"Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are." – Chinese Proverb
Do you get up most mornings feeling worse than you did when you went to bed? Do you suffer from unexplained aches and pains? Does your body feel inflamed? Did you get your quota of seven hours of sleep, but still don't feel rested? Have you been dragging through your days for months, years, or maybe even decades?
If the answer to any or all these questions is yes, you are not alone. We also have good news for you: maybe all you need to do is – relax. Easier said than done, of course. But, let's talk about it.
Take Meditation for a Test Drive
If meditation is a foreign word for you (or even if it's not), give this a shot:
Find a quiet, comfortable place. Close your eyes and breathe in slowly and deeply. Focus your attention on your breathing. Hold for a few seconds and then let go. Slowly ... all the way. Repeat five times. Now, open your eyes.
How do you feel? "Rested" may not be the word – how about "relaxed"? Do you feel your mind is slightly more at peace? Do you feel yourself breathing easier and your mood somewhat uplifted? Do you feel calmer?
If you have tried meditation techniques before, I am sure you knew what to expect. But if you haven't, then you just got a feel for what you can accomplish through the art and science of meditation.
The Connection Between Meditation and Relaxation
The effects of meditation are not just psychosomatic manifestations of well-being – they are real, biological consequences that have been studied extensively. Science tells us that our bodies need to be able to relax properly to regenerate, maintain proper physical and mental functioning, and build the energy that drives it all.
However, the more you live in "fight-or-flight" mode, the more your body forgets how to relax. You may be sleeping, but your mind and body may still be "awake," fighting their imaginary wars. Your rest is not restorative anymore, putting you on the slippery slope of a progressive decline.
The Buddha Knew ... and So Should We
Over 2500 years ago, Gautama Buddha intrinsically understood the biological importance of meditation. He advocated the need for the right amount of restful sleep every day. He believed that quality sleep came as a product of a peaceful, happy, and carefree mind, and he used meditation as a tool to power that transformation.
Meditation is not just a part of Buddhist beliefs – in fact, most religions have some form of meditation-based discipline associated with them. Meditation is a way of bringing yourself to the present, knowing that the reasons why you are stressed today are being caused by a past that cannot be helped, or a fatalistic view of a grim future that has not yet come to pass. In the bigger picture, meditation helps us raise ourselves to a higher plane of existence.
Five Simple, Relaxing Meditation Techniques
But let us keep it simple and first learn how to relax. There are enough types of meditation to intimidate you into not starting at all, so we'll focus here on a few simple techniques that you can start right away – and get results.
First, find a quiet, peaceful place where you know you will not be disturbed. Wear comfortable clothes. Sit still, back straight, shoulders relaxed. Close your eyes and let the tension go. Now, try one of these techniques (start with 3-4 minutes):
Visualize. Think of an object – maybe the face of a loved one, a flower, a color. It doesn't matter what it is as long as it means something significant to you. Clear your mind and allow the picture to emerge.
Find your mantra. Chant repetitively a word or phrase that invokes peace in your mind, or simply use the universal Vedic mantra, "Om", which is known for generating powerful, positive vibrations that reverberate throughout your being.
Deep breathing (Pranayama). Breathe in through your nostrils over a count of four, hold your breath for a count of two, and then release for a count of four.
Mindfulness or being in the present moment. Focus on your breath first, blotting out everything else. Then slowly expand your thoughts to include different parts of your body and your current feelings. Become in tune to yourself as you feel in the present moment.
Guided meditation. If you need help, there are many resources available online that can guide you through the process of meditation.
Once you get used to the benefits of meditation, you may start wondering why you did not try it before. But do not worry, the past does not matter – all we have is our present, which we can choose to use wisely.
May I also recommend that you check out my handy yoga and meditation timer, Samsara, an invaluable and simple tool that will help you maximize the benefits of your quiet time.