Today, we flit between digital channels driven by constant notifications and FOMO, (fear of missing out). We are always connected. We live life fast online. Our minds are perpetually being stimulated. Doing a digital detox is an option. But what do you do while detoxing? How else can you intentionally switch off and relax? Here’s some ideas.
Meditation is a practice where you focus your mind on a single object, thought or activity. For example, many meditations focus on breathing. Sitting quietly in a comfortable position, breath slowly and gradually more deeply from your diaphragm. Calmly observe your inhalation and exhalation rhythm. As thoughts enter your mind, let them pass in and out, give them no attention. Return your focus to your breath. When meditating your mind is calm but not asleep.
Meditation often also includes repetition of a mantra, a word or phrase, to aid staying focused. Meditation originated in India, thousands of years ago. In Sanskrit, the ancient language of Hindu scripts, mantras are believed to be sacred utterances with spiritual powers.
Meditation alters your brain waves and stimulates alpha brain waves. These are the slower ones of the four types of brain wave. Alpha brainwaves can boost creativity and help reduce depression.
Mindfulness is similar to meditation. It is about giving heightened attention to the activity you are engaged in. It is a key tenet of Buddhism and has become an increasingly popular practice. Buddhism emphasizes the importance not to adding judgment to the thoughts that pass in and out of your mind, distracting your attention, as you work towards being more mindful. Mindfulness is about being more present and focused on the now. Living more in the moment. It is the concept is at the heart of Eckhart Toll’s best selling novel ‘The Power of Now.’
According to Scientific American, “MRI scans show that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, our ‘fight or flight’ center, the amygdala, appears to shrink. Our body’s negative response to stress is reduced.
Both meditation and mindfulness practices help you to train your attention and awareness to enable you to achieve a more mentally clear and emotionally calm state of mind.
Yoga emphasizes the mind-body connection to provide a total workout. In yoga exercise is based on assuming and holding different body poses while you also focus on deep breathing.
These poses stretch, strengthen and tone your muscles. As you calm your body movements to adopt and control a posture, your mind follows suit and starts to calm down too. In essence, yoga practice makes you a more calm and collected person by requiring you to pay attention to your body and breath.
Yoga is a great way to fight stress and restore mental clarity. The two nervous systems in our body are the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic nervous system.
The SNS is responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ mode that is triggered when you perceive any kind of threat. On the other hand, the PNS is the nervous system that instructs you to chill out. It is thought that yoga decreases activity in the SNS and increases activity in the PNS by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure through practice.
And, as with other exercise activities, yoga practice increases your level of mood-boosting hormone Oxytocin, known for its’ ability to increase your sense of wellbeing. And it helps reduce the level of cortisol, the stress hormone in your system.
But unlike, other many other exercise activities, yoga’s inclusion of elements of meditation and mindfulness means it boosts brainpower and brain functioning too.
Flotation Tank Therapy
Much of our mind activity comes from the stimuli around us; light, noise, touch, smells. Flotation tank therapy removes those stimuli. Flotation tank therapy involves lying down in a tank or pod containing highly salted water that has been heated to body temperature. Think of a shallow salt bath with or without a lid that is either sound proofed and has the equivalent of black out paint to remove both sound and light or in an environment where there is soothing ambient light and calming music.
Centuries ago, the spiritual traditions of China and India experimented with sensory deprivation techniques. However, it was Dr. John Lily who created modern flotation therapy in 1954. It became known as Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST). And rest is just what your mind and body gets from this activity.
With your body effectively suspended in water in a soothing environment, with stimuli minimized, you enter a state of deep relaxation. Mental and physical stress is diminished as the floatation experience relieves muscle tension, aches and pains, quiets mental activity and reduces the level of cortisol, (the stress hormone) in your body. Flotation calms your nervous system and mind. People describe a sense of overwhelming peace as a result of the stillness and weightlessness that the unique floating environment provides.
Just like the activities and therapies above, drinking kava is also a way to calm your mind. Meditation, mindfulness, yoga and floatation tank therapy reduce activity in the amygdala, the part of our brain’s limbic system that regulates fear, anxiety and the stress response. Kavalactones, the active ingredients in kava, also bind to the receptors in that part of the brain producing the same effects. Drinking kava makes your body feel heavy and relaxes muscle tension. It calms the mind while enhancing mental clarity. Consuming kava does not result in the kind of brain fog or hangover that can come from drinking too much alcohol. If you have a brain fog resulting from excessive levels of the stress, drinking kava is a way to destress.
The very process of preparing a drink of kava the traditional way is also calming in and of itself. The person preparing the drink adds kava powder to a muslin bag, places the bag in a bowl and covers it with tap hot water to steep. Then, they slowly knead the bag full of kava in the water to extract the active ingredients. Kneading and preparing kava requires patience. It is the beginning of the process of slowing down that comes from drinking kava.
Complementary Ways to Calm Your Mind
Many of the activities above are complementary. There are flotation centers with yoga studios and vice versa. Similarly, there are flotation center that offer kava tea to their clients. Drinking kava prior to a float session can help release muscle tension and calm the mind providing for a more immediate and deeper relaxation experience during the float. Alternatively, drinking kava tea after a flotation therapy, yoga or meditation session can help maintain your sense of wellbeing and calm as you head for or when you get home.
Whether through meditation, mindfulness, yoga, floating or drinking kava, taking time out to intentionally calm your mind is important. You will reap the benefits of improved health and wellness, lower stress levels and will even find you are happier, more creative and more productive.
Have you experienced the benefits of any of the above? What other ideas do you have for how to calm your mind? Let us know in the comments below.