Jump to content

Any advice how to use (or do?) relaxation practice during the times of extreme stress?


Recommended Posts

Hello all,

I have been trying to practice relaxation (using audio recordings) in the past 9 days - since the 24 February, the day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine - with varying success. Sometimes it won't work at all, I have to stop. Sometimes I can follow till the end and feel better, more detached afterwards. Sometimes it is mixed: like today, I gave up two thirds into the practice and poured myself a glass of red wine instead.

Anyone can offer some practical recommendation? In these times we need this practice more, but it comes so much harder than in "normal" (peaceful) times. I guess it also matters if you live in Europe right now and if you feel somehow involved in the war by virtue of your place of birth. I wish I could be more detached and to that end I try to use the relaxation practice.

Olga

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Olga,

First of all, what you're looking for, ideally, is equanimity, and not detachment. In psychological terms, a similar concept would be "decentering," which is stepping outside of an emotion so that it doesn't sweep you away. While the difference can be subtle, detachment tends to be more along the lines of suppression or dissociation, which is a rejection of experience and can cause issues long-term. With strong equanimity, we can open fully to experience and our emotions, while still maintaining stability.

The first thing I would suggest is to drop any expectation regarding the outcome of the practice. Paradoxically, when you begin with hopes or expectations of reaching some state of peace and relaxation that you've experienced in the past, those very hopes and expectations often make it more difficult to find such states. The peace and relaxation actually comes from accepting the current experience fully, without wanting it to be any other way. When you are doing the lying relaxation and you notice yourself thinking "this is difficult," "why won't my mind settle down," "why haven't I relaxed yet," etc., see if you can just allow acknowledge the thoughts and feelings, without pushing them away. This does not mean you must embrace them; simply acknowledge them, accept that they have arisen, and let them go as they please.

If you are still having difficulty, remember that lying relaxation (i.e. body scan) is not the only method available to you. During times like these, we need loving kindness and compassion for our fellow humans more than ever. If you've never tried metta/loving-kindness meditation, then you might give that a shot. Here is one example. You can do it in any position.

On days when there is just too much restlessness, anxiety, etc. in the body to lie or sit still for long, try walking meditation. Thich Nhat Hanh's method is very simple but effective. You can also simply synchronize the breath with the steps and be very mindful of your movements.

Hopefully something there helps!

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 3/6/2022 at 5:13 PM, Nathan said:

The peace and relaxation actually comes from accepting the current experience fully, without wanting it to be any other way.

How does someone do that in the moment if it's an experience that they don't want? And also in the case of something in the past?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 3/11/2022 at 6:29 PM, Aaron1 said:

How does someone do that in the moment if it's an experience that they don't want?

Are we talking about on the cushion or in daily life? On the cushion, you recognize the aversion (I don't want this), and you let it go. "I don't want this" is just a thought, so you acknowledge the thought and let it be. It's important to note that accepting experience, as it is, is not resignation. Rather, it's a recognition that this is how things are in this moment, and simply allowing the experience without attempting to hold on to it or push it away. You can still respond to circumstances and conditions, acting from a place of equanimity. In daily life, all of this is much more difficult, which is why we practice on the cushion.

On 3/11/2022 at 6:29 PM, Aaron1 said:

And also in the case of something in the past?

I'm not quite sure what you're asking here. Could you clarify?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks @Nathan. I should clarify. If someone is in a bout of stress (e.g. tragedy, physical altercation, overloaded in work), what can they do in real time (i.e. then and there) to mitigate that stress? You said peace comes from accepting the experience, but I'm not sure people can accept some things that are happening to them as they are playing out?

To clarify the second part of the question, I think you answered it. But I was asking how we accept a bad experience that has already occurred. I think that's where you're saying we need to practice on the cushion - recognise the aversion and accept the experience as it is.

More broadly, is it enough just to accept a bad experience to get to a state of peace and relaxation? Or do we need to do more - accept the bad experience as you mention as well as, for example, recognising any fault you made and what you should do differently next time?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for clarifying!

19 hours ago, Aaron1 said:

If someone is in a bout of stress (e.g. tragedy, physical altercation, overloaded in work), what can they do in real time (i.e. then and there) to mitigate that stress? You said peace comes from accepting the experience, but I'm not sure people can accept some things that are happening to them as they are playing out?

I was speaking specifically about the sense of peace felt during meditation, but if you can bring that same powerful equanimity into your daily life, then you will experience similar effects. Of course, such a thing requires a lot of practice and won't be easy for many of us, as you point out. To deal with stress in daily life, you will want to build a toolbox of techniques to address a variety of situations, including general self-care (relaxation, hot baths, plenty of sleep, etc.), relational techniques (nonviolent communication, cultivating loving kindness and compassion), grounding/centering techniques (deep breaths, feel the ground under your feet, take in the visual surroundings, tapping, sense the space between yourself and others, etc.), implementing ways of looking that you've practiced on the cushion (impermanence, interdependence, etc.), and so on. Ideally, you would also have a regular practice during which you are cultivating inner resouces and resilience that you can rely on during trying times.

Mindfulness plays a big part in all of this, as it creates space to respond to a situation rather than falling back on habitual reactions. With mindfulness, you will see the stress building up and be able to respond preemptively, before being swept away by the tornado of emotions.

20 hours ago, Aaron1 said:

But I was asking how we accept a bad experience that has already occurred.

This will depend on the situation. Sometimes practice on the cushion will be enough, but in the case of severe trauma or similar, therapy may be helpful. On the cushion, cultivation of metta/loving kindness and karuna/compassion can help a lot. Off the cushion, nonviolent communication can be very eye-opening. Both of these routes can encourage understanding and help show us that placing blame is not the answer. On the therapy side of things, CBT is very common and can be effective even when done on one's own, but most modalities will be most effective with the support of a therapist.

20 hours ago, Aaron1 said:

Or do we need to do more - accept the bad experience as you mention as well as, for example, recognising any fault you made and what you should do differently next time?

Sure, acceptance is just how we engage with what is. This is what I was getting at when I mentioned it's not the same as resignation. I don't think any of us here are hermits, so we have the complexities of our relationships and everything else in our lives and we want to respond appropriately. What this entails will depend on the situation, of course.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

Hmm. In my original post I was actually referring to living and surviving in the middle of the war. We have a war in Europe, most of my friends and relatives are split into two opposing sides, people are dying or escaping, I am reading daily accounts of survival under bombing and I am volunteering as interpreter for the Ukrainian war refugees arriving in Vienna. But since this already been going on for over a month, I am trying to adjust to the "new normal" and learn to live with the war (as with Covid before). I am envious of those around me who are not so emotionally involved (I am Russian by birth). My way or coping this week: get physically tired or even exhausted (through work or volunteering), then lie down and listen to the relaxation tape - it keeps me down on the mat better when I am physically tired.

If anyone else has experienced war, I would be glad to hear your advice how you learnt to cope.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi, @Olga. I cannot imagine what you're going through. I'm European myself and I can feel a sense of uneasiness in me since the war started, but you must be experiencing the conflict on a whole different level. It's probably a suffering you're feeling in your bones, but it's still the mind. It could be useful to discharge the tension you're feeling with emotional outbursts. Crying, or even throwing punches at a mattress can help. Physical exhaustion is also a good solution, as it discharges energy and forces you to be with your bodily sensations. It's important, however, that you avoid as much as possible opportunities to re-charge the tension. Reading or listening news on a daily basis, talking about the issue, actively worrying over it…all of that is going to damage you. You're too involved, the waves are too big for you to swim in this sea. Try to read the news once a week, or even once every two weeks — if at all. Above everything: do not argue over the topic.

I should also mention that a standard meditation practice is helpful here. You're tense because your mind is too crowded. Alongside limiting exposure to your “toxin”, sitting still and witnessing the breath could be a good antidote.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

There is a technique I use to completely quiet the mind in a minute or two - that is, to breathe out fully, hold the nose, and hold your breath in the BREATH-OUT position for as long as you can - the time will increase with practice (use a timer to keep track). This raises your blood CO2 and lowers your blood O2. When you cant manage any more, take ONE big breath in and out, and then resume NORMAL breathing - DONT pant. During this phase, if you are like me, your body and mind will be stilled and you will be filled with a sense of great relaxation.

Why hold your nose (optional)? Because its easy to take small in-breaths without realising.

I have a pulse oximeter (bought for covid) and this shows that during the normal breathing in the third phase, the blood O2 stays low for about 15 seconds after you start to breathe again. But the sense of stress due to holding your breath has gone, because you are breathing. It is this phase that gives great relaxation. The blood O2 is still low (and I presume the CO2 still high), because of the circulation time for the blood to get from the lungs, through the heart, and up to the brain (surprisingly long).

This is why if an aircraft suddenly decompresses at high altitude, you have about 15 seconds before you lose consciousness - the blood coming from your lungs to your brain is still oxygenated. This gives you time to put your mask on, and is why they say "fit your own mask before helping others".

Its also useful to practice - it is possible to hold your breath in the breath-out position for much longer than you think. This might be useful in an emergency.

Also, all best wishes to you and your fellows in this horrible situation, one which I thought would never recur in Europe. To answer one point you raised - I have never directly experienced war, thank goodness.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...