For Reducing Stress, Agitation and Anxiety
By Marv Thomas, MSW, LICSW (2014)*
*There is no copyright on this material. It belongs to all of mankind.
As a psychotherapist and marriage counselor, I often see people who are beside themselves with stress, agitation, anger, or even panic . Meditation is one of the methods I teach to help the people I see become more peaceful and calm.
This easy meditation process is perfect for calming inner stress. It helps to stop anxiety and panic attacks. It promotes better sleep. If you learn and apply this simple technique in your life, I can assure you that your moods will even out and your health will improve. As a result, you will live longer, and in your life, you will flourish and be happy.
Let me be more specific about this. If you experience your life as spinning with too many choices and churning with too much stimulation then meditation will focus your energy . If your mind goes round and round about people or daily frustrations or your own personal failings, then meditation will be calming. If you are irritated with your boss, your spouse, your long commutes, or the tidal wave of messages you receive via phone, email, and text , then meditation will still your inner turmoil .
Meditation doesn’t stand alone, of course, as a means to good health, long life, and happiness. It must be accompanied by a careful diet, proper exercise, and adequate rest. But I find that a lot of attention is given to these three aspects of a balanced life, while comparatively little is said about meditation. It’s not that meditation is something new or that it’s obscure. Meditation has been practiced for more than five thousand years , and some form of meditation appears in every culture and every spiritual tradition . So many different ways have been devised to enter the meditative state— from Buddhist mindfulness practices and Sufi dancing, to yoga breathing techniques. Even the Australian Aboriginals meditated with their practice of entering Dream Time.
In the recent years, medical research has begun to confirm the benefits of this ancient process. All evidence points to the value of applying some means of quieting the mind. Listening to quiet music, or sitting in a forest glade beside a stream or watching birds are time honored ways. One of the simplest and most direct ways that can be used in every day life is meditation. The one I will teach you here is a combination of ancient Taoist meditation practices from China and modern methods developed using recent brain scan research.
It has two parts, which can each done in tandem or on their own. They are both highly portable and can be practiced successfully for a moment or two or for an extended period of time. They are:
The Four-Count Breath—a breathing technique that can shift your inner psychological state from agitation to calm
Calming Meditation— a way of diving into your inner calm that is drawn from Qi Gong, a 2000-year-old Chinese system of physical and mental training that is still widely practiced
The Four-Count Breath
The value of this ancient breathing technique has been confirmed in recent times through brain scans. Modern technology shows how the body's neurological and chemical systems impact our mental state—and vice versa. Here is how the technique works:
- Inhale through the nose for the count of four.
- Hold for the count of four.
- Exhale through the mouth for the count of four.
- Hold for the count of four.
You can do this with your eyes open or shut, counting as slowly or as quickly as you like. Also, you can repeat the cycle as many times as you like.
This Four-Count Breath shifts the internal chemical activation system of the body from an excited, emergency state into peaceful mode. Usually we operate in a gentle cycle between excitement and peace and back again. Whenever the excitement phase becomes excessive, the Four Count Breath will work to activate the calming centers in the body. It is sometimes used by emergency workers and by SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) police teams just before they enter a dangerous situation. It is prescribed by medical personnel to patients so they can stop their panic attacks. It is also used by meditators as a step toward entering a meditative state.
Sit quietly with your body upright, your eyes closed. Place your hands on your lap, palms facing up with the one hand cradling the other. Arch your thumbs up until they just touch, creating a circle in your lap.
Of course, it’s also fine if you just place your hands together in your lap in any way that is natural for you.
As you begin to meditate, you can start with the Four-Count Breath: inhale gently through the nose; hold; exhale through the mouth; hold. For meditation, it’s best to close your eyes. Continue this pattern of breathing. What you’ll usually find is that after a short time the breathing will fall away from your awareness and you will naturally revert to your usual breathing pattern. Continue to inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. You can return to the Four-Count Breath at any point, or you can allow your breath to settle into its normal rhythm.
Why We Want to Still a Mind That’s Out of Control?
When you start to meditate, you’ll probably find that your mind will roam like a puppy let off its leash. Once you notice your mind has begun to dash about, gently bring your attention back to your breath. Do this sweetly, in the way you would correct a puppy or a child that has meandered off the path. Your mind is likely to take you away from your breath over and over again. Don't worry. This happens to everyone. In fact, for most of us the process of meditation is a matter of focusing our attention on our breath while we watch our mind wander. This is quite a bit different from wandering with the mind, following the mind everywhere it wants to go.
One of the ways we become needlessly agitated is when we focus our attention on some area our mind has wandered into—for instance, the memory of someone hurting us. If you begin to think about an insensitive comment a friend made a month ago, the emotional centers of your brain think it’s happened all over again and they flood your body with chemicals that make you feel exactly the way as you did when the comment was first made. Your heart begins to race, you feel a clenching in the pit of your stomach, and you’re angry all over again—even though your friend is nowhere near you.
Your body has been propelled into a state of upset just by a memory, just by a thought that crossed your mind. If you follow this thought, the mind then takes a cue from the body’s reactions and sends additional messages to the emotional brain, which sends even more messages to the body. You begin to loop through an extremely upsetting cycle just because you followed your mind. Thus begins the loop of agitation.
This is a universal cycle that has tripped up people for thousands of years and it is vital for us to understand it, so I’ll go through it again. We follow our thoughts. Our body responds. Our hormones—adrenalin and cortosols— leap, our heart races, and we become upset . We can cause a severe stress reaction or excitement — we can even make ourselves angry or happy—just by focusing on certain images or memories.
The secret of mediators is they have learned how to not let the mind control them in this way . That is why in meditation we keep coming back to the breath. With the breath as a focus for our attention, the mind does not get a grip on our emotions.
Ending Your Meditation
Once you have meditated as long as you want—whether it’s two minutes or an hour—you can end the session by sealing the meditation energy into your body. You can do this by rubbing your hands together to charge them with (Chi) life energy. Then use these energized hands—I think of them as “alive”— to stroke your face in the same way you would if you were washing it with water. This seals in the Chi and prolongs the benefit of the meditation.
If you want to know about Chi, go to Google and ask: What is Chi?
I regularly engage in this simple process of meditation. I use it—or parts of it—while I’m waiting for an appointment in a doctor’s office or when I’m over-exhausted or worried about something and my heart begins to race. Meditation makes the time pass quickly, and it calms me. I have also used this technique as my primary meditation process, which I may do for as long as an hour at a time. In other words, if you like, you can use this meditation throughout your day for varying lengths of time as is appropriate . You can even use it while sitting in a traffic jam or while laying on gurney in the emergency room. I invite you to experiment with it to see what happens for you.
And if you want to go deeper, the traditions that teach some form of meditation, Qi Gong, Buddhism, Sufism, and Yoga— to mention a few— are always there for you to explore .
May your life be blessed with love and peace and full knowledge of your true inner self.
If you have questions, do call me at 206-364-9494 or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.