Relaxing to Visualize & Imagine, Uncategorized

Easy Starts: How to Jump Into Meditation

I’m frequently asked what are the best books for starting mediation. I have settled on a short list of resources. Two of them are listed here:

The Calm Technique: Meditation Without Magic or Mysticism – Australian Paul Wilson came out with this book some time ago but it remains one of my favorites because it is so clear, simple, and precise in its introduction to breathing and mantra meditation. You will find this highly valuable book priced from 1 cent to about 2 bucks. Amazon link

Unplug for an Hour, a Day, or a Weekend: Create a Home Sanctuary with 32 Contemplation Cards, Companion Guidebook, 2 CDs of Guided Meditations is a complete look at mindfulness meditation. It comes in a fun format of: a booklet, two CDs, and “contemplation cards”. Perhaps I’m a sucker for this sort of packaging but it helps make the whole thing feel like an all encompassing experience. At any rate, this box of meditation is grossly under priced ($10) given what Sharon Salzberg includes in her instruction. Amazon link

Relaxing to Visualize & Imagine

The Smile Powerhouse

Photos of smiling nuns taken when they came into religious service when they were in their early 20s, reveal which will live the longest. The right type of smile, wrong type of smile, it makes a difference.

While conducting research on the physiology of facial expressions in the mid-19th century, french physician Guillaume Duchenne identified two distinct types of smiles. A “Duchenne smile” involves contraction of both the zygomatic major muscle (which raises the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi muscle (which raises the cheeks and forms crow’s feet around the eyes). A non-Duchenne smile involves only the zygomatic major muscle.  Many researchers believe that Duchenne smiles indicate genuine spontaneous emotions since most people cannot voluntarily contract the outer portion of the orbicularis oculi muscle. The young women who were fated to be long-living and healthier nuns, wore the Duchenne smiles in their entry photos.

Fake smiles, on the other hand point a person in the direction of greater stress and greater illness. “A study of city bus drivers led by a Michigan State University business scholar found that the drivers who fake smiles at work worsen their mood throughout their day, which in turn affects their productivity. The problem is that smiling for the sake of smiling can lead to emotional exhaustion and withdrawal. Women were hurt more than men by the fake smiles, which the researchers attribute to the fact that women are both expected to and do show greater emotional intensity and expressiveness than men.” Link to article

Meditation masters have picked up on the power of the smile. Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hanh makes a simple smile part of his basic mindfulness practice (link to article)  Modern Taoist and teacher, Mantak Chia carries smiling instruction further by having us smile to the many parts of our body using an actual smile and our mind’s eye. Each part gets a smile and the opportunity to bath in good will and relaxation. Link to article on Chia’s methods  Link to Chia’s book, The Inner Smile

Relaxing to Visualize & Imagine

Go Wide Focus – An instant stress reduction technique – [Post: Visualize]

This is an instant stress reduction technique in that it can be brought out, anywhere, anytime and–if practiced–will bring stress levels down very quickly. Stress comes down, but not to zero but to a level where you will have more wiggle room.

There are two secrets to this technique. First, it goes completely opposite of what your body and mind has been created to do when you are under a little or a lot of stress. Stress involves a narrowing of our focus. Our work shrinks down to what is of greatest interest to us at the moment. That can be worry, jumping out of the way of a bus, or trying to decide: “Do I flee, fight, or freeze?”

If you are jumping out of the way of a bus there is little you can do to control your stress narrowing of the mind. Nor would you want to! You are on a mission to save your life. If you are in less dire situations such as about to go into a job interview/review or are caught in the web of worry, then this is a good time to take your mind in the opposite direction.  Widening your focus, even for a few moments, will have an impact. Your attention will open up and your mind will open up. Then you might see a new way, or you might be able to catch your breath which will give you a chance to ground yourself in the moment and in your personal values.

The Technique

Right now, stop reading and expand your awareness to the space around you. You can either listen to or see actual things in the space or you can use your memory to flit from one point in the room and then to another and to another. This latter approach, gives you a sense of how big the space is. As you bring up memories to various points in the room such as the lamp in the corner behind you, the desk across the room, the doorway to the left, and the ceiling, your mind throws in details such as distance from you to these objects. This provides an approximation of the size of the space.

Hold that awareness for a few seconds or longer if you can. How do you feel? Your narrowed stress focus will be tugging at you to go back to where it was but just keep working the technique. Eventually, you probably will hit a balance of narrowed focus and Go Wide Focus.

You can go even wider if you have the chance. Think of a larger area just outside, perhaps the building, or the block. Or really open things up and think of the size of the sky. Anything to break you from the fixation of your stress-induced narrowed focus.

Look for a preferred way of doing this. You might find getting a fix on your immediate surroundings is the more powerful and effective way to go. Others will prefer very grand vistas (either visible or in the mind’s eye). Find yours.

Of course, you can flit between being in the narrowed focus to the Going Wide Focus and back again. You will not lose track with what’s going on around you or what you are there to do. What you will appreciate is the sudden easing of the stress so you can think and feel a bit more freely and be ready to explore new options when they pop up in your mind or appear before you.

Found Additional Resources:

Big Sky Meditation with Bells – Spirit Rock/Dharma Seed recording for streaming and downloading – go to Website – This presenter uses the Going Wide Focus technique and applies it to a meditation retreat surrounding for an extended time period.

Relaxing to Visualize & Imagine

Slow Paced Breathing

Breathing steps forward again and gives us the way out of stress and access to our the power of relaxation. Most days our rate of breathing, measured by breaths per minute, is somewhere between 12 to 18 bpm. A nice pace that keeps our breathing shallow and our mind zipping along.

If we want to get to a more relaxed place, we need to get bpm down to a maximum of 10. According to studies, keeping our breathing at no more than 10 bpm for about 15 minutes twice a day kicks in changes to bring many people’s blood pressure into the desired healthy range and can retrain the body to keep pressure down. Bringing the breath rate down reduces the stress response that gets our body to release smooth muscle tension that can clamp down on our blood vessels, raising blood pressure.

That’s one benefit. If we can learn to lower our bpm at will, we will have superior control over our stress. We can bring our breathing rate way down, lowering our stress level with it. By decreasing our breathing in steps, we can get to 6, 5, and maybe four breaths per minute. That’s right, 4 or 5 breaths per minute. So, what does that feel like. Alert, calm, in-control relaxation.

Getting Paced
The trick is taking a fast breathing pace and slowly, over some minutes, bring it down by increasing the exhalation time and the time between exhalation and inhalation. Trying to keep this in your head, by counting seconds of breathing, is tough, so that is where equipment, audio recordings, software, and apps come in.

Equipment
Resperate came on the market about five years ago when eight studies showed good results for lowering high blood pressure in some patients. It is about $300 or so and comes with CD player sized main unit, headphones, and a chest strap. The chest strap contains a sensitive device that keeps track of your breathing. The main unit shows your starting breathing rate and then plays music and voice instructions to slowly bring your breath down to at least ten bpm. A digital readout gives a precise count of your breath rate per minute. Great for both blood pressure work and general relaxation training. Recommended. Link

The Nightwave is a simple device that sits on your nightstand and projects a soft light on your bedroom ceiling. By breathing along with this beam of light (it slowly fades on and fades off), you can lower your breath and thereby ease yourself to sleep. Link

Audio Recordings
Several relaxation artists have put together mp3 and CD recordings of music with special signals marking when to breathe in and when to breathe out. This is a low-cost way to do this work, and the music adds another dimension to paced breathing.

Breathe Away High Blood Pressure – Highly Recommended (good music with a Tibetan bowl as signal) – Link

Breathe Easy – Highly Recommended – 6 CDs ambient and classical music choices – Link

Slow Down! – Recommended – Link

Apps
If you have a smart phone or iTouch, there are some apps available to lead your breathing (this is great app developers have jumped into this). These apps include verbal instructions, intros to paced breathing, tones, and graphics to get you to the right speed. Here are a few:

Breathing Zone (iTunes app store or www.breathing-zone.com)

Universal Breathing (iTunes app store)

Software
The makers of the Nightwave have produced a download/CD (the Daywave) that puts a small icon on your PC that helps users pace their breathing. The icon is a bubble that expands when it is time to breath in and shrinks in size when it is time to breath out. A nice work-day relaxation companion. Link

Here’s a similar software program called, Breathe Away TensionLink

Relaxing to Visualize & Imagine

Secret Stress Control Method #1

Shhh….no one needs to know that you are reducing your stress. Quietly, whenever things are in chaos, you can at least take off the edge of stress with this technique. No one will suspect what’s up.

Deep breathe a few times

It is as simple as breathing, but you have got to do it right. In my workshops and when coaching individuals, I show them a shot glass and a normal sized coffee mug. I hold the shot glass up to the my chest, above my heart and say:

“Most people when they are under stress, either breath just to the top of their lungs or if things are really going to heck in a hand basket, they hold their breath. Great for underwater sponge or pearl divers but not good for the rest of us. You need more than a shot glass for of air to think well, to have choices of how you are going to react, and to stay out of trouble.”

I put away the shot glass and hold up the coffee mug and press into my stomach area at my navel.

“Pretend you have this coffee mug right here, under your rib cage, in your belly. Now breathe in and think of pulling your breath all the way down to the coffee mug without bothering to fill the rest of your lungs. Push out your belly to make more room as more air comes down. Don’t over do it, just breath but breath down to your “coffee mug.” ”

Do:
To bring down your stress, fill your belly coffee cup by breathing in for 5 or 6 seconds. Hold for a few seconds and exhale. Repeat. Do this about 4 or 5 times and you will have taken your edge off.

If you want to, go ahead and keep breathing this way for several more minutes. Since you are not over doing it, you will not hyperventilate. You will feel different as you bring more oxygen to the point in your lungs where it can be easily absorbed.

No one will be the wiser, but your body will thank you.

See our Relax Guides downloads to the right of this post for a copy of Deep Breathing instructions.

Relaxing to Visualize & Imagine

The Big View of Relaxation That Few See

When most people think of relaxation, they are underwhelmed. They “know” that it is something they “need” but it sounds like knowing that broccoli is good for you and that you need to add it to your diet. Most people are not impressed. Sadly, they are not motivated to explore the true realm of relaxation.

Relaxation is more than something that is good for our body.  Relaxation is the doorway to most of  those experiences we consider as making a life worth living. That’s the big view. Relaxation reduces our built-in negativity bias, that is seeing the threats and risks of life around every corner even if there are no threats or risks there. Our long ago ancestors needed this to survive, but we carry too much of this. Relaxation brings ups the powers within us to see with a positivity bias—seeing good, potential, and creativity around most corners. This is not a false vision. Positive stuff is out there and stress has been blinding us.

Think of the time you were last on vacation or at least had the opportunity to take a good break from your normal life. It took a few days to tune down the previous work-a-day focus. By the third day, something was happening to you. You probably found yourself not only more energized, but also curious, more observant, clear-headed, open to helping others, thinking of possibilities, savoring, appreciating, and day-dreaming. You were becoming, without effort, the product of the forces of relaxation and that was changing your mind, heart, and body.

Relaxation pushes us into the positive realm. The positive realm is powerful. It opens us to new ideas, new relationships, and renewed self-promises to follow our dreams. Sounds corny but it is how we are hardwired. Bring down stress enough and by default, we go to the positive realm. No choice, really, that is how we are built.

To get really crazy, at the far end of the positive realm lies deep experiences of flow and mystical experience. Flow is feeling so connected to what you are doing that you feel bonded to it in some mysterious way. Time stops and the center of your focus enlivens.  Mystical experience, properly defined, comes in a few different flavors. The most commonly experienced form is feeling part of something much bigger than one’s self and that some how the world is alive. The old mystics (and the new ones) get to these places by turning down stress and turning up openness, curiosity, and generosity—all bi-products of relaxation. You can’t get to these places with a furrowed brow and an anxious mind.

If we stop defining relaxation as something that is good for us like broccoli and flossing and instead learn to jump into the river of relaxation, we will discover a whole, broad, positive world.