There are so many ways we try to relieve our stress. At the end of a long day, we'll come home and sit in front of the TV. Or have a few drinks. Smoking cigarettes is also often used as stress relief.
Intuitively, we know that these things do little to keep stress at bay. At best, they are a distraction. At worst, they are vices.
To stay calm when stress rears its ugly head, we need to activate our body's natural relaxation responses. Deep breathing, meditation, exercise, being outdoors, and yoga can all help reduce our stress levels and keep us calm.
Today, I'd like to look at seven meditation exercises to keep you calm.
Also known as "Equal Breathing", Sama Vritti is fairly self-explanatory. Often, this is recommended to help people get to sleep. It's almost like counting sheep. This exercise can easily be done anywhere, and you can do it for as long or as short as you want.
To practice this exercise, breathe in for a count of four, and out for a count of four. Repeat this.
Focus on your breath. Feel your chest expanding and contracting. Let thoughts come and go as you would during a normal meditation.
This exercise is not for analytical thought. Acknowledge your thoughts as they appear and then let them go.
Visual Progressive Relaxation
In this exercise, sit or lie down with your back straight and your arms resting comfortably at your sides. Imagine that each muscle in your body can be turned off. When turned off, they release any tension they were carrying.
Keep your body still and start with your toes. Turn off each toe one at a time. Each time you'll feel your toe relax and let go of the tension it naturally carries.
As you go through this exercise and work towards your head, you'll begin to feel a heavy, relaxed feeling throughout your body.
This exercise works best when you need to get yourself out of a negative cycle of thought or wake yourself up. It can help when stress is preventing you from getting work done.
To perform this exercise, take a long inhale. Count to ten while inhaling. Then, make your exhale short, about one or two counts. The exhale should be powerful and come from the lower belly.
This exercise can take some getting used to, especially the long inhale time. If you are getting dizzy, dial it back. Breathe in for only six or seven counts instead.
This technique is a little bit unusual, but has a remarkable affect. It's also used to break a negative thought cycle or to calm yourself down when you're worked up. It can look a little funny, so you may want to do it in a private place.
To begin, hold one nostril closed with a finger. Take a deep breath in through your uncovered nostril. When your breath reaches its peak, switch the covered nostril and exhale. Just before taking another breath, switch nostrils again.
You may be skeptical, but this technique can really brighten your mood.
This is a very popular breathing technique. It is to be used before stressful events like exams or work presentations. You can also incorporate it into your daily meditation practice. This technique is reported to have health benefits including an immediate drop in heart rate and blood pressure. When incorporated into a daily practice, these effects will be felt more consistently.
Place a hand on the chest and a hand on the belly. Take a deep breath through the nose. Feel your chest expand and a stretch in your lungs. Ensure that your diaphragm is expanding, not your chest.
Aim for six to eight deep breaths per minute for up to ten minutes. The benefits will be very noticeable.
Practicing these stress-relief techniques will keep you calm and prevent negative thoughts from perpetuating themselves.