In part one of this blog on learning how to slow down and relax I talked about learning in small, bite sized chunks. If you feel ready to do more – then this is the blog for you. We are still on that same journey – taking your brain from overload to relaxed in simple, achievable steps. This time we are looking at extended ways to help your brain and body to slow down and relax. We are looking to repair the damage done by long term stress and over-stimulation. The ultimate aim is to avoid becoming stressed and over-stimulated in the future.
It is probably worth revisiting the point I made about learning. Learning is essentially a process of failing repeatedly until, with practice, you succeed. Failure is not a bad thing. Failure is the world’s way of giving you feedback on your efforts. Failure is an integral and essential part of learning.
Now that you can successfully and reliably maintain a still mind for up to five minutes you may wish to do more. As you extend your ability to slow down and relax be prepared to go through that same learning process. Let intrusive thoughts drift away and return to a relaxed state as many times as it takes. Keep failing. Keep learning. You will get there.
Mindfulness involves increasing the number of moments that you are fully aware throughout the day. Our attention is often divided, pulled in multiple directions at once. Awareness means noticing what we are seeing and hearing but also what we are thinking and feeling. It involves noticing our reactions to events.
Exercises like the one minute breather are a lesson in mindfulness. The ultimate aim with mindfulness is to take that level of focus and awareness into your whole day. It would be a lifetime’s work to be mindful every minute of every day but bringing more awareness into your routine can be beneficial. Mindfulness can help you to slow down and relax, be calmer, less stressed and more tolerant.
Progressive muscle relaxation
This involves shifting the focus of your attention to each small group of muscles in the body (left foot, left calf, left thigh etc.). Each group of muscles is tensed and progressively relaxed. Progressive muscle relaxation works very well if you find that you are holding tension in your body. It is best practised alongside breathing exercises (as in part 1) or as part of a guided meditation (see below).
Yoga is a form of mental, physical and, sometimes, spiritual activity. In the western world it is often used as a form of exercise and of relaxation. Yoga works to lengthen and strengthen muscles and improve balance. It takes focus and concentration and a calm state of mind. In that way, yoga is a form of dynamic meditation which has been shown to be of immense benefit to physical and psychological well-being. There are a number of different disciplines within the umbrella term “yoga” and you can be certain to find one that suits you. Classes are available all over the country. Many instructors will work one to one with you if you prefer. Alternatively, you can explore on-line tuition which enables you to try out a number of different disciplines.
The one minute breather exercise that we started with is, essentially, a form of meditation. Meditation is the use of techniques such as mindfulness to control your awareness and gain mental and emotional clarity. People are often fearful of “meditation” because they imagine it to have particular religious or spiritual overtones, or to require robes and finger cymbals. As with most fears the worry actually stems from a lack of knowledge and experience. Anyone can meditate. It can be an entirely secular activity and you can do it in a suit and heels if that’s what you happen to be wearing at the time (although I would probably kick off the heels!)
There are lots of academic studies which show the benefits of meditating. Jain et al (2007) showed that meditating has a powerful effect on positive states of mind reducing stress, rumination and distraction. Miller et al (1995) showed the long term effects of meditation in the treatment of anxiety disorders. There are even studies which show the benefits of meditation on the experience of physical illnesses such as cancer and diabetes.
In the first instance you might like to try guided meditation. Guided meditation allows you to slow down and relax with a facilitator who talks you through the breathing techniques and may take you on an imaginary journey to enhance the experience. Guided meditations may also include progressive muscle relaxation. There are lots of free resources on-line, it is really just a case of finding a voice you are happy to listen to.
You may prefer to join a group and to learn meditation alongside other people. Some people find it easier to commit to practice if they are held to account in this way.
Hypnotherapy involves working with a qualified therapist and can be especially useful if you find it difficult to switch off. A hypnotherapist will use trance work to help your mind and body to slow down and relax. They may be able to take you to a deeper level of relaxation than you can manage on your own. Once you are in a state of deep relaxation (hypnotic trance) they may also be able to use suggestion to help you deal with any other issues which are troubling you at the time.
And so, your practice continues. This is not an exhaustive list but it offers some good ways to extend your learning.
But remember. If all else fails, just go back to the beginning. And breathe.