My personal practice over the last few years has centered on yoga, mantra, pranayam and managing my mind. I have come to understand that i have very high cortisol levels: my kidneys produce a hormone that creates stress and they do it very easily and quickly, all the time. Managing this has been my focus for many years. The hormone cortisol creates the sensation of being stressed, then my mind kicks in with thoughts that create more of the hormone. It is a self feeding cycle which is really tiresome and unpleasant. I have been bored of it and by it for a long time but still struggled to move beyond the sensations despite understanding the effects. It is surprising how many people have the same experience.
Recently I have taken on new practices which have helped enormously and share one of these here.
There is an interesting way to relax oneself, and it is at the core of getting the most from any yogic experience: the awareness of the physical sensations in the body. When you are feeling your body from the inside you cannot think. You do not need to be a yogi to use this technique. You can do it lying in bed or sitting in the office on a chair. Simply close your eyes and slowly, calmly feel your feet on the floor, feel the bones of your shin and thigh, feel your buttocks on the chair. Continue in this way and move up through your body, aware of everything: eyebrows, lips around teeth, ears, blood inside the veins etc. After a few minutes of this focus you will be relaxed and calm.
Now the hard part. Imagine being stressed, worried, tense, in a hurry, angry, irritated, financially insecure, etc… and in those moments, right there and then, going into the body and just focus on the physical sensations of the fear and the stress. Right there, in the midst of the whiling free-fall, stop and go into the curious physical sensations that are feeding your mind and sending you into the tail spin.
I have been teaching this technique to my 6 year old daughter who got it first time and said that when she was scared by her thoughts, and went inside, her thoughts felt sharp and tight within her throat and chest. Upon being directed to smooth them she understood what was to be done and came out with a big smile on her face. This is the trick that we, as adults, need to learn to use when thoughts are overwhelming. Go inside and take a few minutes to soften the tight sensations, release the tension and imagine your heart, throat and lungs smiling. This practice breaks the connection between the thoughts and the feelings and with repeated experiences you will find that it gets easier to become present.
The rub is that it takes a leap in awareness to recognise that the stress sensations are not helpful and that you can change the intensity and drama, turn it down, and get on with being here, now.