Strees and Stress Reduction
There are many forms of meditation. Most trace their ancestry from ancient yoga and Zen Buddhism. Over the last decade, TM, or transcendental Meditation, based upon Hindu teaching, has become popular in the west. A secret mantra (sound) is given to the meditator by a teacher of the technique. This sound is then repeated over and over with eyes closed.
Some types of Hindu and Buddhist practices focus upon a mandala- a visualization of some object such as a thousand-petal lotus. Regardless of their origin, all the meditative techniques have at least two phases. The first is to quiet the body, and the second is to quiet the mind. This is often done in the following sequence:
1. Relaxing the motor muscles i.e. arms, legs
2. Decreasing the breathing rate.
3. Decreasing the rate of other body functions.
4. Slowing brain activities.
Meditation is often considered the process of trying to eliminate the chatter of the mind-the constant thinking, planning, and fantasizing-which occupies the conscious state of the mind every waking moment. As arousal is reduced, so is anxiety. Self transcendence, or an altered state, is then achieved. Most meditators find they feel creative, positive, calm, and energetic after meditation.
A simple easy to learn meditative exercise, which combines both a mantra and a mandala, is described as follows:
1. Find a quiet place where you can be alone if possible. (This technique may be done in crowded places as long as it is appropriate for you to close your eyes. If you cannot escape to your bedroom or other isolated spot, you can always close the stall door in a public facility to achieve some degree of aloneness and privacy.)
2. Sit in a comfortable position.
3. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Let your thoughts come and go.
4. Start to visualize a particular object-for example, a rose.
5. In your thoughts, start to repeat the word for the object-“rose”-over and over, at any speed or rhythm it wants to go.
6. As you continue to repeat the word, start to imagine the rose opening and closing in the same rhythm.
7. If distracting thoughts come into your mind, let them pass through. Continue to repeat your word and see its image. (Often, worries of the day, like “what shall I have for dinner” or “I have three exams to study for,” will flow through your mind to distract you.?
8. Keep this process going from two to twenty minutes.
9. When it is time to stop, open your eyes slowly.
You should feel relaxed, refreshed, and less anxious after trying this technique.
Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning “union”. The practice is at least 3000 years old, and its origins can be traced to India. It is considered to be a philosophical system. There are now several sects or “paths” of yoga which have developed over the years. Bhakti yoga is a way of devotion of love and faith directed to God. It uses chants and worship, Dhyana yoga is a method of concentration. It is a purely mental discipline leading to trance states. Karma yoga is concerned with selfless work and good deeds. Charitable acts are accomplished by individuals who follow this path. Kriya yoga is primarily concerned with religious action and ritualism. Kundalini yoga theorizes potential energy coiled up in the nervous system, which can be released with the recitation of sacred mantras. Hatha yoga is the most familiar to Westerners. It is the path of health using exercise as a means to mental and physical harmony.
All forms of yoga teach methods of concentration ad contemplation to control the mind, subdue the primitive consciousness, and bring the physical body under control of the will. In Hatha yoga, slow stretching of the muscles in exercise is taught, along with breathing in certain rhythmical patterns. The body positions or asamas for exercises and meditation can be learned, with some practice, by most. These positions are thought to clear the mind and create energy and a state of relaxation for the individual.
A common breathing technique that can be done while in the Siddha, or Lotus position (sitting on the floor with the feet tucked under the knees), is as follows:
1. Sit comfortably in the Siddha position.
2. Breathe in through the mouth to the count of 6. Hold your breath to the count of 9. Exhale your breath through the mouth to the count of 3.
3. Repeat this procedure three times.
4. Breathe in through the mouth and out through the nose, using this procedure, three times.
5. Then hold the left nostril closed with a finger and repeat the procedure, breathing through the right nostril three times.
6. Continue to repeat the procedure in the following manner.
Breathe through the left nostril, breathe deeply or shallowly, hot or cold, panting, puffing, or making animal-like noises such as mooing, cooing, barking, etc. Repeat each of the breathing patterns three times for each sound or part you are concentrating upon.
These breathing exercises can then be done in the various yoga positions. After engaging in this activity, many find that they feel relaxed and are energized, alert, and calm.
Like most other mind-altering techniques, hypnosis is very ancient. The earliest documented use of hypnotherapy dates back 3000 years to the Evers Papyrus of ancient Egypt. The sleep temples of the Babylonians and ancient Greeks are other examples of early hypnosis centers. Hypnosis has waxed and waned in popularity over the centuries. Until recently, it has not been popular in North America. However, hypnotic techniques under different names, such as visualization and imaging, have been used increasingly over the past twenty years. Mental health professionals are now also beginning to use hypnosis in treatment. Many hypnosis techniques are easy to learn and can bring relaxation, altered states, and alertness. They can also relieve headaches and other chronic pain and are effective against insomnia.
When people think of hypnosis, they often think of a trance state that takes special preparation, intelligence, or skill to achieve. However, going into a trance through self hypnosis is something we do every day. For example, when you drive a car and suddenly “wake up,” realizing that you had driven further than you thought, you have just come out of trance. Daydreaming in a boring lecture is another example of a trance state. Using self hypnosis for relaxation or concentration is taking this natural skill of relaxed, focused concentration and putting it to use for your benefit.
The following procedure is a simple self hypnosis technique that takes about ten to twenty minutes to accomplish.
1. Sit in a comfortable chair.
2. Close your eyes and breathe slowly in and out ten times.
3. Imagine that you are at the top of the stairs in an old mansion.
4. Each time you breathe out, start to take a step down the stairs.
5. As you are breathing and stepping down, start counting backwards from 20 to 1.
6. As you are breathing, counting, and walking, down the steps you may notice that your body is beginning to feel relaxed, warm, and heavy.
7. When you have reached the bottom of the stairs, go out a door that opens onto a beach.
8. After you have walked through the door to the beach, feel the warm sun on your body. Hear the waves washing against the shore and the sound of seagulls. Feel the warm sand flowing through your toes. Smell the fresh salt air. See the sparkling water and the blue sky above you. Enjoy the beach for a few moments.
9. When you are ready to reorient yourself back to your surrounding environment, start to count from 1 to 20. At the count of 20, you will feel refreshed, alert, relaxed, and wide awake.
You can do many variation upon this image. Instead of going to the beach, you may like to go to a favorite outdoor spot in the woods, or to the place you used to enjoy as a child. This and other self hypnosis techniques can help you to feel relaxed and calm, and sometimes result in an natural high. Biofeedback
Biofeedback is a relatively new technique. It generally relies on a machine that can measure brain waves, cardiac rhythm, pulse, breathing, muscle tension, or conduction of electricity by the skin. Since it is not a technique that you can do without purchasing expensive and complicated equipment or going to the office of a therapist who has the equipment, biofeedback will not be discussed in great detail here. Basically, biofeedback training is a conditioning process. When a more tranquil state is recorded by the equipment, the individual is rewarded by a pleasant tone or colored light. The individual attempts to concentrate so as to produce more and more of the reward in response to changes in the body system he/she is trying to control. This technique can be used to lower blood pressure, produce an increase of alpha waves, or slow pulse or muscle tension.
CREATIVE AND OTHER ALTERNATIVES
There are numerous creative activities in which an altered state is experienced by the participant. These include the arts, crafts, and hobbies.
Music. Since the beginning of time, humans have engaged in chanting, singing, or other rhythmic vocal activities. They have also devised musical instruments to accompany them in their song, and dances to graphically illustrate the story in the music. Many cultures have developed special styles of music that reflect the geography, social order, or primary occupations of the society. Males in many African cultures, for example, would partake in chanting and dancing accompanied by drums and primitive flutes. They would sing and enact in their dance movements the hunting of game in which they were about to engage on the grasslands. This type of activity probably energized them for the hunt and created a natural high.
Music in various forms is also common today in all societies. Some people musical instruments for recreation and enjoyment-the guitar, piano, and banjo are common. If you do not already play a musical instrument, you might like to learn for your own enjoyment. Most university communities have music students who would be happy to teach you for a few dollars an hour. People who practice a musical instrument often describe an altered state of consciousness during playing.
Those individuals who sing also often report a feeling of exhilaration and a natural high after practice singing for an hour or so. Most communities have singing groups of various kinds: choirs, choruses, barbershop quartets, and community theater that produces light opera. This is another activity in which you might like to participate.
Composition and Writing. Many individuals throughout history have alluded to the production of an altered state during creative writing or musical composition. Beethoven, even though he lost his hearing, could hear music in his head and could still compose. Individuals who write often mention that they get into a “creative mood” in which they lose track of time and place and are intensely self absorbed in their writing production. This again is described as a natural high by many-including the author-who write for enjoyment.
Painting and Sculpture. Some of the earliest human artistic remains are rock paintings in caves of southern France. Art was, and is, found in all cultures in a variety of forms. For example, the Islamic religion prohibits the rendering of human likeness in art. However, adherents of Islam have created elaborate designs in various mediums instead. Cultures have varied as to the emphasis they have put on art and the status of the artist. This has produced, historically, in societies where art was not highly regarded, individuals who have suffered poverty and hardships in order to paint or express themselves artistically in other ways. These artists and others have often reported spiritual or altered conscious states from partaking in their creative activity.
If you have never tried drawing, painting, sketching or sculpting, you might like it. A variety of classes are offered in these media in all colleges and universities.
Crafts such as pottery, basket weaving, and cloth and tool making have been around since early humans first began to collect in small tribes. There has been evidence of craft production throughout recorded archeological history. Undoubtedly, hand crafts were first practiced as a necessity for basic survival. However, as societies progressed, many crafts, even though they were no longer necessary for survival, remained as certain individuals took pleasure in engaging in them. There are hundreds of crafts in which you can become involved. In most cases, some item is created. Crafts can take the form of knitting, crocheting, needlepoint, tatting, furniture making, weaving, stained glass window production, flower arrangement, jewelry, carving, and woodworking, to name a few. Many individuals enjoy some type of craft activity. Becoming involved in a craft will often produce relaxation, an altered state, and pleasure in completing a project.
Hobbies and Games
It is not known how far back into time hobbies and games for fun and recreation have existed. However, the ancient Greeks and Egyptians played a chess-like game using small carved figures. Card playing was recorded in the Middle Ages, and the wealthy have always collected artistic works. Hobbies and games can include a variety of activities. They are generally done for fun and pleasure, involve minimal physical exertion, and usually do not produce a product. Some examples of hobbies include stamp collecting, art or antique collecting, ham radio operation, automobile “tinkering”, purebred animal raising, and pleasure reading. Games can range from such cerebral activities as chess and “Dungeons and Dragons” to simple endeavors such as card games and charades. Most individuals express sensations of pleasure, intense involvement, and often altered states from participating in hobbies and games.
In summary, there are many activities that can be used as alternatives to drugs for reducing the stresses of life. Instead of tranquilizers and barbiturates, self hypnosis, mediation, and progressive relaxation can be used for pain and anxiety reduction and sleep. Rather than using amphetamines for weight control, one can engage in active exercises such as jogging and swimming. To escape from the same old environment, an individual can enjoy camping and other outdoor recreation sports rather than consuming alcohol or marijuana. Instead of using hallucinogens for a thrill and a high, sky diving and flying can be practiced. If you are not already participating in any of these activities, you might like to take a chance and try them.