Yoga and Meditation
Yoga and mindfulness meditation have been rumored to increase resilience by inducing the relaxation response. The body exhibits the relaxation response by producing anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, and anti-stress effects. Dr. Roy-Byrne, MD set up an experiment to see whether the relaxation response would not only reduce physiological stress but also actually change gene expression. The gene expression of peripheral blood cells was analyzed in a group of long-term practitioners and a group of novices. Samples were taken at 3 different intervals in the experiment: the start, immediately after the exercise, and 15 minutes after the exercise. Long –term practitioners and novices experienced changes in gene expression after the relaxation.
Brain scans show that mindfulness can change the way our brains function, and help us improve attention, reduce stress hormones and even bounce back faster from negative information.
The increased ability to bounce back from negative information that comes from regular mindfulness practice is particularly important for people who sometimes experience depression. One of the most disabling aspects of depression is that it robs us of the ability to recover from bad news and stress.
One of the oldest “self help” practices is based on breathing, changing how we breathe in order to reduce stress and to achieve a sense of connection with the world around us: Pranayama Yoga.
Prana is the Sanskrit word for “breath” and also means “life.” Therefore, prana can be translated as “the breath of life” or “life energy.”
1. This description is adapted from Authentic Breathing Resources.
Lie down comfortably on your back on a bed or mat or carpeted floor. Slightly bend your knees (perhaps put a pillow under them) and have your feet flat on the floor. Now pay attention to your breathing, don’t try to change it, just watch it’s rhythms and feel the ebb and flow of your breath.
While you are breathing, rub your hands together so that they warm up and then put your hands on your belly, with the center of your lower hand on your belly button. Feel how your breathing changes
You may notice that your belly wants to expand when you breath in and contract when you breath out. Let this happen, but don’t force it.
If your belly seems tight rub your hands until they are warm again and then gently massage your belly. Notice how it softens and relaxes.
Notice how you feel when you breath with your belly and your lungs, rather than just with your lungs. Pay attention to the greater energy that comes from a full breath, and the greater ability to let go of nervous or tension energy.
After you have explored this difference thoroughly, you may notice as sensation of warmth, comfort and relaxation that spreads through your body.
Belly breathing, if it is done two or three times a day, can have a powerful effect on overall levels of tension and energy.
2. This tip comes from Andrew Weil’s Optimum Health Plan.
Touch the tip of your tongue to the ridge in your gum that is right behind your upper front teeth. Breath in through your nose for 4 counts. Hold your breath for 7 counts. Then breath out through your mouth, “whoosh,” to the count of 8. Repeat this 4 times, twice a day.
More about Breathing Guides
For many people the best way to begin practicing breathing for relaxation is to have a guide. There are a number of MP3′s that you can download that are excellent ways to begin.
You will probably want to buy a few and try them before choosing one that you like the best (they are only 99 cents each, except for the Andy Weill and Mark Uridel ones which are entire albums devoted to the topic) –
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation is the technique that we have had the most success with, and we have tried many of them.
Many people we know use these techniques every night before lying down for sleep and find that it helps them to have a much more restful night.
You have to practice the technique regularly for at least a couple of weeks before you can have a sense of how it will work for you.
Briefly, you lie down in a comfortable position on your bed or on a carpeted floor. Relax your body, position yourself as needed so that you can let go of all the muscle tension in your body. Try one of the breathing techniques to begin the exercise, or just feel your breath getting deeper as you anticipate achieving a new level of relaxation.
Then, muscle group by muscle group, usually starting with your feet and moving up, you tense each muscle group, and then relax it. Surprisingly, by tensing the muscles first you actually achieve a measurably greater level of relaxation in the end.
To really do this right, you are probably going to need a little bit of onsite coaching. Buy one or more of these MP3′s and use them tonight –
At the APA’s annual meeting this year, the hot topic up for discussion was mindfulness meditation. This kind of treatment has existed throughout the ages, but has recently become extremely popular. It has shown positive results for a myriad of disorders like anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and addiction.
Several doctors think that the practice of mindfulness meditation, the conscious effort to relax the mind, is linked to mental health. It almost seems too good to be true that one treatment could have such an effect on so many different mental illnesses. However, many doctors spoke very highly of mindfulness meditation as a great treatment option.
Stephen Southwick, M.D. at Yale, believes mindfulness meditation improves our stress response by increasing resiliency, our ability to handle stressful situations. He presented evidence about how random participants that engaged in mindfulness meditation showed an improved stress response, similar to members of the U.S. military. In addition, Judson Brewer, M.D. at Yale discussed how mindfulness meditation helps patients resist cravings for drugs and alcohol. Lastly, Lori Davis, M.D. at the University of Alabama Health Systems, noticed in some cases mindfulness caused improvements in stress induced inflammatory responses, which are connected to a variety of mental illnesses. In patients with PTSD, practicing mindfulness reduced many of their symptoms.
Although there are not enough studies to see significant results for the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation, it does seem to be helpful for many people. Taking time out of the day to rest the mind and focus on bodily awareness may be extremely therapeutic and reduce stress.
I noticed that progressive muscle relaxation which involved first tensing muscles and then relaxing them seemed to be much more effective than trying to eliminate anxiety with breathing exercises or other exercises that focused entirely on the relaxation.
In other words, with anxiety, as with so many things, the key is harnessing the energy, not eliminating it.
So next time you’re feeling anxious think about trying to capture channel that energy and use it rather than trying to get rid of it.