Part one – meditation promotes relaxation
The counterpart to the fight flight or freeze response, the relaxation response, occurs when the body is no longer in perceived danger, and the autonomic nervous system functioning returns to normal. The relaxation response is the opposite of your body's stress response—your "off switch" to your body's tendency toward fight-or-flight.
During the relaxation response, the body moves toward a state of physiological relaxation, where blood pressure, heart rate, digestive functioning, and hormonal levels return to normal levels. The fight-or-flight state is one of physiological arousal, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, slowed digestive functioning, increased blood flow to the extremities, increased release of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, and other responses preparing the body to protect itself from perceived danger or stress (E. Scott, 2020).
Chronic or prolonged periods of stress or perceived threat can keep us locked in a state of hyper arousal, which may be damaging to our physical and mental well-being. Some people may be experiencing this now due to the exceptional circumstances that we are all adapting to.
Meditation is one approach that promotes the relaxation response and can be a helpful strategy to find your personal balance in uncertain times.
A daily practice allows for a “time out” from worry about an uncertain future. It can be a powerful way to ground yourself in the present moment, giving your mind and your body a much needed respite.
There are many different methods or types of practice that are helpful. The important thing is to find one that works for you.
Mindfulness is one approach that has been introduced into mainstream awareness in recent years and has generated a myriad of research on its beneficial effects. Simply stated, mindfulness is about learning to be present; to notice with full attention your experience. I think Thich Nat Hanh, the buddhist monk who has written much about this topic, says it best:
“Breathing in, I calm my body.” Reciting this line is like drinking a glass of cool lemonade on a hot day---you can feel the coolness permeate your body. When I breathe in and recite this line, I actually feel my breath calming my body and mind.
“Breathing out, I smile.” You know a smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your face. Wearing a smile on your face is a sign that you are master of yourself.
“Dwelling in the present moment.” While I sit here, I don’t think of anything else. I sit here, and I know exactly where I am.
“I know this is a wonderful moment.” It is a joy to sit, stable and at ease, and return to our breathing, our smiling, our true nature. Our appointment with life is in the present moment. If we do not have peace and joy right now, when will we have peace and joy----tomorrow, or after tomorrow? What is preventing us from being happy right now? As we follow our breathing, we can say, simply, “Calming, Smiling, Present moment, Wonderful moment.”
While this may seem like a simple approach, most of us find that it is not an easy thing to do! We are used to multi tasking and often find that our thoughts are focused on past events, or things yet to come.
With a gentle practice each day, simply returning to an awareness of your breath, produces gradual and noticeable changes. Don’t just do something , sit there! Try it.
Next time – how meditation can enhance emotional regulation and equanimity