There are many of us in today’s society that lack a healthy personal balance. Sometimes a person can go through an entire day and feel as though they’d hit the ground running and didn’t stop to catch a breath even once.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, others can feel so overwhelmed by the pressures of the everyday that simply getting out of bed in the morning can prove challenging. How many ads gawk at us from every direction boasting answers to our woes? Too stressed? Too anxious? Need to lose weight? In constant pain? Can’t sleep? Sleep too much?!
As a professional Massage Therapist I am in the business of stress reduction. So I took the time to compile a list of 5 simple tips my clients have found helpful from Taoists, doctors, yogis and scientists alike that, when practiced mindfully, are clinically proven to help you maintain a healthier homeostatic, energetic balance as you traverse the way to a more peaceful inner tranquility:
1. Mindfulness or “The Pause”
Tip 1 although seemingly simple has great benefits. Take a mindful pause to consider what you do or say and how you do or say those things. This can shift your reality dramatically. The chemical, cortisol which is released during times of stress, is extremely harmful to a persons well-being. So, no matter what the external stressors, taking a moment to get grounded can prove invaluable for your overall health.
During “the pause,” take one full deep breath inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Try considering the situation from a third person cinematic-like perspective. Check in with yourself mentally and physically. Ask yourself if you need more than just a little pause? Perhaps a walk Or maybe just going into the other room for a moment. Are you grounded or in a heightened state of emotion? Identify your emotions so you can deal with them appropriately.
When hormones of any kind are raging through your system during times of heightened emotional states, both perception and reaction can lack mental clarity. “Allow your words to pass through three gates is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?” I’m sure some of us are already familiar with this saying. Mastering mindfulness in any given circumstance gives you the edge you need as the catalyst for other types of change.
The breath is critical to our survival and learning to control it is an amazing tool in learning how to manipulate the balance of your inner peace. There are many different types of breathing and each type serves it’s own specific purpose. For example, a brisk run yields quick and rhythmic shallow breaths whereas our breathing slows dramatically when we are in a state of total relaxation.
Manipulation of the breath is a topic all it’s own upon which many volumes have been scripted regarding different techniques to help you reach an end goal. However, for our purposes (and brevity) tip #2 has everything to do with seeking out the correct breathing patterns for inducing a sense of calm and clarity.
Allopathic, and Holistic practitioners concur that one of the most effective breathing patterns used to achieve this is the method of the “4-7-8 breath” wherein you inhale through the nose for a 4 second count, hold the breath for 7 seconds then exhale orally for an 8 count until the lungs are completely empty. Repeat if necessary. Again, practicing mindfulness and checking in with yourself.
Among other goals, grounding methods often invite the client to simply “return to the breath” when in times of utter distress, overwhelming excitement or whenever experiencing other types of extreme imbalance. I once had a very wise instructor that would say to us prior to important exams: “Remember, anxiety is just excitement without the breath.”
Movement is absolutely critical for human health and wellness. I often muse at my young sons who seem to posses boundless amounts of energy and can never sit still for more than 30 seconds at a time unless of course, they’re sleeping.
Often, as people begin to reach adulthood the importance of simply moving around for the fun of it can start to seem unimportant or even like a waste of time. >>GASP<< Human bodies are tensegrity structures that thrive on regular and intentional movement as a way to stay resilient, supple and healthy.
Tip #3 is to begin by embracing not only those familiar, deep and often satisfying involuntary morning stretches but then mindfully easing into some other movements before you begin your daily routine.
Perhaps start by doing little things like pointing and flexing your feet, circling your ankles both clockwise and counter clockwise, checking in with the way they feel. Then, shift your attention to your back, flatten on your sleeping surface and slowly bend the knees making sure to keep them together and drop both legs to one side. Check in with the way this feels an make adjustments. Meet your body right where it is, recalling that this can change from day to day.
Movement should feel good, not painful! At this point, tissues in the lower back will begin to loosen and the synovial fluid in your spinal column will begin to flow more actively. Proceed slowly up the length of the body easing into each motion slowly and purposefully.
Take time to really think about, and connect with your physical being. these initial movements help transition your physical form to a state of readiness after a long period of rest. it has been proven beneficial that continuous and intentional “feel good movement” throughout the day can improve overall physical function, tissue longevity and that even things like emotional stability and mental clarity can positively affected. Exercise in any form will release the happy hormones: endorphins, dopamine and serotonin that our bodies inherently posses and consequently crave.
Balancing out the movement requires that one consciously spend a portion of their day quieting the body and mind alike. Tip 4 reminds us that meditation is arguably something that can be practiced every moment of every day but, again for the purpose of concision we’ll focus on the type of meditative stillness that nurtures the need to enhance inner calm and restore internal balance.
Choose any comfortable position and any location that resonates with your highest vibration in the moment. Keep in mind that each moment is as unique as each individual so be sure to listen to your body and your instincts.
Then start by observing your breathing. Inevitably, thoughts may begin to race through your mind. Instead of following them or submitting to an internal monologue, attempt to imagine yourself as the observer to your own thinking. Allow the thought to approach, then let it continue on and simply pass into the distance.
Personally, I find visualizations to be helpful in doing this. I like to imagine that I am sitting peacefully on the bank of a familiar stream on a brisk Autumn day surrounded by large, friendly trees. The vibrant, descending leaves represent my thoughts. Each one is unique. Some are beautiful, others are ugly, torn or mangled, some are small and fragile while still others are large, shiny and healthy. I imagine myself watching each leaf fall to the water, creating various size ripples upon impact. However, I do not allow myself to chase any one leaf downstream with my gaze for too long as it drifts inevitably away. In doing this, I am able to separate myself from the potential that exists to linger and focus on a singular thought and instead I find myself able to more easily appreciate the variety and magnitude of what actually composes both my conscious and subconscious mind.
When you’re ready, start initiating some small movements by wiggling your fingers and toes, then progressively increasing your ranges of motion until you find yourself re-energized. Remember to take that brief pause before resuming your daily routine. Sporadic moments of stillness can immensely improve your overall focus, clarity and the quality of your problem solving skills.
4. Processing & Decompression
Unique to every human being, processing information and events as well as decompressing from stressful activity requires an individualized approach. It’s important to accept that no single outside source can tell any one person how best to mentally sort through the one-of-a-kind circumstances that surround each of us. Instead, we must assemble our own special patterns, behaviors and rituals to help us shed emotional baggage as quickly as it piles up.
For some, this can mean a nightly warm bath with a good book. For others, creative outlets like song-writing or interpretive dance can help shake out the wrinkles in the fabric of life and aid in the restoration of balance to your inner wisdom. There are as many ways to process all of the experiences had by our bodies, minds and spirits as there are stars in the sky. Lao Tzu has taught me that “The Way” is best traveled on the path of least resistance.
Tip 5 reminds us that when you find a tool or an outlet that helps you physically, mentally and emotionally work through an issue don’t give it up! Especially if it is something that you enjoy. Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but, a habit.”
Rome, as they say, was not built in a day. No one should hold themselves to the unrealistic expectation that one can change an entire life overnight. First, try to make small intentional steps such as these. Experts agree that habits can be either made or broken given 90-120 consecutive days of mindful practice. Your health is worth it. YOU are worth it.
In an increasingly tense global environment, it is imperative that each of us make positive steps towards balance. View yourself as a sanctuary and your overall health and wellness as a “whole” (Mind, Body, Spirit.) When you exert less focus on symptom management and spend more time being mindful, intentional and accountable for your everyday routine you step into the role of your own personal healthcare provider and who DOESN’T want to be in charge of their own well being?