Melissa’s Guide to Nothing: An Exercise in Relaxation

Sit still. Take a deep, slow breath. Seriously, do it. There you go.  Exhale. Ahhhh… Close your eyes, well, finish this paragraph and then close your eyes for a few minutes.  Imagine a soothing place. The woods. The beach.  Somewhere quiet. You are sitting down. You hear the quiet rustling of leaves as a gentle breeze tickles the tree branches. You smile. Maybe the memory of that idiot who cut you off in traffic today pushes its way through to the forefront of your mind. Go back to your happy place. Good. A bird chirps. You think about the smell of flowers. The sound of flowing water. There, you got it. Feeling a little more relaxed? Yay!

According to the American Institute of Stress, in 60% of all illnesses stress is a main factor.  Three out of every four doctor visits are stress related. Stress can even increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Yikes! I can almost feel my blood pressure rising just seeing how much stress impacts our health! I hope that makes you want to put the brakes on life once in awhile. But there is hope; there are many ways to help your body cope with stress including exercise, eating well, and getting a good night’s rest. Meditation is another great way to help relieve stress.

The National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health says that relaxation can help with anxiety as well as decrease heart rate and blood pressure. People who meditate have also reported feeling happier. Quieting your mind is good for your brain. Many people spend a lot of time on their phones or computer with social media and such, skimming through news stories and status updates, but a constant, quick barrage of information can actually decrease our ability to focus and may increase stress. If you want to learn to be more quiet, I suggest pairing relaxation techniques with a technology detox. Try one week. If that seems like too much, just a day to begin with. If you are really determined, a month. Regular meditation can help retrain your mind to focus better.

So how do you actually meditate? It is really pretty simple.  The main thing is sitting still and clearing your mind. Maybe focus on ambient sounds around you if you are outdoors. When it is summertime and especially when I am camping, I love sitting outside and closing my eyes, focusing in on the sound around me. If a stray thought wanders into your mind, don’t worry about it, that will happen but can lessen the more  you practice. Just stay relaxed and keep your mind clear. Focus on your breathing and take slow deep breaths. It is instinctive for babies to breathe with their diaphragm, but we tend to lose that as we get older. Breathing this way will help you get more oxygen than shallow chest breathing. Music can also be good for your health; you may like listening to soothing music while you close your eyes and relax. Remember, it is about being still and enjoying the moment and taking a little time for yourself. If you find it hard to sit still and empty your thoughts, it is not about being perfect and it will get easier the more you do it. It is crucial for your health to take time for yourself. If you need me, I’ll be in my happy place.