Science has proved that every individual reacts to stress differently. Sustained negative emotions and constant exposure to stressful situations tend to produce adverse and negative effects on to our complex bodily functions. Medical practitioners believe that relaxation is the key component in the treatment of many disorders, particularly those brought on or worsened by the effects of stress. In brief, the stressful events produce strong emotions, which arouse certain physical responses controlled by the sympathetic nervous system and the network of nerve tissues that help prepare the body to meet emergencies by engaging the “flight or fight” mental response. Since this is a primal neurological brain wiring, our bodies still do exactly what they did since the moment of our creation. However, things have progressively changed throughout historic evolution of the human race and the flight or fight phenomenon is now widely recognised as “stress”.
The typical response pattern to emergencies has probably emerged during the time when all humans primarily faced physical threats. Although the “threats” nowadays are seldom physical, the body reacts to them, as if they are. The pupils dilate to let in more light. You sweat to be able to reduce the possibility of skin cuts. Your skin’s blood vessels start to contract to effectively reduce the bleeding, whilst those in the brain and muscles dilate to increase the oxygen supply. Your gastrointestinal tract slows down to reduce the energy expensed in digestion of food. Your heart increases its beats and with it the blood pressure rises and all this clearly indicates that your body was preparing you for the physical challenge of that threatening situation. For instance, imagine your own reaction if you were walking down a dark street and you heard someone running towards you. What would you do? Regardless of how you felt, your body would prepare you to ward that attacker off or run fast enough to get you away from it. So, when you have finally managed to leave that situation behind, you would gradually relax.
However, whenever you are angry at your boss, work colleague, spouse, relative etc. that’s a different matter altogether. Your body may prepare you to fight, but since you want to maintain good relationships with those people, you will do everything to ignore that anger. Similarly, if on your way home you get stuck in the traffic, there’s nothing you can do to get away from it. These types of situations can literally make you sick. Your body has prepared you for action, but you cannot act. Individuals differ in the way they respond to stress. In some people, the physiological function, such as blood pressure becomes more active, whilst in others, it remains normal. Many experts believe that these individual physical responses to stress can become habitual, particularly when the body is repeatedly aroused. One or more functions may become permanently overactive, as actual damage to bodily tissues may eventually result.
However, when an individual purposefully seeks a state of deep relaxation, a number of important physiological mechanisms are triggered. The relaxation state that was named the “relaxation response” by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University is the opposite of the “flight and fight” state, which has also been called the “stress response”.
Researchers have found that many diseases are caused and aggravated by stress, which stimulates hyper activity of the sympathetic nervous system and exhaustion of the adrenal glands. They have also found that inducing the relaxation response can resolve or neutralise the negative effects of the stress on the body and heal diseases.
Research has indicated that the physiological mechanisms that are triggered by inducing relaxation are:
- Reduction of blood pressure
- Warming of the skin surface due to dilation of blood capillaries
- Enhanced production of healing neurochemicals and hormones
- A shift towards a lower frequency of brain-wave activity (alpha and theta)
Deep relaxation for the purpose of self-healing and/or health enhancement can be achieved by adhering to a regular daily practice. Deeper or altered states of consciousness may also be attained by merely remaining mindful of the breath alone. In such methods, the individual refines his/her practice to the extent that the busy mind is completely quietened or emptied. This is more difficult to accomplish than just a simple relaxation. Busy minded people will benefit from starting with some preliminary methods of relaxation, because those techniques are easier to learn and apply. They will also allow you to focus your mind, rather than trying to empty or quietened it completely. Success with these simple relaxation practices may lead you over a period of time to an interest in more advanced techniques/practices.
Meditation is one of the most commonly known methods of achieving personal enlightenment. It is meticulously recorded that some forms of meditation were in practice for more than twenty-five centuries, which were spread from India to China and to other parts of the world. The key principle of all meditation techniques is the connection of the body, mind and the breath. Bodily posture is the key starting point in any meditation practice/session. Sitting on the floor is highly advisable, because it is very stable position to start with. You should use a small pillow to raise the rear just a little bit, so that knees can rest on the ground. With your bottom on the pillow and two knees touching the ground, you form a tripod base that will give you three hundred and sixty-degree stability. There are several positions, which you can take, but it is highly recommended that you find your own position, which will suit you most. Zen’s Lotus is by far the most stable of all known positions. In here, the foot is placed up on the opposite thigh, which gives perfectly symmetrical and solid seating position. It is also important to note there is no esoteric significance to different positions. What is most important is what you do with your mind and not what you do with your feet or legs. It is also fine to sit on the chair too, if that is what your body prefers at that precise moment in time.
In essence, all sitting positions should allow you to keep your back straight during meditation practice. The importance of having your back being perfectly upright is to allow diaphragm to move freely. Your breathing will be very deep (Dan Tien breathing in Chinese) as your abdomen will rise and fall in as much the same way, as an infant’s belly rises and falls. As we mature in our physical development, our breathing becomes more restricted and far less complete. Due to life pressures and “living outside of the body”, we forget to breathe naturally and tend to breathe with shallow exhalations from the top of our chests. As a result, deep, complete breathing hardly ever occurs in our day-to-day lives. Breath is the vital force, which is central to our bodies’ regeneration and recuperation. Mind and breath are one reality: when your mind is agitated, your breath is agitated. When you are nervous, you breathe quickly and shallowly and also when your mind is peaceful, your breath becomes deeper, easier and effortless.
Before starting your meditation sessions, it is very important to loosen up anything that is tight around the waist and to wear clothes that are non-binding. For instance, material should not gather behind the knees when you cross your legs, thus inhibiting circulation. You should also allow diaphragm to move freely, so that breathing is deep, easy and natural. You don’t have to control it and you don’t have to make it happen, as it will happen by itself, provided you get the correct posture and have positioned your body properly.
Once you’ve positioned yourself, there are few things you should have checked beforehand. The mouth should be closed and the tongue should be pressed lightly against the upper palate. This will reduce your need to salivate and swallow. Preferably, eyes should be kept closed to achieve greater focus; however, some people prefer to keep them lowered. The chin is slightly tucked in and the nose is centred in line with the navel, the upper torso leaning neither forward nor back. Once you’ve done this, there should be no tension in your body at all. The hands should be gently placed on top of your knees. In various forms of meditation, people tend to use mantras and or vocal images. But the most highly effective technique is based upon breath. The breath is the life and hence the word “Chi”, which in Chinese means the energy that is generated from the breath.
When above is accomplished, it is important to focus on “Dan Tien” part of the body. It is located couple centimetres below the navel. That is the physical and spiritual centre of the body. Focus your attention on that part only and follow the breath sinking in from your nostrils, all the way down to your deepest parts of the abdomen. We suggest you begin working on yourself by counting the breath, counting each inhalation and each exhalation, beginning with one and counting up to ten. When you get to ten, come back to one and start all over again. During this process, you will notice thoughts pouring in, which if you wish, you may acknowledge and then consciously let them go and begin the count again at one. Mentally bring your awareness to each part of your body progressively and then consciously relax that part, from the feet all the way up to the head. The breath should be relaxed and should follow your mind. This technique could even be adapted for when at work.
The counting is the feedback to help you acknowledge, as to when your mind has drifted off. Each time you return, you are empowering yourself with the ability to put your mind when and where you want it. This technique increases your power of concentration.
When you’ve been practicing this process for a while, your awareness will sharpen. You’ll begin to notice things that were always there, but somehow managed to escape your attention.
Once you’ve masterminded this technique, you will abandon the counting altogether, as you will just be the breath and you will allow the breath to work itself in and out totally naturally and on its own. So when you reach your ultimate state of stillness, you should be breathing at a rate of two to three breaths a minute. So, the more the mind is at rest, the more deeply the body is at rest. Respiration, heart rate, circulation and metabolism slow down tremendously in such a deep state of relaxation.
Importance of breath on our minds and body cannot be ignored, if we aspire to attain long lasting health. Breath is the source of life and everyone should find a small amount of time to concentrate on this extremely therapeutic and so natural way to improve one’s health. It costs nothing, except your will and time, which you will dedicate to yourself and your overall well-being. So go on, treat yourself with this so natural and inexpensive gift and your body will thank you for it.
If you wish to learn more about our programme “Journey into Self Awareness” and how we can help you achieve greater levels of health and wellbeing, please visit our website: www.myespritsain.com or you may wish to get in contact by e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org and we will answer any questions you may have regarding our programme, training dates, benefits, prices and anything else. We look forward to hear from you and welcome you to one of trainings.