Today is National Relaxation Day! In honor of the day, we at Springer Publishing Company want to offer you unique methods to practice mindfulness and stay mentally healthy.
The following content is adapted from Mindfulness and Yoga for Self-Regulation: A Primer for Mental Health Professionals by Catherine P. Cook-Cottone PhD. This post is Part 3 of a three-part series for National Relaxation Day.
Due to negative societal influences, we all have some sort of warped sense of self due to the externally oriented, idealized focus on the individual. To overcome these struggles and discover a sense of satisfaction and peace of mind, you can use mindfulness and yoga approaches as alternate pathways toward a contented, regulated and authentic experience of self.
On-the-mat yoga practice is a pathway toward embodiment and the promotion of well-being at the neurological and physiological levels in these three ways: (a) it enhances neurological integration (i.e., neurological differentiation and linkage); (b) it reduces reactivity, increases reflective engagement, and improves access to restful and restorative states; and (c) it improves emotional and behavioral regulation.
Below are a few breathing exercises to get you in an optimal relaxing, meditative state:
Systematic Relaxation (Approximate Timing: 20 Minutes for Practice)
Lie down or get in a very comfortable, supported seated position. Bring your awareness to your breath, becoming aware of its qualities. Is it smooth and even? Are you moving from inhalation to exhalation without pause? Slowly deepen your breath to diaphragmatic breathing. Feel your belly expand with each inhalation and release with each exhalation. Breathe here for three deep cycles of breath. Now, bring your awareness to the crown of your head. Breathe as if you could breathe into the crown of your head. Notice if you feel any tension in the muscles. Breathe into the tension and bring a softness, a letting go into the muscles. With each inhalation bring awareness and with exhalation bring relaxation and softness. As you relax the crown of the head and muscles of your scalp, be aware of your breathing and bring attention back to deep diaphragmatic breathing when necessary. Breathe here and relax. (Pause.) [Continue this same process through the rest of your body, pausing to relax at each of these points: crown of the head, forehead, temples, eye area, nose, cheeks, jaw, mouth, chin, throat, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, palms of the hands, back of the arms, shoulders, chest, rib cage, spine, heart, belly, sides, lower back, hips, gluteus region, thighs, knees, calves, feet, toes, and the soles of the feet. Pause at the feet and reverse the order, going all the way back through the body to the crown of the head.] Bring your awareness to your whole body. Breathe as if you can breathe into your whole body for three cycles of deep, diaphragmatic breath. Allow your breath to return to normal. Continue with 10 breath cycles. Slowly bring your awareness back to the room; bend your elbows and your knees. Roll to your right side, the softest side for your heart. Slowly come to a seated position. Cross your ankles and bring your hands to touch in front of your heart. Slowly open your eyes.
Mantra yoga is a path to self-realization that utilizes sound and words as a means of growth. In mantra meditation, the breath is united with the sound of a word. The first syllable, man, means “to think,” and tra means “to guide or lead”. In this way, a mantra is a guiding or leading sound upon which we can organize our thoughts.
Mala beads can be a helpful tool in mantra meditation. A mala is a set of beads (traditionally 108) for keeping count of mantras while reciting, chanting, or mentally repeating the mantra.
Mantra Meditation Soham with Mala Beads (Approximate Timing: 20 Minutes for Practice)
Sit in a comfortable position. Be sure your sitting bones are grounded, your lower back is supported, and your core is engaged. Bring your awareness to your breath and close your eyes. Relax and allow your thoughts to come and go. Begin to become aware of the sounds that your breath makes as you inhale and exhale. As you inhale, begin to create the sound “so. . . .” for the entirety of the inhalation. As you exhale, begin to create the sound “hum. . . .” for the entirety of the exhalation. Each of the sounds should continue through the entirety of the inhalation or exhalation. It is important to allow the breath to be smooth, steady, and regular and then to imprint the sound on the breath. Continue for one round of the mala beads or 108 breaths.
These exercises can serve as the perfect retreat from a whirlwind day. Through yoga practice, you can learn through and with your body how to overcome triggers and move toward integration and well-being.