Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Quieting a Chaotic Mind

Recently, I received the following pointed inquiry from a pal: I need some advice on how to relax a mind that over-thinks.

Hmmm. Have you thought about illegal substances? Gratuitous sex with strangers? Or, you could try copious amounts of good old-fashioned alcohol. If that's too potent, what about vats of Chunky Monkey ice cream? Plenty of people seem to find these mind-numbing methods to be highly effective.

[Insert dramatic clap of thunder, floods, fires, and the sound of a Tibetan gong awakening us all back to reality].

Woops. Sorry, friends. I thought I was answering the question from the perspective of the misguided masses. Okay, here goes . . . my best shot at a holistic, productive, and accessible antidote to quell the kookiness in all our heads. Whether it's racing thoughts before bedtime or an inability to relax without the aim of a tranquilizer dart, there is hope. Like anything, the ability to "still the fluctuations of the mind" gets easier with practice; it also happens to be the fundamental purpose of yoga and meditation, as cited in the Yoga Sutras.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, my stillness-seeking comrade is a former professional athlete who knows a thing or two about practicing a skill until the point of proficiency. I like to remind athletes (and non-athletes) that they already know how to meditate. If you've ever had the feeling of being completely absorbed in a particular activity, from throwing a fastball to watching the steady flicker of a campfire, you intrinsically possess the skills needed to slow down your thoughts. Meditation, when done regularly, trains your brain to become quiet. I should mention that you won't stop thinking all together, nor is that the goal; however, you will eventually find serene spaces between your thoughts. In these spaces, you will discover previously unimagined levels of restfulness, peace, and balance.

Here's how: Sit comfortably; crossed-legged on the floor or upright in a chair are easy options to start. Set an alarm, egg timer, or stopwatch for 5 minutes (you can increase duration as your focus improves). Close your eyes. Rest your hands in your lap; the mudra shown in the photo above is one of my favorites (touch all ten fingertips together; your hands will form a tepee shape). You might also try yoga mudra (thumb and pointer finger touch, rest the backs of your hands on your knees, palms face upward).

Whenever you get distracted, antsy, bored, irritated, or tired, return to the steady flow of your breathing. A helpful tip is to count your breaths, one at a time, without breaking your focus or sequence. Be sure to sit up tall, and let your hands anchor your attention. For another meditation exercise, with more heart-opening properties, click here.

Another trick of the trade that I find very helpful is my own, on-the-go version of aromatherapy. This method of achieving stillness or, at the very least, a brief reprieve from your hectic head games is incredibly simple. Invest in a few essential oils (available at Whole Foods) that prompt you to breathe deeply, smile, or hearken back to a childhood spent running through grassy meadows, filled with rainbows and bunnies . . . you get the idea. I recommend lavender, or if that seems too feminine, try rosemary or sandalwood. I love peppermint as well, but bear in mind, peppermint is a lively scent that, while calming, has more awakening properties than the others. Feel free to use it, although it might be better suited for the daytime, when you need an energy boost. Simply open the tiny jar or vile in your car, and leave it uncapped in the cupholder while on carpool duty or en route to a big meeting. Placing drop in one palm and rubbing your hands together also works. Before bed, try dabbing one drop on each temple. Your sense of scent is powerful, capable of transporting you to other places and times. Pick a few fragrances that trigger an instant unwinding in your brain- the way fresh cut grass does or the smell of the ocean. Use as needed.

Finally, I am a huge advocate of bodywork as a way to release the pressure valve in your dome. If you don't have a stellar massage therapist, find one. Never tried acupuncture? Give it a whirl; it can't hurt. (Seriously, the needles are like wisps of hay; you barely feel them). Plus, insurance companies often offer stipends to cover treatments. Also, places like Pathways to Wellness have sliding scale pay structures, so peace of mind can be a financially blind benefit.

There, now, don't you feel better already?


Anonymous said...

You had me at "copious amounts of good old-fashioned alcohol"....then things took a turn.

Jack said...

More great advise Rebecca.

Thanks for all you do, and who you are.