I started engaging in relaxation tools as a teenage in the mid 1070’s when I first started practicing Hatha and Raja Yoga. After 38 years I can say with confidence that it works for me. Since 1983 amongst other things I have taught Hatha Yoga, and relaxation techniques.
In the past 30 years, there has been considerable interest in the relaxation response and how inducing this state may benefit health. Research has focused primarily on illness and conditions in which stress may play a role either as the cause of the condition or as a factor that can make the condition worse.
Currently, there is some scientific evidence that relaxation techniques may be an effective part of an overall treatment plan for some disorders, including:
- Anxiety. Studies have suggested that relaxation may assist in the treatment of phobias or panic disorder. Relaxation techniques have also been used to relieve anxiety for people in stressful situations, such as when undergoing a medical procedure.
- Depression. In 2008, a major review of the evidence for relaxation in the treatment of depression found that relaxation techniques were more effective than no treatment for depression, but not as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy.
- Headache. There is some evidence that biofeedback and other relaxation techniques may be helpful for relieving tension or migraine headaches. In some cases, these mind and body techniques were more effective than medications for reducing the frequency, intensity, and severity of headaches.
- Pain. Some studies have shown that relaxation techniques may help reduce abdominal and surgery pain.
Relaxation involves practice and willingness to fully engage in the process of relaxing. Stay tuned for some great relaxing tools.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a concentrated state of awareness that can help us see and respond to situations with clarity and without getting carried away by emotions or the constant chatter in our heads. Mindfulness enables us to:
· Better manage tension and stress
· Enhance objectivity, mental focus
· Communicate and make decisions more effectively
· Improve productivity
· Quiet’s noise in the mind
Meditation is the tool we use to cultivate mindfulness. With meditation, you intentionally pay attention to a particular object as a way to strengthen concentration. There are thousands of meditative techniques: Tai Chi, yoga, focusing on the breath and using a mantra are all examples. People often think that meditating “correctly” means clearing all thought from the mind. This is a myth. The mind never stops thinking – it’s when we get caught up in our thoughts that we lose mindfulness. By witnessing thoughts, allowing them to pass, and returning to your chosen object of focus, you can actually build the muscle of concentration. Think of meditation as a fitness routine for the mind.
Are there other benefits to mindfulness?
In addition to boosting brain power, numerous research studies have shown significant physical benefits including:
· Reduced blood pressure
· Lowered cholesterol levels
· Enhanced immune function
· Reduced headache, migraine, back pain
· Improved respiratory function
Mindfulness does not require a particular set of beliefs in order to learn and practice – it is a quality of mind, accessible and available to all.
Mindfulness allows us to live every moment fully without the filters of bias, judgment or emotional reaction.
Mindfulness helps the body cope with physical challenges such as headaches, back pain and even heart disease.
Mindfulness keeps us from reacting too quickly – it helps increase the gap between impulse and action.
Published in PLOS ONE, new research from Carnegie Mellon University provides the first evidence that self-affirmation can protect against the damaging effects of stress on problem-solving performance. Understanding that self-affirmation – the process of identifying and focusing on one’s most important values – boosts stressed individuals’ problem-solving abilities will help guide future research and the development of educational interventions.
“An emerging set of published studies suggest that a brief self-affirmation activity at the beginning of a school term can boost academic grade-point averages in underperforming kids at the end of the semester. This new work suggests a mechanism for these studies, showing self-affirmation effects on actual problem-solving performance under pressure,” said J. David Creswell, assistant professor of psychology in CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Because previous research indicated that self-affirmation may be an effective stress management approach, Creswell and his research team had college students rank-order a set of values (e.g., art, business, family and friends) in terms of their personal importance, and indicate their levels of chronic stress. Participants randomly assigned to a self-affirmation condition were asked to write a couple of sentences about why their number one ranked value was important (a standard self-affirmation exercise). All participants then had to complete a challenging problem-solving task under time pressure, which required creativity in order to generate correct solutions.
The results showed that participants who were under high levels of chronic stress during the past month had impaired problem-solving performance. In fact, they solved about 50 percent fewer problems in the task. But notably, this effect was qualified by whether participants had an opportunity to first complete the self-affirmation activity. Specifically, a brief self-affirmation was effective in eliminating the deleterious effects of chronic stress on problem-solving performance, such that chronically stressed self-affirmed participants performed under pressure at the same level as participants with low chronic stress levels.
“People under high stress can foster better problem-solving simply by taking a moment beforehand to think about something that is important to them,” Creswell said. “It’s an easy-to-use and portable strategy you can roll out before you enter that high pressure performance situation.
I have been practicing meditation since the mid-70’s and started a mindfulness meditation practice in the mid-90’s. Mindfulness has to do with the quality of awareness that we bring to what we are doing and experiencing, to being in the here and now. It has to do with learning to focus on being in the present, to focusing our attention on what we are doing and what is happening in the present.
Many of us are distracted by images, thoughts and feelings of the past, perhaps dissociating, worrying about the future, negative moods and anxieties about the present. It’s hard to put these thing away and concentrate on the task at hand.
I started teaching mindfulness to patients a few years ago and often used the following as a hand out:
Mindfulness has to do with states of mind. Reason Mind, Emotion Mind, and Wise Mind. Reason Mind is your rational, thinking, logical mind. It plans and evaluates things logically. It is your “cool” part. Reasonable Mind can be very beneficial. It is easier to be in Reasonable Mind when you feel good. It is much harder to be in Reasonable Mind when you don’t feel good.
You Would Use Your Reasonable Mind To:
Build a bridge
Figure out how to double a recipe
Balance your checkbook
Figure out the fastest way from point “A” to point “B”
Emotion Mind describes times when emotions are what influence or control your thinking and behavior. Emotional Mind can also be very beneficial. Emotions are what motivate us to action. Emotions are what keep us attached to others and building relationships.
Emotion Mind can be aggravated by:
Illness, Lack Of Sleep, Tiredness, Drugs, Alcohol, Hungry, Overeating, Poor nutrition and/or lack of exercise, Environmental stress and threats, not taking your meds.
Both Emotion and Reasonable Mind Are Equally Important And Valuable
Reasonable mind gives you a way to solve your problems.
Emotion mind gives you a reason (motivation) to want to solve them.
Wise Mind is the integration of emotional and reasonable mind. Wise mind is that part of each person that can know and experience truth. It is where the person knows something to be true or valid. It is where the person knows something in a centered (balanced) way. It is almost always quiet and calm in this part of the mind.
Everyone Has A Wise Mind!
Some people have simply never experienced it.
No one is in Wise Mind all of the time.
Wise Mind – An Analogy for Wise Mind is like a deep well in the ground. The water is at the bottom of the well. The entire underground is an ocean called Wise Mind. But on the way down, there are often trap doors that stop progress. Sometimes the trap doors are so cleverly built that you actually believe that there is no water at the bottom of the well. The trap door may look like the bottom of the well. Perhaps it is locked and you need a key. Perhaps it is nailed shut and you need a hammer. Perhaps it is glued shut and you need a chisel.
DESPITE the our intentions the reality is that often our gym memberships will lapse, chocolate will replace carrots and Candy Crush will edge out Moby Dick.
It’s not (only) that we’re undisciplined slugs. It’s that much of what we know — or think we know — about habits is wrong. Here’s a primer that might help keep you off the couch and on the treadmill.
MYTH 1 We fail to change our habits — or start good new ones — because we lack willpower.
Not really, said Wendy Wood, a professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California. Willpower, she said, is more about looking at those yummy chocolate chip cookies and refusing them. A good habit ensures you’re rarely around those chocolate chip cookies in the first place.
To create or change a habit, you have to think much more about altering your environment and patterns of living than work on steeling your mind, Professor Wood said, because “behavior is very much a product of environment.”
Habits — at least good ones — exist so we don’t have to resist temptation all the time. Imagine if every morning you had a debate with yourself about eating cake or cereal for breakfast. Instead, most of us form the habit of eating something relatively healthy for breakfast, which bypasses the lure of the cake altogether.
That’s why it’s sometimes easiest to start or break a habit during a major transition. This may sound counterintuitive, but a new house, job or relationship breaks old patterns, said Gretchen Rubin, author of the forthcoming book, “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives.”
“People say wait a few days to get settled, but don’t,” she said. “Start right away.”
MYTH 2 We fall back on bad habits when stressed. In fact, good habits persist even in times of high anxiety, Professor Wood said. A study of which Professor Wood was one of the co-authors found that students who already had unhealthy diets would eat junk food when stressed, but those who already had the habit of eating well — or of reading a newspaper or of going to the gym — were just as likely to do that.
MYTH 3 It takes about 21 days to break or make a habit.
That number seems to have cropped up in the 1960s and somehow became “fact” with no real proof. But in 2009, researchers in Britain decided to take a deeper look by studying how long it took participants to learn new habits, such as eating fruit daily or going jogging. The average was 66 days.
But individuals’ times varied greatly, from 18 days to 245 days, depending on temperament and, of course, the task involved. It will most likely take far less time to get into the habit of eating an apple every afternoon than of practicing the piano for an hour a day.
MYTH 4 You need positive thinking to break or make a habit.
“We find positive fantasy is not helpful and may even be hurtful when trying to reach a desired future or fulfill a wish,” said Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg.
Over years of research, she discovered that people need to pair optimistic daydreams about the future with identifying and imagining the obstacles that prevent them from reaching that goal — something she calls mental contrasting.
Say you want to stop being a procrastinator. The first step is easy. Imagine how it will feel if your work is completed with plenty of time to spare, if you can sleep instead of pulling an all-nighter, said Professor Oettingen, author of “Rethinking Positive Thinking.”
But don’t just resolve to stop procrastinating. The second step is to identify what holds you back from changing yourself. Is it fear that you won’t succeed? Is it the adrenaline rush of frantically working at the last minute? Is it because of negative feelings toward a boss or teacher?
The mental contrasting needs to be in the right order. It’s important to “experience our dreams, then switch gears and mentally face reality,” Professor Oettingen said.
Doing it the opposite way — imagining the obstacles and then fantasizing about changing habits — doesn’t seem to work as well, research shows.
MYTH 5 Doing things by rote, or habit, isn’t good in most cases. It’s better to be mindful of everything we do.
Research shows that most people repeat about 40 percent of their activities almost every day.
“We only have so much room in our brain,” said Ian Newby-Clark, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Guelph in Canada. “It would be incredibly taxing if we had to mindfully plan every step of our day.” Habits free us up so we can think about other things.
And while some habits are objectively bad — smoking, say, or being consistently late — most are subjective. “Habits are only good or bad to the extent they’re consistent or inconsistent with your goals,” Professor Wood of U.S.C. said. It’s a bad habit when “it starts interfering with other goals you have.”
For example, many people said their resolution this year was to cut down the time they spend online.
But why? Because it’s an inherently bad thing to do? Or is it an obstacle to spending more time reading books or riding a bike or learning to knit?
After thinking about it, you may choose to spend less time on your computer or phone. Or you might decide it’s not so terrible in limited doses and shed the habit of feeling guilty about it.
MYTH 6 Everything in moderation.
“There’s a real difference among people about how easily they adapt to habits,” Ms. Rubin said. Some see habits as liberating; some see them as a trap. Some prefer to make a huge change all at once; others proceed step by step.
“I’m in the small minority that loves habits,” Ms. Rubin said, adding that she tends to find it easier to abstain from certain things altogether. For example, she eats no carbohydrates.
“People said I was doomed to failure, but it’s not true,” she said. But, she noted, “it’s a mistake to think the abstainer is more disciplined. For me it’s easier to be an abstainer than have to deliberate each time whether I can eat something or not. Others would go nuts if they abstain.”
That’s why you shouldn’t listen to people who tell you you’re doing it wrong if it works for you, she said.
Also, people shouldn’t fear that their habit will dissolve if they don’t practice it daily.
“If you lapse once or twice, you’re not ruined,” Professor Wood said. “That’s a misconception.”
And that leads to …
MYTH 7 Shame and guilt keep you on track.
No. People need to be kinder to themselves, showing self-compassion if they lapse, Ms. Rubin said. But it’s a fine balance between treating yourself kindly and making endless rationalizations and excuses.
“I might mindfully make an exception,” she said, such as choosing to eat a traditional Christmas cake every year. “But I’m not making excuses in the moment: I’ll hurt the hostesses’ feelings. You only live once. It’s the holidays.”
One last piece of advice: If you want to be in better shape, get a dog. Professor Wood said studies show dog owners have lower body mass indexes. But here’s the catch: That’s only true if you walk the animal.