Being mindful means being fully present in the moment, not dwelling in memory of the past or anticipation of the future, without judgment. Being mindful leads to a pleasantly relaxed body state, which is the heart of the stress reduction aspect of being mindful. But, as they say, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and there’s more than one way to become mindful.
Working with our mind to slow down the pace of mental objects by focusing on breath is a great way to relax the body, but there are more direct ways to relax our bodies. I have found that when I do a “body relaxation practice,” my mind slows down subsequent to the bodily relaxation. If you think about it, this accomplishes the same stress reduction goal as mindfulness meditation. In mindfulness meditation, I slow the pace of activity in my mind and experience bodily relaxation as a result. In bodily relaxation practice, my body relaxes and, secondary to the relaxation response, my mind slows down. At the end of either exercise, the mindfulness meditation session or the bodily relaxation practice, I find myself experiencing the sanity of a still mind and a relaxed body. I’m completely in favor of either approach.
Last Wednesday night I had the pleasure of working with seven Practicum students who are in the midst of the highly-stressful first semester of working as an intern and conducting counseling sessions at a variety of community mental health agencies. On Wednesday night we focused on three practices: a brief awareness of breath meditation, an extended Progressive Muscular Relaxation session, and a short Diaphragmatic Breathing exercise. I’m posting the recording of each here for anyone’s benefit:
Awareness of Breath Meditation: Mindfulness Meditation
Progressive Muscular Relaxation: Progressive Muscular Relaxation Practicum
Diaphragmatic Breathing: Diaphragmatic Breathing 2
One other note. Meditation has a historical connection to religious practices across all religious denominations. For those of us who follow the via negativa, becoming still, in both mind and body, is an invitation to experience ultimate reality. As un-spiritual as it may seem at first glance, I believe deeply that body relaxation practices are an essential part of spirituality. Try working strictly on relaxing your body (I recommend the Progressive Muscular Relaxation practice as a great starting point). Be still, and know….