Hello and welcome to Friday, March 4, 2022. Today is a rare and precious day that will never come again.
As I mentioned last week, becoming more mindful and getting out of our busy mind begins with developing our attention and awareness. One obstacle to developing our attention is tension and stress.
“You need to relax!”
The times when I’ve actually been told that I need to relax, I found it more infuriating than helpful. Of course I needed to relax! But during those tumultuous moments when this great wisdom would have been best applied, it was already too late – I was emotionally triggered, anxious, stressed, or fearful and didn’t have access to being relaxed. If I had access, don’t you think I would have?
Though we can learn useful techniques like deep breathing or grounding our awareness in the body which can help us to self-soothe during times stress and tension, I have found it much more practical to stay relaxed as opposed to trying to become relaxed.
Relaxation is not only beneficial for our physical body, when we are relaxed, we have increased clarity of thought and better access to the values and principles that we hold dear. If you’ve ever done any public speaking, despite all the practice beforehand, you probably know that we often have difficulty calling to mind everything we want to say during our speech.
When we are physically and mentally tight, we unfortunately sometimes react to situations by saying things that we truly don’t mean. When this happens, we often feel remorseful and ashamed.
There are many different sources of stress and tension. And while a comprehensive mindfulness practice can help you to overcome many of the mental and emotional triggers of stress and tension, we can begin to learn to relax by becoming more aware of the tightness and tension in the body. When our mind is tight, so is our body. When our body is relaxed, so is the mind. Therefore, I have found it most helpful to start with the body.
Learning to relax the body is a practice. Everything that we practice, we get better at. Just like playing the guitar, the more we practice, the better we get. The more we practice techniques that help us to relax the body, the more relaxed we become overall.
Doing frequent relaxing body scans does a couple things for us. Most obviously, it helps us to relax tension in the body. What’s not so obvious is that over time and with practice, we begin to develop introspection – the expansive awareness of our current physical, mental, and emotional state of being. This invaluable quality of introspection is a byproduct of doing frequent body scans. You don’t have to work for it, introspection arises from the practice.
Relaxing body scans can be done on your own or you can be guided. Like mindfulness of breath meditations, there are plenty of recorded relaxing body scans on the internet and on meditation apps. I even have one on my website that you can download for free.
Though it can be difficult at first to keep your awareness moving sequentially through your body – the mind always has something to say – you can learn to scan through your body in just a few minutes. During this scan, the goal is to try to become aware of areas of tightness or tension and invite those muscles to relax. Maybe your shoulders are tight right now?
Before I offer some guidance, it’s important to note that when I suggest relaxation, I don’t mean being zoned out. The intention is to keep an alert and attentive mind and relax the body. This helps to improve our clarity of thought.
The process is simple. Sit up comfortably straight in a chair or lie flat on your back in savasana. Position is important because we don’t want our breathing to be inhibited by slouching. If you find it helpful, you can use your breath to help facilitate the relaxation. Let each in-breath be an invitation to soften and melt away any tightness or tension that you identify as you scan through your body. Let you out-breath be an opportunity to release the tightness, stress, and tension.
Begin by bringing your awareness to the top of your head, a small area about the size of a quarter. Just notice the sensations there. After a moment or two, allow your awareness to flow down over your forehead to the level of your eyes. Soften the space between your eyebrows, the area around your eyes, and the corners of your eyes. Slowly and progressively scan over your cheeks and nose down to the area around your mouth. Soften your lips. Maybe cultivate a gentle smile – it’s hard to be tense and tight when you’re smiling.
Scan down into your neck. If you’re sitting up, surrender your shoulders to gravity. Each time you breathe out, just allow your shoulders to fall away from your neck. Scan down one arm all the way to the fingers. Then the other arm. Bring your awareness up into your chest and upper back. Slowly and progressively scan down through your torso. Pay special attention to your belly. Just allow your belly to soften and to rise and fall with each breath.
Allow your awareness to descend into your pelvis. From deep within, scan down one leg all the way to the toes relaxing and releasing with each cycle of breath. Do the same with the other leg. When finished with the second leg, allow your awareness to expand throughout your whole body. For the next few moments, just rest your awareness in the sensations of the body, globally.
If when you finish this body scan you still feel some stress and tension in your body, that’s ok! You didn’t do anything wrong. Just like everything else we want to get good at, it takes time, patience, and practice to learn to relax.
Note: you can incorporate this into your formal meditation practice. Before you bring your awareness to your breath, do a quick, or not so quick, relaxing body scan. You will likely find that it helps your ability to focus. It sure does for me.
If you would like more guidance or instruction, I am here to help. Be looking for live and in person workshops and retreats early this summer.
You are Loved by me, Unconditionally!
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