Author: Michael Decaire
A very enlightened 17 year old once shared with me a metaphor that he felt described his sources of tensions (I'm paraphrasing as I did not anticipate the enlightened moment he was about to share with me):
"I have spent much of my adolescence sitting on a bus, either looking out the back window ruminating about where I have been or out the front window worrying about where I'm going. Mindfulness meditation has taught me to look out the side of the bus and simply experience where I am now."
The more you get into the concept of mindfulness the more that metaphor will really mean to you. I do not know if he came to that thought himself or if someone had shared it with him, but it is a remarkable statement none the less and really captures how failing to be in the current moment in time means we are often being driven by tension or stress about the future or suffering regarding to the past.
Below is a brief 5 to 6 minute breathing and focusing meditation intended to take you out of the past/present and into the moment. After you've tried this, why not try moving onto something you want to get done, by working on it one step (or present moment) at a time, moving forward by simply acting in the moment.
Author: Michael Decaire
Mindfulness meditation, relaxation therapy, and even some martial arts begin and end with taking a controlled, slow, and deep breath. What's the big deal?
There is a long list of research regarding what the breath does for the body (beyond just allowing us to exist). Of therapeutic interest are the links that breath has with many aspects of our physiological stress response system. When we get stressed out we become increasingly driven by our "fight or flight" system which is driven by our sympathetic nervous system. This response increases our blood pressure, pulse, and breathing rate in order to protect us from threat.
This was a pretty useful evolutionary construct when we were dodging lions and other large meat eaters tens of thousands of years ago. These days the system is rarely that helpful and, even in times of threat, a system that we can control will usually lead to a better outcome (the US military is doing some really cool experiments hacking into this system through breath and meditation).
While we may not necessarily be able to bypass the sympathetic nervous system immediately, we can learn to take control of these systems fairly quickly and somewhat unconsciously through practice. One of the key aspects of this is breathing. Slow and deep breaths have been shown to stimulate an opposing "para"sympathetic nervous system reaction. This is the one that calms us down.
Think of the sympathetic system as the gas pedal where we decide to race away or crash into a threat at high speed. The parasympathetic system is the breaks where we slow down for a second and act in a smart way to solve our problems.
Essentially, when we are being driven by our sympathetic system we are functioning at a pretty basic and not especially strategic part of our brain (the amygdala to be more precise). This system derails our ability to self-direct ourselves and usually means we act on instinct. If we can bypass that system we can leverage our more evolutionary advanced frontal lobes. This part of our brain allows us to better inhibit our instincts and move forward in a smart and self-directed way.
Another example, ever gotten into an argument or fight with someone and said something you did not mean that did not resolve your issue at all and perhaps made things even worse for you? Have you walked away, calmed down, and realized how you could of approached the situation differently and better conveyed your thoughts?
That first system is the sympathetic the second is the parasympathetic, which we can give a boost too by taking a second to breath slowly and deeply. So take some old advice. Relax a bit and take a deep breath. Then decide what to do.
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The information provided on the Think FLEXibly Blog is for educational purposes only. These documents are not intended to be considered therapeutic guidance, nor should they be followed as a substitution to a well established therapeutic relationship.