Sunday, September 03, 2006


I don't care how boring you think this stuff is. I'm fairly bored at the thought of writing it, the amount of times I've seen this stuff, over and over again. Boring? Maybe. But believe it or not (and the term 'social anxiety' may give this away) anxiety is part of your problem and relaxation will reduce this, so here goes...

Note: All relaxation techniques are best practiced without having your body pumped full of stimulants; nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, etc. Give yourself a good half hour after smoking, eating a meal, exercise, etc, to allow your body to calm to a neutral state.


Relaxed breathing comes from the diaphragm situated within the abdomen, and not the chest. Sit (or stand) comfortably and take a slow deep breath through your nose. Watch the abdomen rise. If you're unsure, place the palms of your hands horizontally across your stomach with your fingers lightly meeting in the middle. When you breath into your abdomen your fingers will gently part. It is your diaphragm which partially controls your breathing in a naturally relaxed state. Shallow, upper chest breathing is part of the stress response. You can exhale through the nose or mouth, whichever you prefer.

  • Breath in for a count of 4.
  • Hold for a count of 4.
  • Breath out for a count of 6.

There is a good reason for breathing out longer than you breath in, which I can't remember exactly now, but it's to do with balancing your carbon dioxide levels, or something.

Without making this complicated, that's it! It can be used at any time of the day, anywhere. A couple of minutes of focused breathing can reduce your stress levels dramatically and ground your feet firmly on the floor. It will reduce blood pressure, stress hormones, lactic acid, improve your immune system, increase your physical energy...the list goes on.


Meditation is something that most people are aware of, but because of varied media publicity it's not something always well understood. Meditation is an extremely simple concept. For example, the breathing exercises above: do that for 5 minutes and your meditating. It's really nothing complex or mysterious.

Despite the stereotypical image of a Buddha sitting in the lotus position repeatedly chanting 'ahmmmmm' the most common method of meditation is simply to focus on your breathing. You can begin by counting your breath (even if not in meditation I'd recommend the breathing exercises above) but it is not necessary. The main objective here is to focus your attention onto your breathing. I think I've spoke of this before, but you can only hold so many thoughts at a time, you can't forget your thoughts by trying to forget, but they will naturally fade as your focus increases elsewhere. Since your breathing has no negative or positive bias (it's just an event) this has a very calming effect on the body and mind. Because it's a constant and very real event it is actually taking your mind away from your thoughts altogether and increasing your awareness of what is happening outside of your body. Don't get me wrong though, you'll not find this to be too true in the beginning. The constant rampage of garbage bouncing off all walls of your cerebral cortex at an alarming rate is what Buddhists refer to as 'monkey mind'. You may never have even noticed this stuff was there until you try to sit still in a quiet room for a few minutes. But don't worry, it is entirely normal.

Monkey mind is part and parcel of the job. And your job is certainly not to sit for ten minutes telling these thoughts to go away. If they appear, and they will, just accept them for what they are, and once you remember your breathing, simply go back to it. The idea is not to control anything here, but only observe what is going on. As your awareness increases with your breathing, you will find this easier. It will take time.

If you want to make it easier on yourself, you can use a mantra. This can be any word you like, but it's beneficial to choose one with a calming sound, usually ending with the age old stereotypical 'ahm'. You could choose a traditional Sanskrit word such as 'Ahnam' (nameless) or 'Shi-rim' (songs). You can also use everyday English words, a very good one being 'calm'. Now, before you start panicking, you don't have to say these out loud. It just gives you something more to focus on and can help aid your meditation repeating the words quietly in your mind. You can use these how you like, but most people find that they will naturally verse their chosen mantra on each out breath: breath in, hold, breath out 'calmmmmm'.

You can also go further afield and use visual or audio aids for meditation. Instead of focusing on your breathing, or a mantra, you can set your gaze on a candle, or even listen to the sound of the birds. This can however have disadvantages in how accessible and flexible your meditation is.

There's many opinions on posture, but you will find a benefit from any position as long as your meditating. I will say that an upright, relaxed yet alert posture will help to attain positive results in your state of mind, but feel free to do this lying down, slouched in your ragged old armchair or even standing up, as long as you make yourself comfortable.

To start off set your time to around ten minutes and aim to do this twice daily. As you become more comfortable you can slowly increase your time to 20 minutes, twice daily. This is enough, although experienced meditators may wish to increase to 30 minutes. If you really want to go crazy and do this every spare moment you've got, then it's advisable to seek out a teacher because by this time you'll be entering parts of your mind which you never knew existed, and we all have scary stuff hidden away in there!

If you do have any negative effects from meditation, just ease off a little, reduce your times and maybe give yourself a break for a couple of days. You will eventually learn how to balance your practice according to your own individual needs.

Tense and Relax

Sometimes it just seems your body is so tense that it's impossible to relax. I'm not going to go too far into this one, but it's a useful technique for alleviating some of that tension from your muscles.

Sit comfortably. Start your breathing, and if you like repeat a mantra or positive statement to yourself. It could be something like 'I'm becoming more and more relaxed'. The trick is then, to breath in, hold your breath, and just as you do that tense your muscles individually, then let them relax as you breath out. Start at the bottom and work your way up. Breath. Hold and tense your calves. Breath out and relax. Keep moving up, to your thighs, your buttocks, abdomen, back, shoulders, upper arms, forearms... All the way up to each muscle in your face.

It helps to be able to become aware of how your muscles respond, sometimes you're just so tense all the time that you're not even aware of that tension since it's a normal occurrence to you.
Audio Tapes and CDs

All of the above are very useful tools. But sometimes when you're overly anxious, agitated and restless it is very difficult to hold down a routine. It's difficult because it's hard to concentrate on what you're doing when you have so much other stuff floating around in your mind. The restlessness takes over and you simply give up.

This is when audio guidance is an extremely useful tool as it is far easier to follow, and once you start the tape you're committed to doing something.

There's so much available on the market though: guided meditation, guided visualization, hypnosis, subliminal messages. If it helps you to relax, then go for it. Right now I've just started listening to Paul McKenna, Supreme Self-Confidence (or something like that). Now, I'm not a firm believer in hypnosis or subliminal messages bombarding my brain, tricking it into a state of 'supreme self-confidence', but that's the only CD I have that's sent me to sleep on numerous occasions. And, If I'm honest all the talk of confidence does make me feel slightly better by the time I've finished listening to it. For this reason, and the fact that my short attention span at the moment is making my efforts of meditation pretty fruitless, I have given myself the aim to listen to this CD everyday throughout September. After the month is up I will re-evaluate, perhaps going back to meditation as my general restlessness fades.

The bottom line is this. If you're really struggling, and no matter how much you try you still can't hold a routine with the techniques mentioned above, get yourself some audio help. It's worth the money. Paul McKenna isn't a bad choice since there's a lot of crap out there and this guy has a genuinely soothing voice, which I find important.


There still other stuff out there, for example self-hypnosis. I really feel I've wrote enough on this for one day though. If you want to learn more, then I suggest you pick up some reading material. A couple of recommendations off the top of my head:

The Book of Meditation - Patricia Carrington (Founder of Clinically standardized Meditation)
Self-Hypnosis - Brian M Alman & Peter Lambrou
Mindfulness - B H Gunaratana (Buddhist meditation)

It is important to keep relaxation as part of some kind if regular routine and not only when you get anxious. Even if it's just once a week it's a help, but it's also worth noting that it does become a lot easier to keep up with once you're into the swing. This is mainly because you feel less restless in your everyday life and more comfortable sitting still for a few minutes.

That's enough for now. Phew...


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