“If you do not have 15 minutes to meditate, you probably need 4 hours.” – Anonymous
I will be the first to admit that meditation, mindfulness, breathing techniques, and even some aspects of yoga seemed a little “woo-woo” to me. I remember lying on my back after a hot yoga session where the teacher was instructing me to repeat a word of affirmation to myself as she went around the room striking a small gong. I can still smell the trail of incense. This was supposed to leave me relaxed and stress-free. However, it was anything but.
As we all know, things change and so has my opinion on meditation and other relaxation techniques. I have actually become a slow adopter to meditation and mindfulness. I can honestly say that it has actually altered my stress levels. Here are some of the benefits I have noticed over the past few weeks:
- Greater Quality of Sleep (less time to fall asleep, less restless time during the night)
- Increased Productivity and Motivation
- Ease of Mental Prioritization for Daily Tasks
- Increased Focus at Work
- Less Chronic Muscle Tension and Pain
- Lower Resting Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
- Greater Awareness of the Present Moment
- Heightened Control of Emotions
This is not to say that I was a raging, quick-tempered, emotional monster who never slept! However, the subtle changes in my psyche are noticeable, and I would love to share some simple techniques that you can implement for a morning or nighttime routine. You can also use these techniques any time during the day when stress or anxiety begin to rear their ugly heads.
I once thought my morning quiet time, which consisted of reading the Bible and spending time in prayer, and journaling was all the mental preparation I needed to reach my full potential. Although this time provided me with self-reflection and spiritual growth, it did not allow me to fully detach from controlling thoughts and emotions and actually reflect on changing them.
Meditation has provided me with greater self-awareness to exploit areas of tension and anxiety, which we all tend to store in the musculature throughout our body. It also keeps me conscious of how to refine and direct my breathing; a relaxation technique I call upon when anxiety or nerves strike.
Lastly, meditation has helped me center myself. Through the self-awareness techniques, I am going to share with you, I can now focus on my breathe and find a state of calm throughout the day.
I still spend time reading the Bible, praying, and journaling daily. However, the implementation of meditation has truly strengthened my walk with God and the benefits I receive from these practices. It creates a space in life for reflection upon what God is doing in my life, what He’s teaching me, and how to execute. Meditation is the glue that holds all these applications together.
All of the benefits of meditation have been well documented. All you need to do is google search “benefits of meditation,” and thousands of scholarly articles, news columns, and blog posts are at your disposal. The leg work and research have already been done. Now all that’s left to do is choose one of the techniques below and begin your journey of becoming a monk! Okay, just kidding about the monk thing but seriously it’s time to get zen.
When: First thing in the morning
Length: 10 minutes
How: Guided meditation app (below) or 10 minutes to Bliss (click to download PDF)
If you would like a glimpse of what guided meditation looks like, read through “10 Minutes to Bliss” above and this will give you a better idea of what to expect. It can also serve as a practical guideline for meditation without an app.
If you are a beginner to meditation, I highly recommend making use of a guided meditation app. I have personally used Headspace and Calm, while Josh has uses the Stop, Breathe, and Think app. Give one of them a try. I will be shocked if you do not see a difference after 70-100 minutes of meditation.
*Tip: I will follow my meditation period by writing in my journal. I jot down what I am thinking, feeling, and believing in that moment. Doing this right after your meditation offers you the opportunity to capture exactly what is running through your head without inhibition or prejudice.*
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
When: Right after meditation in morning, before bed, or before potential stressful events
Length: As needed – 5 minutes
I first came across Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) in my studies for my Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification. However, it’s so intuitive I could not believe I had never heard of it.
PMR is the process by which you focus the mind on one area of the body, tense or flex that muscle group for 5 seconds while holding your breath, then release the tension with an exhale and mentally tune into the feeling of a relaxed muscle. Stay in this relaxed state for 10 seconds.
If you’re familiar with the mindfulness practice of feeling the weight of your body in the chair or your arms in your lap (autogenic training), then this is much the same process. This type of practice helps to alleviate muscular tension and therefore any hidden cerebral pressure.
The basis for PMR revolves around the ideology that a body in relaxation creates a mind in relaxation. The idea is to practice muscle tension/relaxation awareness to call upon either when needed.
In our daily lives, we hold our stress, anxiety, and emotions within our musculature. Any chiropractor or massage therapist will tell you this. Think about this for a moment: if a bomb went off in the room you are in right now, your instinct is to hunch your shoulders and duck your head. Now, although literal explosions may not be present in your daily life, emotional bombs more than likely are. Over time the cumulative effect is a very tight, strained, and constricted range of motion which can negatively impact our daily performance.
PMR has been used in the treatment of anxious and depressed patients, but anyone can benefit from this practice. It’s even been shown to help alleviate apprehension about a given situation by mentally placing yourself in a stressful environment while you perform PMR (called systematic desensitization). Thus, it could potentially help you with stage fright, meeting strangers, or any paranoia you may experience.
Of course, there are numerous relaxation techniques. These include diaphragmatic breathing, box breathing, the Wim Hof Method, mental imagery, and hypnosis. We will explore these at a later date. In the meantime, take what you’ve learned here and apply it.
Some of the most fruitful and productive people on the planet use these techniques; maybe there is a reason. Give it a try and let us know your thoughts.
Now, go find your inner “woo-woo.”