How do we calm the body and mind? We know that learning to relax is good for our health and we know that feeling more calmness is good for our mental health, but how do we go about it? Step by step we must learn how to integrate new practices and techniques that are proven to relax our physical and mental tension.
Yoga of course is a beautiful practice that helps to invigorate us with energy and awareness, so we can relax the physical body and then more easily relax our thought processes. A great yoga exercise to do for invigorating the body with energy is an exercise that involves the tensing and relaxing of our muscle groups.
To do them, we must bring our focus to each muscle group (for ex the stomach, the biceps, the neck, or the calves) and send energy and awareness to each part while also focusing on our breath. For beginners, start by inhaling with a double breath through your nose (first breath is short, second breath is long) and tense all the muscles in your body. Then hold and tense, vibrating with will for a few moments and visualizing all the energy going through your body cells as gold healing light. Then exhale through the mouth (first short, then long with the sound of Ha Haaaa) and fully relax all the muscles in your body. Repeat this exercise 2-3 times until your awareness is brought back to this moment in time and you have released tension.
You can repeat this and focus on a different muscle part (like your calves, feet, thigh, shoulders, neck, etc.) doing the double inhale, tense, and double exhale, relax. Try after every relaxation to feel the energy going up to the point between your eyebrows (toward the areas of our brain responsible for higher consciousness), and remember to visualize and draw that energy with great will power. Another important part of this, is smiling! Just the physical movement of a smile has the power to change our attitude from a negative one to a positive one.
Even if the only thing you practice after reading this blog is smiling more, then that is in itself a powerful way to change!
You can also do an experiment to see the difference in energy and sensation between a side of the body that you have “energized” and the side you have not. For example, tense your left forearm (low, medium, high tension) with a double inhale… then relax with a double exhale (high, medium, low tension). Repeat 2-3 times. Then hold up both forearms out in front of you and feel how the right forearm feels in comparison to the left. Do you notice any difference?
Some people say that one side feels lighter, more invigorated, full of energy! Now imagine doing these exercises throughout your body, or even practicing them more than once per day to recharge all the different muscle groups and revitalize your cells with oxygen and positive energy. Think of all the positive affects both mentally and physically that it could have! Learning to train your mind to send energy and revitalize the cells in different parts of your body at will is an extremely valuable skill.
For example, many individuals who practice this testify to their experience of healing themselves from the common cold. I practice the double inhale double exhale breath when I run to go up hills and visualize sending energy to my legs and am now able to run farther and faster without tiring as easily because this practice has helped me learn how to direct my energy.
There was an even an individual who fell in the woods and broke their ankle, and with no other way out then to get up and walk again, they practiced the energization technique and sent the energy with all of their will to the ankle and were able to heal it so that they could walk to safety. Another person who struggled with depression practiced these exercises up to eight times per day and replaced their emotions with positive energy and upliftment, never struggling with it again. Can you imagine how great it would be if more people knew how this simple practice could change their life without the use of prescription medications or other harsh exercising?
Feeling inspired yet? Below is a video that you can watch about the exercises. They were created by Paramhansa Yogananda, a great spiritual teacher of yoga to the West and author of one of the best-selling spiritual books Autobiography of a Yogi.
Click here if you would like to read more detailed instructions.
Other great practices focus on just the breath. This first practice is important because it re-trains us on how to breathe correctly. Correctly? you may ask… Yes, correctly! It’s hard to believe that something so natural could seemingly be done so wrong, but the truth is that most people have forgotten HOW to breathe.
Instead of breathing from deep within their stomach , they have brought the breath up to the throat/chest area (often accompanied by a hunching or tension of the shoulders). The breath in this upper area of the body is actually connected to our emotional response to a stressful situation (during a Fight or Flight moment for ex), and this type of breathing in turn continues to send messages to our brain that we are in a stressful situation– which then sends the signal back to keep breathing that way– etc. etc. etc. until you are kind of constantly feeding this stressful breathing cycle. And many emotional psychologists have illustrated that changes in our physical body send sensory messages to our brains to tell us how to feel and think, so you may even wind up with a more tense or stressful thought pattern.
But we have the power to change! The simple breathing exercises below are easy to do and have the potential to make a profound impact on your health and bring you a calmer state of mind.
The fist exercise teaches you how to bring the breath out of the shoulder area/upper chest and into the abdominal area. First, begin by lying down on your back (face up) and place your hand on your abdominal area. Feel your stomach rise with each inhale and feel it relax in toward your body with each exhale. Repeat this several times each time with deeper inhalations and exhalations, until you naturally feel a calm and peaceful rhythm in your breath. Now, once you rise from this position, the important thing is remembering to practice these big, belly breaths as much as possible throughout the day, especially when you start to feel stress.
You can try practicing an affirmation like I allow my breath to flow from deep within, bringing me peace and calmness every moment. Or you can remind yourself to remind yourself, to bring the breath back to the stomach whenever you remember. Or you can put a post it note up on your desk or computer (where you may see it often). Another trick I have heard works for many people, to remind them to stop, pause, and take some deep breaths throughout the day (sort of to just reconnect with their body and be present), is to set an alarm on your phone every hour (maybe a quick beeping tone) that is short and reminds you to breathe deeply.
This kind of breathing is key when practicing yoga, meditation, or even when we exercise. It allows a greater flow of energy and provides your body cells with the oxygen they need to be at maximum potential. With this type of breathing you may also find it easier to be focused and successful in all that you do–because without the blocks of mental tension we allow a greater flow of inspiration and creativity to pass through our minds. You will also notice your stores of energy become greater because you save so much energy by not sending your body into a stress response all the time.
This has the power to greatly improve your quality of life, and yet it is the simplest thing to change!!
Once you have learned how to bring your breath into the abdominal area, you are ready to begin practicing a simple pranayama (which means control of the life force) exercise. You can practice this at the beginning of meditation or yoga practice, or at any moment of the day when you want to bring your mind into greater focus, and regain your calm center. I have been practicing this since I was 6 years old, and can vouch for its simplicity and yet great capacity for relaxation! Many people have probably already even heard of this, and know how to do it, but it is always good to be reminded of a simple, but beneficial exercise so we can begin practicing it again.
Begin by finding a comfortable position either sitting in a chair or cross-legged on the floor– so that your hips are slightly tilted forward and your shoulders back. This position is an important first step because it allows your chest to be forward in an open, receptive motion and your diaphragm to have space for the breath to move in and out. Now, close the mouth and so that you are breathing through your nose on your inhalations, and on your exhalations with the mouth still closed feel your breath in the back of your throat. For some people who have never practiced this before, you may want to try pretending you are breathing onto the surface of a mirror with that huhhhhh sound. After doing that a few times with your mouth open, try it next with the mouth closed and walah! you are doing this practice’s yogic breath correctly.
Now practice this type of breathing a few times, without forgetting to feel the breath deep within your abdominal area (you may want to place your hand on your belly at first). Once your breathing rhythm begins to flow naturally so that you don’t have to concentrate on the physical movement anymore, begin to do what meditation teachers would call “measured breathing.” This is basically doing an even-measured count throughout the breath cycle with a pause between the inhalation and exhalation. Note that the count you use will be unique to your comfort level, inner rhythm of counting, and lung expansion capabilities.
Here is an example of a measured count of 6: With the inhalation through the nose count 1-2-3-4-5-6, hold 1-2-3-4-5-6, and then exhale through the back of the throat 1-2-3-4-5-6. Repeat 6 or 12 times (either of these are a nice even number that will provide a good balance energetically according to the teachings of yoga).
I also recommend practicing additional exercises that will be listed on the “how to fight fatigue naturally.”
If you incorporate any or all of these practices into your morning routine, on a quick 5 or 10 minute break at work, or when you are even waiting in line at the store, you will start to feel so much better!!!
Again, try to practice this with a friend or set a reminder on your phone to do some of these techniques, especially trying to start and/or end the day with some of these exercises so you can begin or end the day on a calmer note. After a few days of this, you may want to move on to more advanced practices, and so I suggest going to the meditation section for deeper techniques of relaxation or looking at the resources for yoga and meditation page. I also am constantly trying to update the spiritual books list with helpful guides to go deeper on the spiritual path if you feel so inspired, so feel free to view them as well.
Don’t take for granted the power in one moment of peace and calm. It can change you!