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Relaxation and Meditation Exercises
We all need to take time out to relax. Whether we simply sit outside in the garden and close our eyes for 10 minutes, or learn how to relax our bodies so we can release physical tension during the day, or before sleep, learning a short, useful relaxation or meditation exercise can be very beneficial. Below are two visualisation exercises you can try, and links to meditation guides.
The Busy Mind – worry vs concern
We all go through phases when we have something on our minds, whether it’s a big work project, a decision to be made, illness in the family or anything that can preoccupy us for a period. This is concern. Concern is reasoned, and purposeful, it involves a cause and effect debate and allows us to seek solutions.
However, when we are experiencing stress, then all the little things can become big things. Suddenly your mind is racing, never quiet, and it’s all negative. We begin to worry - about work, deadlines, relationships with staff or bosses, job security. We worry about the family – what will happen if I lose my job? What will happen if we have to care for my mother/father if they don’t get better? What if something happens to one of the children? This is worry, and it is not logical. Worrying involves wishing that you could change the past (which you can’t), or imagining catastrophe for the future, which may never materialise. You can also waste a lot of time and energy having imaginary conversations with people, what you wish you had said during that argument, what you would say if you got the chance… meanwhile, we are physically tensing up and preventing yourself from relaxing and being in the moment of your life with your family or friends. Your mind is like a washing machine, with everything jumbled up and spinning around and around, getting tangled and confused.
Learning to relax can really help with clearing the mind. It is hard to believe but we all have control over our thoughts. You do not have to let your thoughts run away on you, you can stop this confusion and repetition by simply telling the brain that you don’t want to think about it any more. Learning a relaxation technique, whether it is meditation, visualisation, progressive muscle relaxation or simply a breathing exercise, will all help to calm a racing mind.
Below you will find several different types of relaxation exercises, two for you to learn yourself, and several on video/podcast to listen to and download. Try each one and see what works best for you. It can take several attempts to begin to really feel the benefit of a relaxation exercise, remember, your body and mind are not used to it, so give it a chance to work.
It is helpful to pick a quiet time of the day or evening, and to do your relaxation in the same spot each day – over time, simply going to this room, or chair, begins the process of relaxation as your brain associates this place with relaxing. When you are confident in your exercise you will be able to adapt it and use elements of it throughout the day when stressors arise, by simply taking a minute to breathe correctly, or actively relax your tense muscles, you will be able to defuse physical stress wherever you are.
Release Your Thoughts
This simple breathing exercise wil help you to re-establish calm breathing. It is a good “quick-fix” exercise to get you through a stressor or emotional situation.
Sit or lie in a quiet room with your eyes closed. Visualise your thoughts as a mass of bubbles. Exhale slowly through your mouth. As you do, imagine all those thought bubbles being blown away. You already begin to feel more relaxed.
If there is a specific thought or issue that you cannot stop thinking about, imagine a large bubble blowing up from your head. Visualise a word written across the bubble that represents this issue. Then imagine taking a big needle, and bursting the bubble. See the word melt away in the mist created by the bubble bursting. Imagine yourself saying “I will not waste any more energy thinking about this now, I cannot solve this today. I am putting it aside and allowing myself to relax”.
Now pay attention to your breathing. Breathe in through your nose in a long, steady breath. Feel your ribcage expanding out on either side, and lifting up – your lungs are two balloons that you are filling with fresh, clean air. Breathe out slowly and evenly through your mouth, feeling your ribcage slowly drop.
Stay focused on your breathing. If your mind wanders, use the bubble bursting visualisation and then bring your attention back to your breath.
Stay with this exercise for as long as is comfortable to you. When you are confident and able to induce relaxation easily, you can use it anywhere whenever you need it.
The Dissolved Body – Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This exercise is particularly good for learning to relax before going to sleep.
Lie comfortably in a warm room with your eyes closed. Allow your body and mind to slow down for a minute or two, by remaining still and quiet.
Keepng your eyes closed, take your attention to the toes of one foot. Clench them tightly for about five seconds, then relax them. As you clench and relax, imagine that your toes are turning to liquid, which then gently flows around you. Now clench and relax the other foot, turning it to liquid in the same way. If you have ever swum in a warm, tropical sea, use this memory or imagine how that water feels, to help the visualisation.
Continue to work progressively up your body, tensing and relaxing, and imagining all your limbs and muscles turning to liquid and flowing around you. Tense and relax your shins, your calves, your thighs and buttocks. Then focus on your stomach, your chest, your shoulders, and then down your arms, your hands, and fingers.
For your back, imagine each vertabrae of your spine detaching and melting away, from the bottom up. For your head and face, simply imagine your jaw unhinging, your eyes softening back into your skull, imagine your ears flowing back to the pillow, and your neck melting down like a deflating balloon. Relax your tongue, unclench your teeth, and breathe deeply and slowly. Focus on your breath, listening to it rise and fall, until you are completely relaxed.
LEARNING TO MEDITATE
Meditation is a particularly useful exercise for relaxation. If you practice meditation regularly (i.e. 3 or more times a week), you will notice an incremental effect over time. Taking the time to be still, and to really quiet your mind, is valuable and nurturing, and it really does work if you can learn how to do it well. This video/podcast is approximately 22 minutes long. This guided meditation is a particularly good one to use in the evening. Once dinner is over and the house has settled down, or maybe an hour before you plan to go to bed, find a quiet place and be guided to relaxation by the exercise. You should also be able to download it onto your MP3 or iPod so you don't need the PC with you to do it.
Click on this link for a meditation exercise that works well for improving self image. This exercise is particularly helpful for anyone with poor body image or struggling with an eating disorder.
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