Practical tips for relaxation, connection, and meditation
A lot is said about being in the Now, living in the moment, regrouping or relaxing in order to relieve stress and otherwise live a fuller life. One can only achieve such a goal through practice.
The exercises below can be the backbone of a practice session, but they can also be implemented at any time of the day, used on the fly before engaging in any activity. They are a great antidote to anger outburst or panic attacks.
Meditation and relaxation techniques often make use of several of them simultaneously.
These exercises prepare for meditation but they also will help you to get out of anxiety, tamper anger and fall asleep.
1 - Uncross the arms
By themselves, crossed arms do not mean much but they invite shoulder tension. They are often read as a blocking, resisting or protective attitude. Opening the arms will also promote the opening of the chest.
2 - Open the hands
Hands tend to twist and curl into stiff finger mini-sculptures. They clench into fists under anger.
Release the fists, loosen the fingers, and a calmer flow will resume its course.
3 - Drop the shoulders
Upper body is associated with upper (cognitive) brain function. Overuse of this part of the brain (Brain 3) brings tension to the upper body and namely in the shoulders.
Drop the shoulders, let the arms dangle at your side,
4 - Release the belly
The lower abdomen is associated with Brain 2, the connection brain. Westerners tend to hold their belly in, thus limiting their ability to connect. Tight belly also promotes the unnatural chest breathing. Natural breath is created by the belly going in and out without the use of chest muscles.
Loosen your belly and enjoy a few natural breathes.
5 - Relax the tongue
The tongue is a powerful muscle holding a lot of energy. Releasing the tension on the tongue helps to relax all muscles of the head, neck, and shoulders. Natural flow will resume to the brain, promoting its oxygenation and improving its performance.
6 - Relax the jaw
The lower jaw clenches easily. Its release works along relaxing the tongue and other head muscles.
7 - Relax the chest
Relieving the tension in the pectoral muscles will relieve all other upper body muscles, including shoulders, arms, abs, upper and lower back. It is easier to do and feel when lying down to relax or trying to fall asleep.
8 - Relax the inner thighs
Relaxing the inner thighs will relax everything from the hip down. It is also easier to practice when lying down or sitting. The inner thigh may not be easy to identify and control. Sensing it with fingers may help at the beginning.
9 - Relax the eyes
Attention, focus - and of course screen time - tend to strain the eyes into a fixed gaze. Eyes are held in their sockets and moved around by tiny muscles. These need to stretch and rest as well.
Use the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Placing the palms on top of the closed eyes without pressure –palming– leaves the eyes in a total darkness. This is also very relaxing.
Simple actions can enhance focus.
10 - Lift up the toes
Keeping your toes up, even inside your shoes, helps to focus on the matter at hand
As soon as you are distracted from your main focus, they will fall back down
11 - Watch the pinkies
The nerves of this little finger are not wired like on the other fingers. The pinky tends to be loose even when ring, middle and index fingers are kept together. Keeping your pinky pressed against the ring finger helps to keep your focus.
12 - Touch the palate with your tongue
This is not in contradiction with relaxing the tongue. It can be relaxed and yet have the tip in contact with the palate. Many Asian traditions consider maintaining this contact to be essential to proper energy circulation.
It is better to keep the tongue against the roof of the palate rather than just behind the teeth to avoid saliva to accumulate in the mouth and have to swallow too often.
Be in the NOW
Although easier to execute when in a meditation or relaxation session, these can be done at any time to raise awareness.
13 - Control the exhale – let loose on inhale
When voluntarily breathing, that is consciously using muscles to breathe, focus on the exhale. Control the exhale. Your body knows how to inhale fresh air. Breathing out stale air is what needs attention. Focus on the exhale. When doing breathing exercises, start on an exhale.
14 - Count breaths
A classic. Focus on the cycle of your breathing. To begin, count 4 breaths. Increase to 10 counts. Then to 100. If you lost count, start over. No cheating.
There is also a few breathing patterns to play with.
- Exhale, inhale.
- Exhale, inhale, hold.
- Exhale, hold, inhale, hold.
15 - Slow down your breath
Because ordinary breathing is shallow, we inhale and exhale up to 15 times per minute.
Focusing on your breathing, stretching the exhale and inhale, you can easily reduce it to 10 per minute.
Work your way down to 7, 5 and then 3 per minute.
16 - Observe your breath
As you breathe, notice that the air getting in is colder than the air getting out.
Pay attention to how your belly presses against your clothing.
Observe what muscles are involved
17 - Listen to noise around you
What do you hear? Can you hear what is behind the few obvious noises around you? Or further away?
A classic example is a small sound, like a clock ticking or a computer humming. If the room were quiet, it would be the only thing you hear. It's still there when the room is busy, but can you hear it? Seek it. Try to hear it.
18(bonus) - Count and keep track of sounds around
Close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you.
Give each sound a short name or a number, then loop through this checklist.
When a new sound suddenly appears, catch it, name it. This new sound is now part of your mental list.
At first, it may be difficult to pay attention to more than two or three sounds but you can quickly increase that number to seven or nine.
With attention, it becomes amazing how many distinct sounds may be around us. You can refine the distinction between the kinds sound or their respective source —front, back, left or right.