Life can feel like a revolving door that never stops. In our world of busy-ness and distractions, being aware of our surroundings and present in the moment is a discipline that is not always easy to practice. Stress causes all kinds of physiological responses in the body that keep us from being effective and productive in our daily lives.
Almost everyone needs to find opportunities for relaxation. Mindfulness is an up and coming “trend” that is new and old all at the same time. While it is needed now more than ever, mindfulness has a rich tradition, along with meditation, that dates back hundreds of years. Although it was originally used with religious practices, spirituality is not a necessary aspect in order to gain all of the benefits of mindfulness.
Can Mindfulness Make You Relax?
Did you know that your body actually has a built-in relaxation response that you can choose to engage almost any time? You don’t have to succumb to the pressures of life. Put the brakes on all of that anxiety and counteract its detrimental effects, simply by using your mind.
When you engage the relaxation response, here is what happens in your body:
- Your breathing slows and becomes deeper
- Your blood pressure lowers and/or stabilizes
- Your heart rate slows
- Your blood flow to the brain is raised
- Your muscles relax and release tension
- Your mind becomes more focused
- Your problem-solving skills are heightened
- Your productivity and motivation are boosted
- Your aches and pains are lessened
Preparation for Mindfulness Relaxation
Here’s what you’ll need before you begin a mindfulness routine:
Place: Choose a secluded environment in your home, outdoors, or a quiet space in your office. Be sure you can relax here without any interruptions or distractions. Turn off your phone.
Position: Use a yoga mat, comfortable chair, or cushion. Make sure your back is supported and you can rest in this position without becoming uncomfortable quickly. Lying down is not ideal as it can lead to sleep.
Point of Focus: Many people like to close their eyes, while others find it is easier to focus if they have their eyes open. Choose an internal point of focus—such as an imaginary scene or feeling—or an external point of focus such as the flame of a candle in the room.
Proper Attitude: This is possibly the most vital key to the success of your mindfulness practice. Be observant, but never critical. Set worries and distracting thoughts aside to be dealt with later. Don’t try to measure or grade yourself. Be gentle with yourself and turn redirect thoughts or distractions as they come.
5 Mindfulness Exercises for Relaxation
1. Basic Mindfulness Exercise
Sit comfortably and either close your eyes or choose a peaceful item in the room as a point of focus for your vision. Begin by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus on how it feels for the air to enter and exit your body.
After focusing for a few moments on your breathing, begin by opening up your focus to the sensations, sounds, and smells around you. As thoughts enter into your head, do not criticize or judge them, but simply consider them and embrace them as yours. Be aware of the present moment and focus on one thought at a time.
If the thoughts begin moving too quickly, re-center your focus on breathing once more until you are calm. Then begin expanding your awareness again. Remain in this state of mindfulness for several minutes, concentrating on the feeling of relaxation throughout your body. When you are ready to “re-enter” the world, restore your focus to breathing again while you take several deep, cleansing breaths.
2. Body Scan
A body scan is a time to focus particularly on your physical body. Begin by lying on your back with legs straight out and arms relaxed to the side of your body. Close your eyes or fix them on a place of focus on the ceiling or sky.
Start by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Concentrate only on your breathing while your body begins to relax. Begin the body scan with your feet. Focus on your toes on the right foot while continuing to consider your breathing as well. Take note of any sensations in your toes. Hold this for about two minutes.
Expand the focus to the sole of the same foot. Consider any sensations here and imagine your breath flowing through this area. Remain focused here for approximately two minutes and then move up to the right ankle, continuing the process of combining focus on one body part with breathing for two minutes each. During the entire process, be aware of any parts of the body that may be uncomfortable or causing pain.
Move up to the calf, knee, thigh, and hip. Then move over to the left toes and repeat as for the right. Once you’ve moved up the left leg, move on to the lower back, abdomen, upper back, chest, and then shoulders. From the shoulders, move down to the upper arms, forearms, wrists, palms, and fingers.
Once the body scan is complete, remain relaxed for several minutes while focusing on breathing and remaining still. Consider how your body has responded and how you feel. Slowly become aware of your surroundings again, open your eyes, and stretch gently.
3. Mindfulness Workout
Being fully engaged in the present moment doesn’t mean that you have to be completely still. You can practice mindfulness during a workout by keeping your mind focused on your breathing, your steps while running, the sensations in your limbs, or other experiences you are having in the moment. Your workout can help you to focus your mind as you shed your usual concerns and anxieties.
4. Guided Imagery
Guided imagery, or visualization, is a time to sit quietly and allow your mind to feel completely at peace. Choose a place in your mind, either real or imagined, where you feel safe and comfortable, then close your eyes and go there. This may be a clearing in the woods, a sandy beach, or a comfortable seat by the fire.
Picture the way the scene looks, think of the sounds, smells, tastes, the feeling of the breeze or the warmth of the fire. Allow yourself to remain there while you breathe deeply and relax. Notice your worries drifting away. When you feel ready, enter into the present moment again slowly and open your eyes.
5. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
By systematically being mindful of your body and practicing tensing and relaxing muscle groups, you can find an escape from stress and productive relaxation. To start, lie down and take a few moments to relax and breathe deeply.
Similar to the body scan, begin with the right foot and be aware of how it feels. Now squeeze it as tightly as you can. Hold for ten seconds, then release. Focus on how the foot feels as the tension flows away. Moves slowly up through the body, focusing particularly on the sensation of relaxation after the tension melts away.
Not every mindfulness relaxation practice works well for everyone. Try one that chimes with you and don’t stop after the first time. It may take a bit of practice to get the hang of it. As you do, you’ll find your body has relaxed and your mind is ready to go take on the world in a more productive, energetic manner!