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Allan Hirsh: Articles on Staying Calm

Relaxing the Mind
© Allan Hirsh

A Yoga master once told me that the mind can be like a drunk monkey; a drunk monkey that is in a cage swinging wildly from bar to bar; a drunk monkey that is upset because it has been bitten by a scorpion.

At times the mind seems to speed out of control. It does this when it is worried and is attempting to look at all possibilities while it tries to find solutions. The mind can also spin because everything around us is happening at such a fast pace. Sometimes the mind keeps racing out of habit because it has never been taught to slow down.

We spend so much time multi-tasking that this becomes the norm. When there is a moment to unwind, the mind does not know how to slow down on command. Concentration becomes an effort and the day is spent like a silver ball in a perpetual pin ball machine until exhaustion takes over at the end of the day.

Does the mind seem to be in control or is the mind a tool that can be used as is necessary?

Do you ever feel that you are .stuck in your head. and can.t unwind? When you try to relax or go to sleep, is your mind still going and going on everything from trivial matters to the state of the world?

How do we slow down the mind? Even just asking the mind to slow down may result in discomfort at first.

I remember seeing a card that depicted a tiny man holding onto the tail of a very large, wrinkled elephant. The man was clearly not amused and was quite uncomfortable. Inside the folded card was written: LET GO! LET GO!

Most strategies that can relax the mind involve some form of concentration. In earlier times, group chanting to rhythmic drums helped detach the mind from the every day events. Rock and roll may be a derivative of this practice. Praying, chanting and/or singing individually or in a group help bring calmness to the mind. The words or sounds may be irrelevant.

Meditation involves placing the awareness of the mind onto a sound such as .om. or a word such as .peace.. This is done while gently ignoring all other thoughts and competing stimuli. If awareness wanders off then the mind is reminded to focus back on the sound of choice. This sound has been called a mantra. Instead of a sound, meditation can also been done by concentrating on the flame of a candle or the flow of the breath. Meditation can be very difficult at first and is not for everyone.

I once went to a Yoga weekend retreat, where we washed cars. The washing of the cars took place in silence and with full concentration. Awareness of all the details of the activity was encouraged; the feel of the soapy water and the sponge; the sparkle of the sun on the car, the beading of water drops on the hood; the movement of the body as the washing continued. The exercise produced a feeling of alertness, joy and calm. The cars didn.t even belong to us! Yoga actually means .union.. We were practising becoming in union with the car washing.

Another word to describe this experience is the word Zen. In Zen you are .one. with your actions. Your mind is still.

A western archery competitor will look at the target and calculate how many points he needs to win. A Zen practitioner will empty the mind and focus only on the target as the arrow is unleashed.

In these types of experiences, the action itself becomes the object of meditation. By focusing the mind in the here and now of an activity, the mind slows down and relaxation ensues.

Even if your day is very busy and speedy, any activity can be used as a respite to slow down. Washing dishes can become a brief meditation instead of something to get over as quickly as possible. When we stop at a red light our mind is racing.come on..hurry up..let.s go..the stomach is churning..waiting for the seconds to pass by and the light to change. Instead take the thirty seconds or so to look around you and see what the eye can find that is appealing. Or simply breathe as deeply as you can while you have the chance.

The Trial and Error of Learning to Relax
© Allan Hirsh

When we were children we already knew how to relax. We lost ourselves in play and magical fantasy. We did not differentiate between work and play; we banged pots in the kitchen and scattered Tupperware all over the kitchen floor because we were helping to cook supper.

Think back; what did you do that totally absorbed you? Did you crayon, stroke a cat, hug a teddy bear? Did you play with building blocks or Barbi dolls or toy cars? Did you stare upwards at the clouds or the stars and let your mind wander?

When was the last time you let yourself simply play?

What do you do now to relax?

Read a book. Go to a movie. Watch TV. Work on a puzzle. Go for a walk. Ride a bike. Lift weights. Run. Aerobics. Talk to a friend. Write out your feelings. Express yourself in painting, music, sculpture. Work on a hobby or craft. Renovate a room. Get a massage. Take a bath. Go dancing. Make love.

We can distract the mind away from all of our worries and concerns. We can use our bodies to help us exercise away the muscular tension.

Anything positive we do for our mind will help the body unwind. Anything positive we do for the body will help our mind and mood.

We may need to be alone or we may need to reach out to others. We may need to express our emotions in one form or another, or we may need to distract our self from our inner turmoil at least for a little while.

Some times, relaxing involves a process of trial and error to see what works at any given moment. We may want to get away from everything and walk in the woods. Other times, we may want a hit of .big city. and all the distractions that active living can provide.

We can be in need of lots of activity or we may be in need of some quiet, inner time. We may be feeling like we need to be productive or we may need to just hang around and let time pass for a while.

We may need to take a problem head on or we may need to retreat and regroup for a while.

There may be too much on our plate or we may need to take on an additional challenge to help us feel better about our self.

Are we able to tune into our self and become aware of our needs? Can we let our intuition connect us to the wisdom of our body?

We may want to do something physical if we have not been active enough. We may want to do something mentally challenging if our body has been overworked.

Do we need to do something with an inner focus or do we need to do something with an outer focus?

Do we need to do something that helps us become more excited and active or do we need to do something that emotionally grounds us and helps us feel focused and emotionally solid?

A successful coping strategy will help us re-create our self anew and help us maintain a comfortable balance in life.

The state of peace and joy is an attainable goal, but it is elusive. When it is there, enjoy it. When it leaves, let it go. Trust that it will return. Witness with gentle curiousity what it is that you do on an inner and outer level that brings peace and joy closer to you. Watch what pushes it away.

Good luck in your journey. Be patient (at least some of the time). Be kind. Be aware.

Deep Breathing - A Natural Way to Relax
© Allan Hirsh

Please take a deep breath. Notice how that feels. Notice what feels more comfortable: breathing through your nose or mouth? Try breathing in through your nose and out through your nose or mouth.

Place your hand on your stomach and as you inhale puff out your stomach. As you exhale, let all the air out, contracting your stomach.

Take another deep breath inhaling into your stomach, diaphragm area and then chest. Exhale out of your chest, diaphragm and stomach.

This is called three-part breathing, diaphragmatic breathing or complete breathing. This type of breathing increases the amount of oxygen you take into your system. (It also signals to your body that you are not involved in a life and death struggle for survival.)

Please take another deep breath. Inhale deeply and comfortably. As you inhale count the seconds. As you exhale, count again. Try to let the exhalation become a little longer than the inhalation.

Take three or four deep breathes and notice when all the air is in and about to go out, and when all the air is out, about to go in. Relaxation can be the deepest at these points. If the mind wanders away, gently bring it back to the flow of the breath. Try to release tension with each exhalation. Think of each breath bringing oxygen to the muscles.

As you continue to practise, your deep breathing will improve and become more powerful.

Deep breathing is a practical way to relax in a stressful situation or when you only have a few moments to unwind.

If you talk when you are breathing shallowly, your voice may sound tense or high pitched more like an AM radio announcer. If you talk while breathing through your diaphragm, you may sound more like a FM evening announcer of sweet, cool Jazz.

Bonus Relaxation Technique: Not Losing Your Marbles

Take a shoebox and cut three small openings large enough for a marble to pass through. Take a handful of marbles, and one by one roll them towards the openings in the shoebox. It doesn.t matter if you actually get the marbles in the box. Instead, focus on the sound the marbles make when they collide; the light refracting through the marbles; the slight excitement you feel when one marble knocks another into the box. If the marbles de-stressed you for even just a moment, you have already won.

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