Saturday, February 16, 2013

Meditation to beat those stressful days ...

Without doubt we all have experienced stress in our working life. When I was training to be a teacher at the University of Sheffield, and we were taught some very basic Alexander technique and meditation skills towards the end of our course.

What I find interesting moving from a career in the teaching profession to the software profession, is how this subject rarely seems to be talked about and addressed. You might be lucky and have a company where someone on level 10 is running a meditation or yoga lunchtimes, but many places don't.

I myself have been been surprised that some close friends (in and out of my profession) don't know the basics of meditation and it's benefits, so I've felt this a topic long overdue for discussion on this blog.

What I aim to do here is give a quick description of meditation, separating the fact from voodoo, and set out a basic exercise for you to try if you've never experienced it before.

Stress – a very modern problem

I have a remarkable memory, except when I'm stressed, when my brain becomes a leaking sieve. Why?

When I'm stressed there tends to be a lot going on, a lot of things I'm supposed to keep my eye on the ball with. I might be worried about someone in my family, we have a deadline, things in my personal or professional life is going through a tough time. Hey – this is life, stuff happens and stuff builds up.

The problem is, with so much to worry, this worry forms thoughts that circle and circle around your head like sharks, forever distracting us. We can't concentrate or even sleep, because we can see their fins as they circle around our mental raft. We can't help it, it's a subconscious thing – the more we try not to think about the sharks out there we're seeing the more aware we are of them.

So meditation?

This is where meditation comes in. Basically meditation helps us to banish these worries and stresses not by trying to send them away, but diverting our attention to something else.

Have you at any time reading this blog thought about the breaths you've been taking? Of course not, breathing is a subconscious function – it happens without us thinking about it, which is why we don't suffocate when we go to sleep (which is pretty handy).

All meditation works by shifting our conscious focus to our breathing, and by doing this, all these other things get blurred. Once you start to think about your breathing, you find it's hard to pull your consciousness away from it. Even now you're so much more self-aware of each breath you've taken since I've mentioned – possibly to the point when if you're distracted by a spelling mistake it almost feels like you're forgetting to breath. So please right now … remember to breath.

In a nutshell it's really that simple – focus on breathing. But by giving ourself time to shift the focus and banish these stresses (even for a little while) it can calm us enough to focus our minds outside of meditation, or just feel more settled to be able to sleep.

A basic exercise

Okay – willing to give this a go? I have come up with a very basic exercise here, you'll need to memorise it, and give it a try – if it works for you once, return to it another day, and keep practising.

First of all, try to find somewhere comfortable – many find lying down helpful, buy an armchair will do just fine, and try to be somewhere where you'll feel warm, quiet, and where you'll not likely be distracted. You need to give this your full attention, so obviously don't try whilst driving or using any equipment (safety briefing over).

Are you comfortable? Then we'll begin …

First of all you need to just just start by focusing on your breathing. Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Just keep doing this for a while. Feel the rhythm of your breath, and try to breath deeply from the bottom of your diaphragm. Each breath should, feel slower, slower than the last. There should feel no urgency, you may even feel your own heart beating as a rhythm as each breath seems to last longer, and you feel your body relaxing.

With your eyes closed I want you to take a breath in and visualise the number 10 in your mind as you breath out. This isn't a race, let the breath flow softly and naturally. When you reach the end of it, take another breath and visualise 9 as you breath out. Keep this going, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Slow and deliberate with every breath. 8. Feel each breath longer than the last. 7. Your body feeling the stress and tension exit with every exhale. 6. Your body should feel relaxed, but somewhat heavier now. 5. It all feels comfortable, you feel at peace with each exhale. 4. You are almost there, where you need to be. 3. Continue to breath, feel the movement, ebbing and flowing like waves lapping a beach. 2. Imagine you're on a beach looking at these slow waves of breath coming in. 1. You are there, sitting on the beach, the waves slowly lapping on the shore with each breath you take. Watch them come in and feel and anticipate each wave. You feel quite comfortable where you are, there's no need or desire to be anywhere else. Just to breath in and out, and watch each wave as they comes in. Feel the rhythm, feel it slow and natural, hear in your mind the gentle rumble of each wave in unison with your breath.

When you are ready to leave though. Count the numbers back visualising each in turn. 1, 2, 3. As your body starts to feel awake. 4, 5, 6. You feel yourself shifting now, becoming more aware of the room around you. 7, 8, 9. You are almost back, you're thinking less and less of your breathing, and more about the details in the room around you. 10. Welcome back.

Hope you enjoyed.

How was it for you?

You might have found that didn't quite work for you – maybe you couldn't get comfortable, or were distracted during it. Even basic meditation can take a few goes, but please give it another try out. Maybe try some soft music and pleasant candle smells to help you relax. Lavender is a good smell for relaxation.

If you found that worked for you, welcome to the world of meditation. Keep trying the exercise, try and get comfortable with what happens, and try experimenting with it. Maybe look up some other exercises on the internet. Instead of a beach, maybe think about your favourite place in the world, and imagine you are there. The possibilities are endless!

Remember, you don't have to be a hippy or a spiritual shaman to try this and get the benefits of it. If it works for you, pass it on. I believe it's the vital piece of an office workers toolkit to have this. On important or big days at work, find a few minutes before a big presentation or meeting to do this to calm yourself – it can work wonders.

Happy stress busting everyone!