“Your mind is limitless. Within you is a power to define if a thought becomes an action, a habit, until it grows to be your second nature. Unlocking your mind can change your future.”(Maria Lehtman)
What keeps you up at night? Do you need a cure for over-thinking? Career professionals often believe that reducing anxiety and stress level requires thinking less. You may be surprised to learn that the secret to a more relaxed state of mind is to change the way you think. Sometimes less is more – in quality of life more is simply more.
How do we cope with 2^100000000000 thoughts ?
There are various studies and hypothesis about how many thoughts human beings have per day. According to aestetic.machinery.com (1) the number of possible thoughts include both conscious and subconscious activity.
The average rate of thought during waking hours is estimated to be 10 per second i.e. 36’000 thoughts per hour! In short, our mind has an enormous capacity to process experiences. Regardless of the amount one question remains: How do we quiet the mind?
Mindfulness exercises approach the dilemma through presence. If you focus on the present moment you have less room for anxiety. Why? Because your mind is not caught up in the worries of earlier today or concerns about tomorrow. Your frame of reference should be the in the ‘now’.
How to quiet the mind and relax in 15 minutes?
Many people feel that meditation is complex and requires patience and time that is not available in a busy career and family life. The ability to relax, however, can be obtained with some self-discipline and practice.
Based on my own experience, I wanted to share a quick introduction how to perform a mindfulness exercise when you only have e.g. 15-20 min in the evening to quiet down:
- Set the scene. Close the curtains, turn down the TV. If relaxing music helps look for something quieting (meditation music, soft classical music i.e. something without a heavy beat). YouTube has many options to play on the background (one example here)
- Remember to turn down any alarm sounds from your mobile, tablet etc. devices and ensure the screens are closed and lights are not disturbing your eyes.
- Find a comfortable position on a couch or lie down in your bed with cushions to support you. Heat pads and similar means can help to release tension in the neck & shoulders
- Close your eyes and take 3 deep breaths. inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth Imagine that each breath is making your eyelids heavier than before.
- Relax your body. You can squeeze your left hand into a tight ball for 5 seconds to feel the difference between tension and relaxation.
- Squeeze your eyelids shut tightly for a few seconds, wrinkle your face muscles (tighten the lips, wrinkle the brow..) and release.
- Tighten and release muscles for a few seconds in the shoulders, arms, legs if you feel tension. If you feel pain anywhere in your body avoid adding tension to those areas. Rather, focus on the breathing.
- Let your mind wander from one thought to another keeping your focus on your breathing. Thoughts will keep invading your mind. Imagine that your mind is like a theater stage. There is no repeat, speed-up, stop or hold buttons. You are letting the thoughts to play out without holding on to them.
- Let your mind explore the sensations in your body. When you feel tension, let your mind rest a while in that area and accept the state. Keep breathing at a regular pace .
- Continue until you feel your breath is flowing freely.
30 seconds technique
In time 3 deep breaths will be the only thing you need to let go of your ‘armor’, the tightness that guards against the stress. You can use the 3-deep-breath technique in any situation: before jumping from one conference call to another or even during a stressful meeting. It helps if you think ‘breathing’ while inhaling and ‘relaxing’ while exhaling.
Alternatively you can use the following rhythmic breathing technique : inhale counting to 4 – hold your breath counting to 4 – exhale counting to 4.
And if you feel like you still cannot relax: take a quick walk outside and take some snapshots from small, wonderful details in the buildings, flower arrangements, window decorations…It only takes a few minutes but gives you a momentary outlet from your stress zone.
Your award for trying this out?
Your autonomic nervous system is learning to relax. It means that your mind can actually cope with a lot more events and stress during the day because it learns not to collect tension in your body. Increased memory capacity, reduced muscle pain, a more positive mindset (2) are just a few examples of the benefits (3) you might gain.
Go ahead – give it a try!
Note: Above technique is not shared in order to replace any medical advice given to you by your physicians. Breathing and meditation techniques have variance per individual so take heed of your own requirements, sensations and feelings.
References and more reading:
What is mindfulness: read more from Wikipedia
Sleep Meditation example: Jason Stephenson (YouTube video)
(1) Aesthetic Machinery: The number of possible thoughts is determined by calculating
every possible pattern of brain activity.
(2) Psychological Science: Teaching the Neurons to Meditate
(3) Smithsonian.com: What Does Neuroscience Know About Meditation?