Deep breath in, deep breath out. So far, we’ve explored how mental exercises can have a profound impact on the ways your body processes physical pain. In this section, we want to tell you a little bit about how practicing mindfulness with your body can change the way you think.
Your “fight-or-flight” response is activated, which in the short term causes fear and stress. Over the long term, this trauma leads to poor sleep, increased blood pressure, and impaired sexual functioning. Mediating the “fight-or-flight” instinct is therefore an important aspect of managing chronic pain.
By calming the body, we can loosen tense muscles, get more restorative sleep, and deactivate the parts of our brain responsible for maladaptive responses to ongoing pain.
One way to achieve this sort of result is through meditative practice. New research has revealed that people who meditated experienced less pain when using a device that simulated a burning sensation, as compared to those who didn’t meditate. Meditation was also linked to decreased activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls fear and anticipation of pain, resulting in reduced anxiety and less physical pain overall.
The ultimate goal is not only to give the mind a chance to cool off, but also to engage the body through attention and reflection. You can choose to meditate at home after winding down for the day or when you have a quiet few moments while on the go. There are also multiple techniques to try, from visualization and body scanning to yoga and intentional muscle relaxation.
We’re going to walk you through a meditative exercise designed to release tense muscles and calm the mind. To start, find a quiet, comfortable place to sit, preferably a chair or on the floor. Lying in bed is an option too (just don’t fall asleep 😂!!!)
As we proceed, you’re going to tense each group of muscles for 5 seconds. It sounds kind of strange to be encouraging you to tense muscles that are already probably a bit tight, but causing maximum tension at first is the best way for you to actually feel your muscles completely relax after you’ve released that tension. However, if you feel pain or cramping at any point, please stop! You should expect some gentle pulling and tugging of your muscles — not heavy strain or pressure.
When you relax each group of muscles, relax them fully for at least 5 seconds. Savor that feeling of letting the tension go and tuck that sensation into your memory. Anytime you feel anxious or tense, strive for that sensation.
To tense, raise your eyebrows to try to touch your hairline. Hold for 5 seconds. Now, completely relax, letting your eyebrows drop. Notice how different it feels to have your brows back in their natural position.
Hold for 5 seconds. Release by opening your eyes again. Relax for another 5 seconds.
If you’re looking in a mirror, it should look kind of like a silent scream 😱 Sort of a scary image, but don’t worry, we’re going to relax in 5,4,3,2, and 1. Gently let your mouth close again. Take a nice deep breath before moving on.
Try to touch your ears on both sides. Hold that position, nice and still for 5 seconds. Now let go, allowing your shoulders to drop and your neck to roll back. If you need to, shimmy your shoulders a bit to release any extra tension.
Go ahead and exhale, letting all that trapped air out in a big whoosh (feel free to make the sound effect if you like!).
Remember to do all of these movements in a calm, controlled way so you don’t put too much tension on your muscles. Hold for 5 seconds, then let your stomach relax.
Count the seconds, making sure not to go too fast or too slow. Pay attention to the way your muscles harden and lock. And now feel how your muscles soften as you release all of that tension.
Hold for 5 seconds, keeping your hand relaxed. Release and take a couple of deep breaths. Next, ball your hand into a fist. Squeeze hard, but not so hard that your nails are digging into your palm. This time keep your bicep extended and loose. The goal is to try to isolate small groups of muscles for maximum focus and effect. Let your hand rest for 5 seconds, then repeat the whole process on your other arm.
Almost done! Last, we have our legs and feet.
Hold for 5 seconds, then release. Next, gently tense one of your calf muscles. The easiest way to do this is to point your toes toward the floor, trying your best to keep the rest of your leg and foot in a neutral position. Count to 5 and then release again.
Hold and then relax. Rinse and repeat on the other side!
Thank you for joining us on this journey into mindfulness. And congratulations!! You’ve just set yourself up for a more relaxed day (or night) ahead.
Next time you find yourself getting tense, remember the sensation of squeezing your muscles and then allowing them to go limp. Focus your attention on the parts of your body that feel tight and work on dissolving that tension, returning to that sensation of release.
And please feel free to come back to this meditation whenever you need a pick-me-up—we’re always here for you! 🤗