Long periods of stress without a break can bring you down mentally, emotionally and physically.
Last week I posted a video of Diana and I discussing how difficult it can be to turn down the output (and input) for a few weeks and create space to rejuvenate. But in the long run, it really pays off.
It seems to be a timely discussion.
I had friends, clients and students writing and thanking me for the encouragement to take a break. Less than a week later, the NY Times posted an article about the importance of down-time and rest. A friend shared a study published in July referring to how “Chronic psychological stress impairs recovery of muscular function“. A Forbes magazine author asked my list serve how entrepreneurs can live a more balanced life. And yesterday, the Huffington Post released a story about how you can have an Ultimate Day Of Relaxation At The Office
Is everyone recognizing national relaxation day, or is there a deeper message here?
I think it’s the latter. (Even though National Relaxation Day is Friday, August 15)
For too long people have been pushing rest and recovery to the side
with the idea that non-stop work without replenishment is gallant, or heroic. What we’re really doing is ignoring the law of diminishing returns, and the fact that we’re just giving our work – and our loved ones – a much inferior version of ourselves when we don’t take some time and space to replenish.
The good news is, there are many ways to take a break
besides the 2-week vacation. And most likely my friend, you’ll need way more than that to balance out your life anyway.
It’s important to remember that the shorter the break, the more regularly you need to do it to receive the benefits. In the best case scenario you’ll have a few of these regularly scheduled in your life:
- A four-day weekend
- A day-trip
- A half-day hike
- A twenty- minute walk
- A reading break (non-essential reading only)
- A short nap
A short meditation can boost your energy and revive your brain more significantly than you think.
The Scientific American posted a great article about how our executive functions are improved – even mental decline associated with aging can be reigned in – with meditation.
When I lead clients through a meditation I remind them that it’s their mini-vacation. It’s a small space inside the day where they are actually not supposed to do anything. No problem solving, no list-making, no re-hashing of conversations from earlier in the day.
By doing nothing, our parasympathetic nervous system (maintenance and repair) gets to take charge again and our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) turns down. Our immune system strengthens. Our heart rate and blood pressure lower. Our brain re-sets.
Because the amount of time invested is flexible, and you can do it anywhere, meditation is the ultimate tool for balancing our highly stressed, time-starved lives.
Five to ten minutes is great
and can give you lots of benefits. Once you get used to that, you can do longer time periods when it suits your schedule.
Meditation was torture when I first started
I was living in NYC and I really needed the stress reduction. Sitting for ten minutes was so difficult! Granted, I wasn’t doing it in the most enjoyable way – I would set my focus on one thing, like a candle, and try “not to think”.
I learned how to meditate by reading about it. I didn’t know that was really a second-rate way to get started. In my opinion, the best way to begin is with someone to lead you through.
Since then, I’ve experienced some amazing meditation instructors
Tara Brach, Jonathan Faust, Gil Frondsdale, and Madison Jones (links to their resources below). These instructors helped me to understand meditation more clearly and develop a much more meaningful meditation practice. Even if I don’t do it every day, it’s extremely satisfying when I do.
Because I know meditation can either be a struggle or a joy, I like to help others get to the “joy” whenever possible. Here are some of my suggestions for a great meditation experience.
How to Meditate for Relaxation and Rejuvenation:
Start either seated, or lying down, in a comfortable position, in a comfortable room. Make sure you’re not too cold or too warm. Have a blanket nearby because it can get chilly when you’re sitting still.
The best way to begin
especially if you’re looking to reduce stress and rejuvenate, is to progressively relax your body. Pay attention to all your body parts from head to toe, or toes to head, and just see if you can relax them a little bit more than they already are. Once you’ve done that, you’ll find you’re in a much better place already.
This relaxed state is the best place to jump into any other form of meditation. My favorite is the openness practice. Allow yourself to be aware of the room you’re in. The seat you’re on. The air you’re breathing. Allowing yourself to hear the sounds of the room, the sounds outside of the room, even the sounds on the street, without actually doing anything about them. Allow the world to go on around you, for a few minutes, without trying to fix, change, or respond to any of it… for just a few minutes.
If you’d like my guidance through a relaxation and rejuvenation meditation,
you might like my latest meditation Mp3: Meditation for Relaxation and Mindfulness. It’s meant to provide guidance through a little longer meditation time (25 min). If you want to do a little longer meditation but can’t seem to do it on your own, it can help you through.
Otherwise, you can take it through the progressive relaxation portion and stop there.
Meditation instructors I recommend:
Tara Brach and Jonathan Faust at IMCW.org
Madison Jones at: Thur 7pm-8:30pm at Foundry United Methodist Chucrh, 1500 16th St (&P), NW DC
Gil Fronsdal: AudioDharma
NY Times 08/10/2014/ Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/10/opinion/sunday/hit-the-reset-button-in-your-brain.html
J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jul;28(7):2007-17. Chronic psychological stress impairs recovery of muscular function and somatic sensations over a 96-hour period. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24343323
The Huffington Post 08/15/201 Yes, Your Ultimate Day Of Relaxation Can Be At The Office http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/15/relaxation-guide-national-relax-day_n_5675034.html
Scientific American 10/15/2013 Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/