I am trying to write this post on stress and relaxation techniques and nothing comes to mind but a bunch of platitudes that can be found on a million websites at the click of a finger. I stare at the dogs, sleeping by my desk, hoping their furry backs, undulating slowly in a rhythmic motion, will provide inspiration. The sock monkey on the electric blue rocking chair mocks me with his fixed grin. Now I am stressed.
Time to do something else: shame that walking with the dogs or cocoon on the couch with a book at 11 am would make me feel like a lazy bug. I opt for the middle ground and unfurl the yoga mat – doing some yoga will relieve the stress, if not provide some inspiration. Why do I keep on forgetting it? Why don’t I practice consistently what I know? Why is it I find myself more and more often holding my breath, to rival Jacques Cousteau? We have the means (or, at least, the knowledge) to de-stress and yet we fumble along holding our breaths. There is a form of masochism I can lay claim to.
“Have a glass of water, dear. Take a deep breath. I will fetch you a cup of tea.” How many times have we witnessed this in the movies? Or experienced it ourselves in a moment of upset? Does it actually work to gulp down tap water or circle our fingers on a hot mug? Amazingly, it does. It refocuses our attention, ever so slightly, onto something outside our mind, relaxing a bit the tight grip of stress. Grandma had it intuitively right.
I have touted the benefits of meditation many times before but maybe you are not the type to willingly sit and control your breathing. It does help, though. A few nights ago, after a sleepless night, I went to bed exhausted but worried sleep might elude me again. I tossed and turned for half an hour before coming to my senses and telling myself I knew what to do. Lying very still, I deepened my breath, one breath at a time and, before I knew it, it was morning and the dogs were waking me up.
No need for fancy Lulu Lemon pants or even a commitment to a yoga studio: refocusing our attention on our breathing is an easy and powerful tool we forget to use, one that can be used at any time. Now that schools are back in full swings, the holidays will be upon us before we know it and, at least in Los Angeles, traffic will increase proportionally to the drop in temperature, I thought I would share a couple of de-stressing techniques for both beginners and old hands alike: because we all need to be reminded, now and then, to just breathe.
The techniques (which she calls Minis – as in mini meditations) are taken from Dr. Kathy Gruver’s book Conquer your Stress with Mind/Body Techniques, which is packed with information on what stress does to you and techniques on how to permanently get rid of it.
Mini #1: As you breathe in, count slowly up to 4; as you breathe out, count slowly back down to 1. As you breathe in, you say quietly to yourself, “1..2…3…4”, and as you breathe out, you say quietly to yourself, “4…3…2…1.” Do this several times.
Mini # 2: This is counting the space between the inbreath and the outbreath. After each inbreath, pause and count, “1…2…3”, after eachout breath, pause again and count, “1…2…3.” Do this several times. [this is an effective tool to release anxiety].
Mini # 3: You might have heard of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author of many books on Buddhism and meditation. This is his favorite mini.
On the inbreath, you think “I am” and on the outbreath you think “at peace”. Repeat this several times. This is also an excellent mini to use while walking.