Calm and Relaxed 101. Natural Approaches You Can Start Right Away!

As promised, a simple introduction to deep relaxation so you can lower your cortisol levels (stress hormones) and release the relaxation hormones which promote healing, strengthen immunity system and help your body to keep you well.

Calm must be sought when it does not appear

These aren’t exercises requiring you to recite a mantra in a foreign tongue. Rather, they simply calm you down. Some people add a point of focus on a positive thought or word. Some people choose a thought or word which comes from their religious beliefs but any positive thought or word will do once it has no links to distressing or exciting thoughts in your mind. “Peace” and “Gratitude” are examples that might work for me.

(If an ungrateful relative or friend is a major source of stress and “gratitude” reminds you of all that the person is not, then you may want to use another word!)

Still, focusing only on the experience of breathing is quite sufficient.

Soft belly breathing” has been used by one James Gordon MD, of the Centre for Mind-Body Medicine in the US, for both  victims of Hurricane Katrina and of the war in Kosovo.

You don’t need a hurricane or a war experience to get you started.

1.     Put your hand on your belly and allow your abdomen to relax.

2.     Close your eyes or soften your focus, looking at the floor a few feet in front of you.

3.     Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.

4.     Breathe deeply into your abdomen and feel it expand to the count of five.

5.     Pause for a count of one.

6.     Exhale slowly to a count of five, allowing your body to relax and release tension.

7.     Repeat for five breaths or until you feel relaxed. §

Suggested times for this: as part of your waking and bedtime routines and just before mealtimes.

Soft belly breathing is simple, time consuming and perfect for beginners – including busy parents and those with hectic work schedules!

Yet to slow down for a few minutes takes focus and determination as many of us are used to skating around from one task to another and from one place to another, all day and most days!

Beware of brushing off your deep breathing as a luxury your schedule cannot afford. Below, a very inviting description of what you can experience daily:

“Begin by sitting comfortably with your back straight (in a dignified posture)….With your attention focused, take two deep slow breaths to begin relaxation. A sensation of comfort, lightness and well-being will settle into your chest and shoulders. As you repeat this exercise, you will learn to let your breathing be led by your attention and to let your attention rest on your breath….Your attention accompanies the sensation of each intake of breath and the long exhalation of air leaving the body gently, slowly, gracefully, all the way to the end, until there is nothing more than a tiny, imperceptible breath left. Then there is a pause. You learn to sink into this pause, more and more profoundly. It’s often while resting briefly in it that you feel in most intimate contact with your body….And then, at the end of the pause, notice a tiny spark light up all by itself and set off a new cycle of breath.

“Inevitably, your mind is distracted from this task after a few minutes…the concerns of the past or the obligations of the future…You recognize the importance of these thoughts, but while patiently promising to attend to them when the time comes, you push them to the side and come back to the person who really needs you in the present moment, that is, yourself. When this practice is taught, simple and unadorned, to a group of patients, it is not uncommon to see tears streaming down some faces. It is as if these individuals are experiencing benevolence and calm for the first time.” §§

If you’ve missed our previous articles that illustrate why adding some regular deep relaxation to your life might be just what you need, here are the links:

§ source: The Ultramind Solution by Mark Hyman MD

§§ source: Anti-Cancer A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber MD

The Vagus and Your Mother

There’s a nerve in your body known as the Vagus and it deserves that capital “V”.

It runs from the base of your brain to serve your voice-box, throat, lung, heart and gut.

If you could better take care of such a nerve wouldn’t you?

Well guess what! The Vagus also has a role as a Stress Manager. And its operations can thankfully be influenced!

Your mum would have done her part when you were a tiny baby. If she and all the others caring for you believed that babies should be ignored when crying (bellies full and nappies dry), if she was unpredictable and bad tempered, if her love waxed hot and cold based on her mood, the Nerve Tone of your Vagus would be very different today from what it would be if she was patient, calm, loving, attentive and interactive. *

Translation? Some of the stress reaction we experience in response to life events relates to whether this nerve overreacts or not. **

Now you can’t change your history but you can influence your present.

No matter how sweet your mum might have been the modern lifestyle is stressful.

Stress is associated with a weakened immune system (now we really want the body to be able to  recognize and purge all early potential cancer cells right?) and stress also causes chronic low grade inflammation which quietly damages our organs and causes disease. (It sounds so simple I didn’t believe it till after much reading and reflection).

How can we get our Vagus Nerve to Modify our Stress Response everyday?

Deep relaxation causes the Vagus to send the type of messages to your body that switch off the stress response.

When you do this the body is able to activate Stem Cells (no you don’t have to buy these, they come with your body) and to increase the release of BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor). ***

This helps your body to repair the physical effects of stress including stress on the brain. In fact Dr. Hyman has called BDNF, brain fertilizer. No wonder anxiety, depression and autism seem to have sky rocketed with the modern lifestyle. Get your Brain Fertilizer folks!

Deep relaxation is not hanging out on Facebook or playing your favourite sport. These things have their own relaxation value but we also need to SLOW our bodies and minds down to experience deep relaxation.

Yoga (if you really are physically and mentally involved and not merely just doing the movements) is a perfect tool to get your Vagus working for you. So is quiet focused meditation whether spiritual or otherwise. Clear your mind, consciously let go tension in your muscles, one by one…. Or focus your mind on a Peaceful Concept.

So, the Eastern ancient teachers were right, long before today’s neuroscience was able to prove it.

Now that you know, are you going act?

I confess, I’m a highly strung workaholic so if this is going to be a journey you undertake for your own good, you have company! 

 all the best as you work to Stay Well!

*(Was I generalizing with that example? Yes because love and emotional stability though often instilled by a mother are sometimes supplied by other mother-figures or loving care-givers. And doesn’t genetics play a role in temperament? Yes but the emotional brain begins to be influenced from the impact of a mother’s moods on her nerves and hormones even from within the womb. Not knocking mums here. None of us are perfect and our kids are sure to rub that in our faces when they grow older!)

**  Ref: Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

***Ref: The UltraMind Solution by Dr. Mark Hyman