Mindfulness, Meditation, and Milkshakes: Five Ideas To Help You Relax
So here we are. Welcome to this hub on mindfulness, meditation and other practices that you can do in your daily life that may help you cultivate a sense of equilibrium and acceptance in your life. Below I have noted five different techniques or pathways that I have used and read about, and that I've seen other people use, and... well, you get the point. These things I'm going to talk about really can work.
I try to leave religion and politics and other things out of my writing, but I do want to give serious props to the Buddhists, because they have some awesome techniques that we can all learn from. I don't subscribe to any religion, but I find myself aligning quite a bit with the philosophies of Buddhism. And some people who are Buddhists would classify it more as a spiritual practice or mindset. But alas, I've wiggled away from the topic again...
So back to why you're here. Help with relaxing. There are many ways to do it. One could sit on the couch and watch TV, or get in the car and go for a drive, or spend time with friends and loved ones. The following list contains none of these things. What we are going to talk about are more intrinsic things -- learning how to relax by looking inward, and learning the all-important lesson that we can practice acceptance and mindfulness no matter what circumstances are whirling around us. It doesn't matter what your economic bracket is, how many friends you have, where you went to school, or how much cream you like in your coffee. Learning these internal mechanisms are great for you, whoever you are (except you, Steve. These techniques won't work for you.)
1. Bring yourself back to the present
Mindfulness, meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy, and countless other practices employ awareness and bringing oneself back to the present moment. Bringing your thoughts back to the present moment, away from fears, anxieties, your grocery list, things you have to do, and all the other things your brain is capable of triggering to your chagrin.
Focus on your breathing. In breath, and out breath. How slowly do you breathe? How does your chest feel as it expands and contracts? Continue to focus on your breathing, and if something else comes to your mind, whatever it is, let it fall away.
Release yourself from your thoughts and stresses. Focus on your breathing. When a thought emerges, let it go, and bring yourself back to your breathing. Doing an exercise like this is a fantastic foundation for releasing stress and gaining perspective. Do this breathing exercise for 5 minutes in a quiet, safe place.
2. Lessen your attachments
This doesn't mean throw everything away. It also doesn't mean that you are not allowed to want what you want. In the sense that I'm talking about it, attachment means "needing" something. How much do you feel you need something? The air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink; these things we all have very strong attachments to, and for good reason. Without them, we would perish for good. This is partly why dieting and weight loss are so darn tough to do. We need food! We don't need tobacco or alcohol, which in themselves can be addictive, but food is kind of a necessity, so it packs a wallop when we try and limit our intake or to drastically change what we eat.
Anyways, back to the point. Attachments to water and food and air are obvious, but there are other things we become attached to in life that we can look into and figure out the kinds of effects these relationships have on our emotional health. For instance, our attachments to money. In our culture, and I know you've heard this idea before, but in the time we live in, materialism, greed, and monetary wealth are regarded very highly as destinations and goals in life, and seen this way by so many prominent institutions in our lives that it is hard to escape. In fact, the advertising industry, which is an absolutely huge chunk of business in this country and abroad, is basically built on the principle of creating wants, getting you to think (or more importantly, for you to not think at all) about buying, having more, having the newest, the shiniest. And whether we are aware of this or not, when we attach to these wants they cling to our identity and become just one more thing we have to deal with, one more beast of burden.
Look at how you value money, how you value material things. Houses, cars, iPhones, computers, new clothes. Think about how important these attachments are to you. Should your happiness really hinge on what kind of car you drive? Is that right? Should your happiness depend on your looks, how physically attractive you'd rate yourself? That doesn't seem very fair. Now, here's the caveat. Of course, money is important. And wanting money is okay. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be successful in any way you want to be successful. There's nothing wrong with wanting a big house or a fancy car or an attractive mate, but it is in the feeling that if you don't get one of these things that you are somehow less of a person or less capable of being happy. Your happiness doesn't have to rely on any of these extrinsic goods. Think about that, and a huge weight will be lifted off your shoulders.
Also, this is good practice with your relationships. Think about the people in your life -- friends, enemies, family, lovers, etc. We are social animals and we need others in our lives, but we can lessen our unhealthy attachments with others. Think about how you may respond negatively to certain people in your life, or how certain people bring you stress. Understand that you are choosing to feel that way, that they are not making you feel that way. The control over your feelings is in your hands, and to grasp the idea that your feelings are in your hands goes a long way towards having healthier, more balanced attachments with others.
3. Hydrate and stretch it out
Drink plenty of water. Glasses of it. Carry a water bottle with you in the car, and have one nearby at work. Drinking water and staying hydrated is essential to your health inside and out. Water is to the body as oil is to the car: without it, we wouldn't be going anywhere. Water lubricates our joints and flushes our system. It improves mental clarity, and helps keep us emotionally buoyant (pun intended).
A good thing to do concurrently with staying hydrated is to stretch. Do a simple stretch for a minute, five minutes, or even fifteen, and you'll feel the difference. You will release pressure and reinvigorate yourself without having to strap on the running shoes.
4. Make a wish list
Another method for examining one's attachments and the kinds of things we feel we need is to list what we want. This may seem like giving in to the problem, but in fact it's not. You may be indulging your materialistic side in listing the things you want -- cars, houses, whatever you want -- but it is serving a larger purpose. You get to make your list of goodies and examine them afterward and ask yourself what you really need, and why you chose the things you did. It's important for you to not be judgmental during this process.
Don't be critical of your choices, or just as bad, don't censor yourself, don't stop yourself from listing things in order to feel like a better person or someone "who is healthier". Just write down what you want, save it in a word document, and have it available to look at later (or right after you make it). Another cool idea is to cut and paste actual pictures from the internet of things you want. Make a visual list or collage of all the material goods you have stored up in your head, and acknowledge that these things are important to you and that it's perfectly acceptable to want these things. To know what motivates you materially can help you to disarm the more unnecessary of fantasies, and to work with the things you really want, and to understand what you would like but don't need in order to be happy.
5. Reflect on your luck
Think about how lucky you are to be born in this time, in this society, in a time of such convenience and easy living compared to the rest of history. Think about how little we need to struggle compared to any of our ancestors, and how life is kind of just set up for us. We just need to work and pay our bills on time, but there are so many things and options, opportunities and events available to us. We are in a time of unparalleled freedom and options. Could some things be better? Sure, life is still not easy, and we can still have bad days even when we are doing everything right, but life for us today is more free and comfortable than it's ever been before. We are quite lucky.