All kinds of tension builds up in our bodies as we grapple with stress. Here we share easy tips to help you keep calm throughout your day, smoothly and stress-free.
A recent student described how she brought her newly acquired skill of mindfulness to the wonderful experience of dog sledding in a snowy climate.
As the huskies raced across the snow, she held on for life!
She was aware that her whole body was filled with tension. Every muscle was engaged in keeping upright and holding on. She was aware that even her face muscles joined in.
Every now and then she was able to mindfully soften her shoulders a little. She would soften the tension around her mouth and eyes and breathe deeply. She realised that she could enjoy this exhilarating experience more fully than ever before.
You may not be experiencing such a vivid and exciting task right now, but you’ll recognise your own body’s reactions to stress!
Perhaps your experience is a daily commute in your car. Do you notice how your hands are clasping the steering wheel, shoulders hunched up, eyes crinkled as you peer out into the early-morning gloom (or squint if the sunshine is in your eyes)?
In that moment of awareness, you can choose to relax your shoulders, soften your face and breathe out a sigh. This lets go of the tension followed by a deep replenishing breath in. So it can be easier to stay calm and alert!
And do you sit at a computer for portions of your day? Again, not as exciting as riding a dog-sled, but your body will be engaging in tension.
Notice how your feet might be wriggling around the chair legs or your lower back is causing you problems but you ignore it. Your upper torso, shoulders or neck, are all building up tense, cramped muscles. Your face is set in anxiety as you rush to complete deadlines. And you notice an hour has flown by without having stopped for a sip of water.
Again, in any moment, you can bring your awareness to this.
Soften the tension, take a few deeper breaths and ensure you are sitting with the correct posture.
Look on the internet to find ideas for ‘Postures for sitting at a computer’ and you’ll find a wealth of useful images and tips to alleviate some of these issues. Ignoring continual bad posture will lead to long-term issues.
Remember your sips of water and let your body stand up regularly, even if it’s for a few paces round the room. Whatever the deadlines – keep calm throughout your day.
It’s also possible to bring the same mindful awareness if you’re sitting writing at a desk or listening to someone in conversation.
Perhaps you remember sitting hunched over your desk when you sat school exams.
Remember the feeling of your fingers so tense and cramped because you were rushing to write your answers?
And even if you’re engaged in seemingly relaxing chatter with a friend, in any moment you might become aware that your shoulders are tense and your breathing is shallow. Even in those moments you can soften the muscles and adjust your posture.
Walking is another daily experience when you can practice mindfulness.
We’re generally walking from A to B – our purpose is to rush through the bit in-between. And yet these offer perfect moments for relaxing mindfully.
Thich Nhat Hanh says:
‘Although we walk all the time, our walking is usually more like running …’
You might find your feet flying through the air as you rush downstairs, out the house, round the supermarket, round the office … you get the idea about rushing!
Instead of this, notice your feet, your shoulders, your head. As you bring this mindful awareness to your movements and your body, you can relax the building tension and be present. Slow down!
You can keep calm throughout the day while doing what needs to be done. It may feel like you’re expanding time as those previously unnoticed moments of dashing about, become seconds of pure present engagement.
You may also notice that you arrive as a far calmer, relaxed version of yourself too!
The final place where you can notice how your body is building up tension is while you’re asleep!
Grinding teeth while you sleep is a common example of how the body continues holding onto tension. When you wake up you might become aware of your jaw or face feeling tired.
You might also notice knotted muscles in your shoulders as they tensed up while you slept, or even nail-marks in the palms of your hands.
Try this before you sleep:
Keep Calm with Progressive Relaxation
Here’s a progressive relaxation exercise you can do – any time but especially at bed-time.
It allows you to bring a caring, mindful approach to yourself. Your body softens and relaxes any tense muscles. It’s a great way to prepare to relax and sleep.
- Notice all your aches and tensions. Often there will be certain muscles that you’re immediately alerted to.
- Yet if you sweep your awareness from the top of your head all the way down to your toes, you may notice other areas of tension and discomfort.
- Notice how the out-breath can easily become a sigh. You can exaggerate this, breathing in slowly, then exhaling out of your mouth.
- Allow that out-breath to take with it some of the tension. It’s the body’s own in-built de-stressor.
- Notice your shoulders drop with each out-breath.
- You can take any aspect of your body, hold the muscles tightly for a count of 10, then let go of the tension.
- Allow the muscles to relax, soften, let go.
- Try it with your hands now: clench them into fists and hold that for a count of 10. Then soften them. Feel the tension flow through your fingers as you release the clench.
- Do the same with other parts of the body – both feet, your knees, your thighs, your stomach, your shoulders and your face. Go through these parts of your body and hold in the tension for a count of 10.
- Then soften, loosen and let go of the tension you’ve created.
- Finally, focus on your breath. Notice how you can hold your breath for a count of 10 then release the tension that builds up.
- The body is designed to naturally let go – your out-breath is a natural letting go of tension.
- You can also explore what it feels like to hold on at the end of your out-breath for a count of 5. Notice the body’s natural desire to replenish itself.
- Continue breathing slowly and deeply. Let your whole body enjoy this moment of relaxation.
Keep Calm Throughout Your Day!
A simple reminder in the words of that poster, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.
The story behind ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ – the wonderful 2nd hand bookshop in Alnwick, Northumberland tells how it all began in this short video: Keep Calm and Carry On
Yvette Jane – Mindfulness & Meditation Coach
This updated post was first published 5 February 2016