled with those feelings we had at a time we had very little experience with dealing with people and very few psychological defenses. These feelings will be raw and confusing. Relaxation techniques will cut their effect and help us focus on the present, freer from the past.
When Wisdom Tells Us to Reduce Hanging Onto Something Our emotions may be telling us to hang onto something like anger or sadness but eventually we know that it is time to move on. That is far from easy. To assist a wise move, relaxation can help us release our grasping emotion and it brings our mind away from the emotion towards doing something new.
When We Are Confused – When We Just Feel Out of Sorts or Off We may not know why we feel this way but we can still do something about it. Relaxation techniques that bring us back to our body and simplify our experience help us center us. Centering can give us a feeling that we are more in self-control of our feelings and more ready to handle what is happening in the moment.
When We Are Tired But We Have Had Plenty of Sleep Our unconscious can tie-up our energy in worries, sadness, etc. so much so we feel a fatigue we can’t explain. Relaxation can release these knots and when that happens energy returns.
I maintain that it is important to demystify a lot of the ideas around stress-relaxation practices. Scrap away the mystery and we find that we already do many of the essentials of these practices as we go about our daily lives. What we need to do is polish what we already do, add a bit here and there and, boom, you’ve got something powerful.
Demystifying Meditation: It’s Concentration! When we think of concentration, we associate it with worldly concerns and worldly achievement. We think of students in the library, or a chess player, quieting sitting and intently staring at the chess board. Or a fictional figure like Sherlock Holmes intent upon unraveling the mystery wrapped in a clue. Perhaps a day-trader or a surgeon making increasingly delicate cuts, come to mind.
Concentration seems far from another mental state, meditation, but is it really? Isn’t concentration the heart of meditation?
Concentration is a mental practice that burns energy, a heck of a lot of energy, around attending to something or things, and rejecting the rest. Concentration is largely the art of rejection.
Let’s take a closer look at what’s involved. To concentrate (or meditate), we must:
-Build a mental wall -Aim to maintain that wall -Determine what is on our side of the way (what we consider is our object concentration) -Set that anything that is not on our side of the wall must be rejected as distraction -Remember all of the above rules and apply them constantly during a period in which we wish to concentrate/meditate
Meditation Using Concentration The vast majority of meditation techniques employ the above rules of concentration. We may not think of it that way nor is it advertised that meditation sharpens our ability to concentrate, but that is what is going on.
Sometimes meditation sets what we keep inside of our wall of concentration in very simple terms, such as the sensation of breathing felt at the end of the nose. As we breathe, air in, air out what anything but the sensation is kept out using our force of concentration.
Mindfulness meditation usually takes in broader stimuli, such as awareness of sounds, touch, or even the flow of thoughts. But, the wall is there and we reject everything else.
Highly complex movement meditation the Japanese tea ceremony or the long bow, takes in some movement and the implements of that activity (i.e. tea preparation devices, tea cups, and more), and the remainder of whatever else is happening outside and within is excluded.
A mantra, either spoken or articulated in the mind, again, excludes all but the mantra, or almost everything.
Candle gazing, places our eyes on one attractive point and excludes the surrounding landscape.
Concentration (a.k.a. meditation) – What we get out of it At times a free, wandering mind is a great pleasure and can lead to creativity. Most of the time, the wandering mind takes us to dark places such as past traumas and current ruminations around our worries. Anxiety and depression, is major or subtle forms, flourish in that soil. Also, we tend to think constantly and emote constantly. Nothing against thought and feeling but constantly? We overtax ourselves.
We can simply be ourselves, from time to time, and simply experience what is going on in the moment. Striving, worrying, calculating, slowly loosens, dissolves, and even can disappear for a time as we concentrate.
A long record shows that concentration can free us from worldly concerns, lower self-watching and therefore self-criticism, comparison-making, endless wishing for something else, impatience, and more. When that happens, we are at last….freer than we have been in a long, long time.
The freedom feels like soaring.
Simplicity releases a surprising amount of energy and uplift that can’t be missed. This is probably our unconscious letting go and stopping all of the behind-the-scenes work it does for us and the energy comes free.
The center of our attention—mantra, candle flame, sound, etc— becomes brighter, more alive, more relevant to us. We feel connected to the object of our attention, and for some unknown reason, we feel more connected to the larger, world.
This would seem totally incredible if we were in the early years of biofeedback, say the 1960s: consumer focused, affordable, and wearable biofeedback instruments. A dream then, a reality now.
In recent years, we have seen the steady growth of such devices. First it started with heart-rate monitors for runners and then it went into many sleep tracking devices, from watches to bedside EEG monitors to beds holding bio-monitoring hardware.
Now we have the first breathing monitors. As we have discussed before, breathing is very powerful force in determining our mental states and our mental states are a powerful force in determining our body state through our way of breathing. A new device, Spire, is a good start of what I hope will be an extensive wave of breathing monitoring.
Spire, What is It?
Tracking breathing has required: wearing a sensor built around the chest or holding your nose next to the microphone of a smartphone so it can hear inhales and exhales. Spire has moved all sensing to hardware only slightly larger than a 25 cent piece.
Taking a cue from all of those advertising photos for spas and yoga centers, the makers of Spire have made their device look like a small flat stone. The stone-like device has a large clip that allows clipping Spire to your pants/belt-loop area or to the center strap of a bra. That’s it. Once on, it is all ready for monitoring.
Breathing movement is captured by the stone and data are sent to a the phone app where it is decoded and turned into a usable display.It should be noted that Spire concentrates our breathing when we are still as sitting around or resting. Not stock still but not up moving around, either. When we are still and our breathing moves into a tracked zone (Tense, Calm, or Focused), data are summarized and we can be buzzed by Spire that we have been in one of those zones. If we are alerted that we are in the Tense Zone, we can choose to relax or use a 3 minute exercise on the app. This works the same for the other two zones, Calm and Focused.
Zones are determined by how many breaths we take per minute and how consistent the movement of those breaths are across a few minutes. If our breathing is slow and smooth, we are in the Calm Zone. If it is faster but smooth, we are in Focus and if our breathing is fast and choppy, we are Tense.
Thoughts on Spire
I’ve been using Spire for about a month now and I like it. I first set it to buzz me when I was Tense. Many times, I wasn’t perceiving I was under any special stress. Clearly, my body was seeing things differently. Now, I’m following Spire’s heads-up and trusting my body has it right and I need to back off with a few moments of deep, slow breathing.
Tracking Focus is an exciting possibility. Beyond real-time alerting when we are in Focus, Spire includes guided breathing session of a few minutes to shift us there. If I pay attention to the alerts and do the practice sessions, I should be able to learn the secret of calling up Focus.
One capability I wish was included is the ability to have Spire simply show breaths per minute so a person could work towards specific breaths per minute target. Getting the breath under 10 bpm is beneficial for lowering blood pressure and is relaxing. Going deeper, down to 6 bpm conveys additional health benefits and is very relaxing. Throwing in a timer and an optional guided session to do this would be a valuable improvement.
I recommend getting Spire, but its real potential will only become realized by wearing the device daily and giving it dedicated attention and doing the guided sessions. The device is well made, easy to pair to your phone, easy to recharge, and stays put wherever you clip it. (Note: I do not receive any compensation from Spire or through its purchase at the link below).