Friday, October 30, 2015

Reading for Relaxation

It is well known that many people can’t seem to shut the lights off and go to sleep at night unless they’ve first sat back and relaxed with a good book.  Something about that down time helps to get the body calm and in “sleep mode”.  But the calming results from reading are not just for bedtime.  Taking a good book with you on your lunch break, while passing the time at the library, or just sitting at the park, is a great way to settle the body down and relax.

The entire process of reading a good book requires that we slow down physically, hold still, and settle the body into a relaxed position.  As we read, our heart rate begins to slow down, breathing slows and stabilizes, and muscle tension begins to relax as our attention is captured in the story line of our reading material.

In addition, the process of reading directs the mind to a point of concentration, which prevents distraction by all of the other potential worry thoughts that compete for our attention throughout the day. 

When selecting reading as your mode of relaxation, be picky of the material you choose.  There is a time and place for taking in the news of the day, or reading other business or personal information that has the potential to upset you.  But when choosing reading material for your relaxation time, be sure it is something you enjoy.  A novel, a magazine of special interest, or poetry if that is what relaxes you the most.  What matters is that it's material that captures your mind and soul.  

Thanks to Nadine Heidirch for the great photo - Reading

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Reducing Stress with Mantra Meditation

Meditation is a way of clearing the mind by focusing one's attention on a single thing.  There are many forms of meditation, such as seated meditation, standing meditation, walking meditation, visualization, and chanting meditations.   

Mantra Meditation is a form of meditation that uses the power of words to direct the mind to one single point where the use of a key word, or words, helps the individual to focus on a specific issue, topic, or area of personal growth.  The word, or words, can be thought of internally, or chanted externally, depending on the preference of the person meditating.

An example of Mantra Meditation, which was described by Thich Nhat Hanh, is to think or say the word "calm" while inhaling during meditation, and then think or say the word "smile" while exhaling.  Another mantra that can be used while doing your seated meditation, or throughout one's day while driving or working, is to repeat to yourself, "I am calm and peaceful".  

One of the most well known and most ancient forms of Mantra Meditation is to chant, say, or think the word "Om" while meditating.   Om is considered to be one of the most sacred mantras and is frequently used at the beginning of other sacred prayers or mantras, such as Om mani padme hum, a well known mantra used in Hindu and Buddhist prayer and meditation.

The great thing about using Mantra Meditation is that you can customize it to your personal needs.  For instance, if you are working on building your self esteem, you can meditate while focusing on the phrase, "I value myself.  I value others.  I value the world".  Or if you are working on your own anger management you can use a metta meditation which goes something like this:  "May all beings be happy.  May I be happy.  May all beings be peaceful.  May I be peaceful.  May all being be free.  May I be free", etc.  You get the picture.

Mantra meditation is very powerful.  One of the most powerful things it does is keep you from running the usual flow of negative thoughts that may traditionally run through your mind.  It's a very conscious and intentional practice and with time you can get very good at it.

Thanks to Hartwig HKD for the great photo - Amitabha 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Qigong for Stress Reduction

Two things that have always helped stress and anxiety are exercise and relaxation.  So to find something that has a combination of both is quite a treat.  

Qigong is a form of Chinese mind/body exercise that traces back some 2500 years (although some records indicate much longer).  These exercises use breathing, meditation, movement, and sometimes visualization to improve the flow of “qi”.

Qi means “spirit, life energy, or breath”, and gong means “work, or working with”.  So Qigong means to work with the life energy, or to work with the breath, or spirit.

There are some classic Qigong forms like “The Eight Brocades” and “Healing Sounds”, but it’s believed that there are over 7000 different qigong exercises throughout the world.  Many have been handed down from one generation to the next and have roots that trace to the martial arts and spiritual practices of Taoism.

In his book, The Way of Qigong, Ken Cohen explains that there are different sub-areas of qigong study:  Medical Qigong, External Healing Qigong, Meditative or Spiritual Qigong and Martial Arts Qigong.  All are  simply called, Qigong.

Finding the area of Qigong that is best for you is not about fitting yourself into one of these categories, but simply finding where they fit into your needs and your intentions.  You can begin by reading a little bit about Qigong (such as the book mentioned above), or finding a local class and seeing if it resonates with your stress and anxiety reduction needs.

You can also find many videos online of various forms and practitioners.  Here is a wonderful demo of one of the many versions of the Five Animal Qigong Form, done by a practitioner of the Wudang school of study: 

Thanks to Edwin Lee for his great photo - The Opening Lotus