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As seen on Medium.com here
As you may know, religions and practices cover all sorts of developmental and releasing practices. Traditional descriptions of meditation include things like Focused Attention, Open Monitoring, Automatic Self-Transcending.
However, here are some secular therapy-themed mental exercises (which are not presented here as medical advice from medical personnel) that can help you find something easier, yet superbly healthy for your nervous system to engage in. The more you explore them, the more cues you’ll have to adapt them to your needs.
Our Sub-Goals Include: Emphasizing different brain chemicals and thought structures, tuning the nervous system, relaxation and release, finding new peace through therapeutic thought
Some Insight on What it Takes: I found out over a long period that I had what is referred to as an unstable pelvis. So it often requires me to lay flat on the floor and do adjustments before I find physical balance. In my practice, I prefer to be fed, hydrated, and overall free of major issues to proceed. If not, I can move on with that awareness. I very often Mind Map before I attempt a relaxation exercise. You might have your own requirements.
If you have deeper trauma, there are more exercises featured online and elsewhere, but please consult a medical professional for more accurate information than the hobby material here.
1. Mind Mapping
In this exercise, I prefer to use paper, and if paper can’t be found, I will assign about 9 square sections in a larger square in my head to fill with themes that are on my mind. With paper, in several bubbles or diagrams, indicate what is taking up space in your mind. Mark “actionable items” with a plus sign or any mark. Work through the mental webs to hear what values your mind is emphasizing. If something has been resolved, mark it so. If something could use more creative pro-active tasks, mark it so. When you are done, consider it as though you at least did all the mental dishes in your mind sink.
2. Befriending the Inner Scream
If there is a tone in your mind, perhaps that is considerably pushy, assertive, sad, you can ask that tone, What can I do for you? Are your expectations pretty reasonable? Are any shortcuts reasonable? Do you need a little treat? Sometimes just writing down and incorporating those thoughts is insightful on its own, because often life’s stresses can lead to a lack of listening to parts of our self. If you’re a perfectionist, that’s ok. Can you appease some part of that self, when they are looking at your mind map? If you do this, you may find new levels of peace for more of you.
2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
In this exercise, find a comfortable position, most often flat on the floor, or a similarly lax position. When ready, start from head or toes (or an appropriate self-magical path) and imagine that your head is then achieving ultimate relaxation. Some people like to imagine warm oils, honey, or sunlight, is slowly dripping over each section of their body. Consider waiting patiently for each muscle to let go. I’m a fan of this.
3. Clearing of Proprioception
Sometimes our muscles aren’t done reacting to their situation and the whole day, so, one could swing one’s arms, jump lightly, twist one’s torso, spin in a circle, use a swing set, or use a vibrating surface (the studies mention that one, so…). This concept of proprioception, or the body’s awareness of itself in space, along with feeling what your body feels like when truly balanced, has been majorly useful to me. If this topic interests you, consider looking into it.
I know my balance so well now that I can tell when I haven’t adjusted to new shoes yet. My old self would have hoofed it hard all day to my eventual regret. Also, balance is good for the hips, shoulders, neck, and knees (and so on).
Other physical issues like muscle knots are good to get out, too, before trying major relaxation exercises.
4. Diaphragm Awareness, Breathing Exercises
Focusing on the breath can be tricky. So here are two more paradigms to try: Focusing on the nerve signals coming from the belly and diaphragm to see what they aretrying to communicate. First, the stress might have to dissipate. Some believe that doing breathing exercises themselves send an “all clear” message to the mind. I’m a fan of the Buteyko Method, which suggests that we are often hyperventilating due to stress or other reasons (dehydration is a big one for me) and that we can retrain or return to a natural breath that keeps us deeply oxygenated. When doing these exercises, I suggest (not as medical advice) to try to choose a breath pattern that makes you feel warmer, likely from what is called “intramuscular oxygenation” (worth geeking out on; diet plays into this too). There are also breathing exercises and apps related to this and Pranayama Yoga breathing exercises. Take breaks and perhaps have a little exercise to reset your breath naturally, not forcefully. Laughing it off can also help. You are not a robot, after all.
5. Psychic Distance Exercise
We are often so embedded in life, that the idea that we can take a breather from any given narrative or idea is novel at time. Psychic distance is a term used in several fields, which here means, the mentally estimated emotional or intellectual space between one’s self and other entities.
In this exercise, I choose to lay down quietly, announce to myself it’s break time, and picture myself getting into a little boat. At first, I can often see everyone and everything on the shore protesting that I’m trying to get into the boat. But, I’m already slowly rowing toward a peaceful, sultry, exotic bliss. The people grow smaller and smaller. People very dear to me engage me on the shore, and I negotiate with them to continue on my way. As I get into the larger lake or ocean, I feel slightly nervous that I don’t have to pay attention to these things. But finally… wow… It’s so freeing. And I stay there until my time is up.
If needed, I add in the mantra concept to this, often saying “Nothing needs done. Nobody needs me. I don’t have to use my attention.” You can address your own issues appropriately. When you’ve achieved the release, your body and mind may do weird things. It’s ok. Letting go can be practiced. You may feel your neck and brain use this time to do whatever occurs to it. It’s likely been forced to do a lot of focusing and reacting. … The science of attention is pretty cool.
6. Bliss, Senses, Fantasy, and The Full Cling
In this exercise, choose something you naturally are drawn to, that fills you with pleasantness. Whether it’s an idea, or any number of senses (essential oils, perfumes, tastes, colors, sounds), focus on and play with that idea and let the various brain chemicals flow. If it’s someone you love, this may become more of a love drunkenness exercise. I don’t suggest derailing your day with this exercise if that’s not helpful, but I do suggest at least finding extreme pleasantness, perhaps more exciting than that when you are able. In my first practice of this, I chose the sea and sailing to meditate on. The birds, air, wood, sloshing waves all kept me feeling alive for that time. In a session with an instructor, we went through and imagined getting immersed in each color.
So many exercises are about letting go of attachment. But sometimes, immersing yourself in the joy of an attachment helps you understand what you liked about it, and how you can find that emotion again from something else, or perhaps go ahead and be a little bored of that entity after going over it so thoroughly. You aren’t dependent on that same thing. And maybe you’ll get new decorating ideas if you play around with this.
7. Loving Kindness, Eventual Enlightenment of All
There is a Buddhist practice you can look into called Loving Kindness Meditation where one goes through a progression of sending peace, love, and wellness (and so on) toward first one’s self, then through a friend or family member, then an acquaintance, then a stranger, then everyone alive. You can bask in this. The idea is that you become more compassionate, less judgmental.
An alteration on that I have made, one good for anger issues also, is that if you come across people in your mind that you really don’t feel like forgiving or sending that same love to, you can imagine instead that time and circumstance send them what they need to become gradually more enlightened and compassionate themselves (you can leave some people out to start). As I repeat this exercise, the more faith I have that people can find these threads of enlightenment with more ease, which is good for me in most cases. Anger and the hot coal parable, anyone? And dare I say, that when one has shared these universal caring and wellness sensations, as well as needs, that perhaps for a moment, We are All One?
8. Hey Buddy: Liking the Self, Affirmations, Do Unto Others and Do Unto Yourself
Have you ever liked someone a lot just because? Anyone? When you walk into a room with a mirror (or, some set up of self-perception), look right at yourself and imagine you’re regarding you with the same instant zest you regard that being with. It goes like this: Perceive self, light up, or smile. Repeat. It may be hard at first. Do it several times in row. Make it habit in bathrooms. What a cool being you are. When you see someone you like and you’re forgiving of their hair, mannerisms, mood, issues, you just LIKE their pizzazz. Good news, you’ve got such pizzazz. You could just as easily be just as wowing and fun to someone because the principles here aren’t so academically severe. So why not have that energy in your daily life? Eventually, you may not have to drum up a reference point at all.
And if it’s another harsh thought or label weighing you down, when you perceive yourself, say the cool thing about cool you. You are that spunky problem solver. You have access to all those new chances. Hey, there you are.
9. Tempo Change
In a relaxed position, choose a tempo that your mind naturally feels like following. Resolve any thoughts reasonably. Then, tell yourself you’re going to turn down the pace and only think or function on those slower beats as they come, just turning down a little. It’s ticking in the background like a clock. In the meantime, you may just chill and breathe, and finish thoughts. Then turn the tempo down some more, beat…. beat… … … beat… … … beat … and let the mind wander until its little beat cues it for a tiny acknowledgment. Turn the tempo down more. Even down to one a minute. Then don’t even “report in” to yourself, just make sure you’re not beating yourself up. If you want, even pretend you’re super sleepy at the end, or super slowed down like a sloth or tortoise.
10. Hypnosis, Soundscapes (Rain? Fan? Ocean? Jungle?), ASMR, Podcasts, and Videos
These are all valid concepts that work differently for various people, but let me say here that they are featured for free or otherwise on video platforms online. Many of the exercises I mentioned are also presented in real-time walkthroughs online. It has been a major foundation of my calmness over the years to have access to these, especially in times where other comforts are harder to come by. You can read more about each concept and how to enact each one in real life if need be.
I have artfully created terms for some of these exercises which may or may not resemble those of other practices.
11. Dali’s Bathtub — To Thine Own Self be True
It is said (and pictured elsewhere) that the artist Salvador Dali liked to sit in his bathtub, sometimes fully clothed, to clear his mind, and to draw.
I too like the lower stimulation of my bathtub area. Nature walks don’t work for everybody, so, do what works for you.