“You need to see a doctor right away!” said the nurse. She was checking my blood pressure at a health screening at work. My test results were 90/60. The nurse thought I was going to pass out.
“Normal” blood pressure is 120/80. I felt great though. My body was strong and flexible from yoga. My mind was relaxed and clear. I was meditating on a regular basis.
Later I checked with my doctor. He explained that most people have high blood pressure. He had seen low scores in patients who meditated. The nurse wasn’t used to seeing such low numbers. But I was in good health.
A significant reason for my low numbers was my meditation practice. I’m not suggesting that you shoot for 90/60 blood pressure. But, I do believe that relaxing the mind is critical to your health.
This post describes the best ways to relax your mind. It tells you how practicing yoga can improve your mental health.
The Younger Years
Do you remember your 20s and 30s when you felt carefree? Your career was beginning. Work was easy. Dating was fun. You went out drinking with friends every weekend. Hangovers weren’t a problem. You could sleep in and spend all day watching TV.
But then life started to progress. You began to climb the ladder at work. Maybe you got married and had children. Health issues emerged.
Most people become increasingly busy as they get older. Career, finances and family take center stage. Exercising and relaxing move to the back burner.
People find socially acceptable ways to deal with stress. Many people drink, shop or watch TV. There’s nothing wrong with these things. But they aren’t the most effective way to relax the mind in the long run.
Taking drugs is another way to calm an anxious mind. According to an April 2017 survey by Consumer Reports:
55% of Americans regularly take prescription medication – four, on average.
75% of them also take at least one over-the-counter drug regularly
Prescribed drugs can be helpful. They are necessary at times. But, they come with side effects and a cost.
Learning how to relax and soothe yourself is a skill. It’s part of the growth process and coming to terms with life.
Yoga for the Mind
Yoga is an effective way to improve your physical and mental health. You can practice yoga in minutes or for many hours. It enhances your life at a low cost. Anyone can practice regardless of age, religion or gender.
Most people are familiar with Hatha Yoga. It focuses on the physical body and practicing postures. It is one branch of an ancient system. This system is designed to help you reach a higher state of being.
Please read “How to Handle Stress at Work with Yoga After 40” to learn about the 6 branches of yoga.
I recommend 3 ways to relax your mind with yoga.
Are you feeling so agitated that you can’t sit still? Do you need exercise from sitting all day? Does your mind race with thoughts? If you can’t sit still, practice the Hatha Yoga. Take a Vinyasa style yoga class or a class with breadth connected movement.
Make sure no music is playing during class. Some people say that they like music during class. They might get enjoyment out of it. But they would get better results in the long run if they practiced without it.
Music is a distraction. It distracts you from focusing on the breadth and the body. Focusing on the sound of the breadth calms the mind.
Some days I arrive at yoga class feeling stressed. My mind is racing. My body feels tight. As I practice and focus on my breadth, I feel better. The movement helps me release tension which lets my mind relax.
By focusing on the poses, I stop giving energy to a problem. While the problem may still exist, I’m less attached to it. After class, my mind is calm. I’m in a better place to act or let go.
Think of a Vinyasa Yoga class as a moving meditation. If you focus on your breadth and your movements, your mind will relax.
Suppose you feel tired. You have been working all day or taking care of kids. All you want to do is sit down. You may practice Raja Yoga or any kind of meditation.
People tell me they can’t meditate because their mind races too much. This is called monkey mind. It’s the reason we all must meditate.
The key is finding the right meditation practice for you. Below is a simple technique that you can practice at any time.
- Breathing Technique
- Find a private and quiet place to sit.
- Feel your feet on the ground.
- Relax your hands on your lap.
- Close your eyes and breath.
- Focus on your breath.
- Don’t control the breath.
- Allow it to be natural (short, quick, shallow, deep, etc.).
- Your mind will wander. When this happens, tell yourself, “No, no, focus on the breath”.
- Do this for as long as you can until your mind calms or you feel a shift
Try it for a minute upon waking and a minute before going to bed. Increase the time each day. For example, the first day try it for one minute in the morning and the evening. The next day try it for two minutes, etc.
When I meditate on a regular basis, I feel calm. Issues don’t bother me. Problems at work roll off me. When I don’t meditate, I feel anxious. I over analyze things that I can’t control.
Mediation is like a drug. But it has positive side effects.
Being of Service
Another great way to calm the mind is to practice Karma Yoga. We don’t have control over many things that happen in life. We might lose a loved one or become ill. In these cases, the best way to relax is to focus on helping others. Practice helping others or being of service.
This is especially true when dealing with grief. Some people say that focusing on others helps them heal. For example, a friend was grief stricken after the loss of his wife. He recovered by focusing on his kids and giving them more love. Another friend recovered by volunteering at a non-profit.
We can’t control everything that happens to us in life. But, we can control how we respond. Helping others shifts the focus off our own problems. It helps us connect with others and life.
Meditators Who Have Changed the World
George Harrison, lead guitarist of the Beatles, had a spiritual side. He was drawn to the teachings of Self Realization Fellowship. He practiced Kriya Yoga.
Oprah, the “Queen of All Media”, was North America’s first multi-billionaire black person. She is the greatest black philanthropist in American history. She practices Transcendental Meditation (TM).
Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, practiced meditation. At his funeral he gave his friends and family his last gift. It was a box with the book, Autobiography of a Yogi (Self-Realization Fellowship) inside. His message was, “Actualize Yourself”.
Doctors Endorse Yoga for Health
Many studies link meditation and relaxation. Dr. Herbert Benson has been a pioneer in this area..
Benson is an American doctor and cardiologist. He is the founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute. It’s at MA General Hospital (MGH) in Boston.
Benson extols the benefits of meditation on the human body. His 1975 book, The Relaxation Response, became a national bestseller. This book is a secular version of TM for the Western world. It is a timeless classic.
Practice Yoga to Relax the Mind and Be Happy
Relaxing the mind is crucial if you want to have a happy and healthy life. We all have different roles in life. Some roles are grander than others. In your own unique way, your presence impacts others. So be your best. Practice yoga for your own happiness and to help the world around you.
You could practice all three forms of yoga. Wake up and meditate for at least 5 minutes. Find time to practice Vinyasa Yoga at least 3 times a week. Set aside some time each month to be of service to others. Volunteer or help friends and family. You will see that your mind relaxes, and you feel better.
Stay tuned for my next post. It will help you find the right meditation practice for you.
Thank you for reading this. Do you meditate? How has meditation impacted your life? Please leave your comments below.
Happy yoga practice!