Stop. Breathe. Notice.

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This is one of my favorite exercises to make myself more mindful in my everyday life.

I might sit in my office about to write a blog post, when I simply stop what I’m doing for a moment, I look outside the window and take a breath. Then I just notice whatever I see. Today the sun falls nicely on the leaves of the green bush outside, while the leaves of the tree behind gently play in the wind. It’s surprisingly beautiful!

But I’m always surprised by the beauty of what I see when I just suddenly focus on something ordinary surrounding me. I think it’s the breathing that makes me notice what I actually see. So often I look out the window but I don’t really see anything in particular. To stop, breathe and then just notice what you see, not judging or starting a long chain of associations, but just noticing makes your pulse slow down and the stress hormones in your body decrease instantly. I also feel that it makes me happier. Most of my thoughts are about memories from the past or worries or planning for the future. Very little of my time I actually spend in reality – here and now. To just be and enjoy the very simple thinks in front of my eyes makes me appreciate my life more.

And it’s such a good thing to do when you’re waiting; in the line at the grocery store, in the street waiting for green light, on the doorstep waiting for your teenage daughter to finish her make-up or in front of the wakening computer. Waiting is usually boring and useless, but if you train your mind to notice the things around you – “she has a green hat”, “the shadow is very long”, “all but one person here are wearing sneakers” etcetera – the waiting will suddenly be a little pleasant reality check. Try not to go on about how ugly the green hat is or how cold it is in the shadow – simply notice what it looks like. I promise you that you will like this exercise!

My mood changes with the falling leaves

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Today I walked home from a friend, looking at all the leaves falling from the trees around me. The street workers were busy gathering the leaves in big stacks. It was much colder today. After a while I got aware of my feelings. They were my typical “autumn feelings”; a mixture of slight depression and calmness. Things are slowing down after a hectic summer. Suddenly I started to laugh for myself. It’s not autumn! It’s spring! It’s just that here in Shanghai the leaves didn’t fall from the trees last autumn, but now when the new spring leaves push them off the branches they fall.

That makes me wonder what the Chinese feel. Do they get the typical spring feelings from falling leaves? Probably.

Isn’t it amazing how our moods are suddenly influenced by things around us? Sometimes I know exactly what it is, like a special song I hear. Immediately I get a happy or sad feeling, depending on the song. But I’m sure that my feelings are affected by a lot of situations, sounds, smells and things that I don’t even notice consciously. I might wonder why I am suddenly happier or more worried than before, but the reason that triggered my emotions has already passed.

Is there anything I can do to prevent myself from being negatively affected this way? I don’t know. Is there?

Just being more aware of my mood might be a good start: “Okay, I’m a bit irritated today. Why?” I might not know why, but just to get aware of it I think will make it possible for me to change it. To do something nice, something that I like. Or just breathe and accept the feeling.

So if you concentrate on your inner feeling right now – what do you feel?

How can I reduce my stress level?

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I’ve been seeing a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) doctor for some months together with a friend here in Shanghai. Today he told my friend that her energy level has risen up to the stomach, which is good, but now it has to come up to the head. “You have to reduce your stress level”, the doctor said, putting some acupuncture needles in her feet, but not giving any further advice on how to reduce the stress.

Later she asked me “So shall I just go home and sit in my sofa reading books all days, or what?”

I think this is a problem many of us share. We can clearly see sometimes that we have to reduce the amount of tasks to be done, to not be overwhelmed or too stressed, but that’s not enough. My Stress Coach teacher and world known expert on Mental Training, Lars-Eric Uneståhl, talks about two different types of stress in our bodies. One is the tension we get when we perform something. If we climb a mountain our leg muscles will be pretty tense after a while or if we try to solve a huge problem our brain will be tired.

“Stress is not harmful at all. What is harmful is the lack of recovery.“
Lars-Eric Uneståhl

Since we don’t pay attention to the amount of recovery that is needed every day to be in balance, we produce another kind of stress. That is the basic tension that we have in our body even when we are not performing anything at all. There has to be a small basic tension, because even when we sleep there are autonomous actions in our body that requires energy and produce motion. But unfortunately we go to sleep with tense muscles around our eyes, in our cheeks, stomach, neck, legs and so on. There is this unnecessary tension that we have no use of, a tension that only stops our normal body functions to heal and repair itself.

But there are a lot of things we can do to help our bodies and minds to relax and let go of this unnecessary tension. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Take three deep breaths 2-3 times a day. Concentrate on your diaphragm and fill it with air. Keep your breath for some seconds and let go of it. Make sure that you empty your lungs completely and let there be short moment of stillness before you take the next breath. Don’t overdo this, because it can make you dizzy. Three breaths can be enough to make your body calm down.

2. Meditate on your body. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine strait. Close your eyes and start to concentrate on your different body parts. Is the feeling in your feet good, bad or neutral? What about your legs – good, bad or neutral? Go through your body and give a statement about each part. Try not to think about anything else but the feeling in each part.

3. Meditate on your breath. Sit comfortably as above and this time concentrate on your breathing. Inhale, in a relaxed tempo, exhale, and count 1. Continue like that until 10 and do it all over twice. Try not to think about anything. Just enjoy being.

4. Progressive Muscular Relaxation (PMR). Here I think the best thing is to find a recording that can guide you through the body. The idea is to tense and relax a muscle at a time to learn how to control each muscle and be able to make it relax by will. Usually we have no idea how to relax our right calf muscle for example! Google Progressive Muscular Relaxation or try this very short one from Orrion: Progressive Muscular Relaxation

5. Be mindful about something you do several times every day. For example washing your hands. Each time you wash your hands you give yourself the time to concentrate fully on the experience. How does the water running over your hands feel? Slowly rub the soap into your hands and enjoy the feeling. Just be in the moment. This also gives your body a moment to lower its basic tension.

If you have serious troubles because of your stress you should of course also talk to your doctor!

Remember that you have probably built this basic tension up to this level for years, so don’t expect to be completely relaxed after a few minutes of meditation! It takes time to learn how to relax.

I’d be happy to hear your comment on this! And if you like what you’ve read, please share it!