Spring has arrived. We see more evidence of it each day. The daffodils trumpet their presence in stylish, vibrant yellow and white. Our trees sing out a glorious chorus of pink, white, red and yellow. The air is warming as we rise from our winter slumber.
The arrival of the various vaccines allows us to cautiously creep out of our hibernation to risk engaging with friends and family. Spring has an added glory in seeing and smiling with one another.
The vaccine is permitting new friendships to develop. One of our new friends has been amazing us with her serenity, sparkling eyes, assertiveness, unpretentiousness and pleasant self-possession. Eventually, we got up the courage to ask her if she had any special technique, habit or formula to account for her manifest likability.
She responded that a psychotherapist had encouraged her to practice a stress management tool daily to strengthen her self-awareness and management of her thoughts, feelings and what she was inclined to say and do. We asked if she would explain this tool to us.
Agreeing to teach us the “4x4x4,” she explained that it entailed relaxing four times a day, for four minutes each time and by using four steps.
The recommendation was to do this tool before breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime. These events serve as reminders to do the relaxation tool. Doing it for four minutes or more each time also seemed very easy to do. The four steps she explained are Breathing, Observing, Accepting and Letting Go. These steps can be conceptualized in medical terms, scientific facts, as a stress management tool or as a spiritual practice.
She advised focusing on your breathing with your “inner eye” during the entire four minutes. Breathe in peace and relaxation, exhale stress, tightness and tension. The more disciplined your practice, the more you will relax quickly and deeply.
Adding this breath practice to your daily routine can improve your emotional and physical resilience by improving respiratory efficiency and strengthening respiratory muscles. She reported increased mental sharpness and greater ability to make sound decisions while improving memory! We excitedly interjected that if this breathing focus was a pill, it would be a bestseller! Her response: “Wait! There’s more!”
She further explained that doing this breath work aids in managing our energy and the amount of energy we have depends not only on food and exercise, but also regulating our supply of oxygen. As a stress management tool, conscious exhalations activate our parasympathetic nervous system, facilitating rest and digestion. Lastly, and we were amazed, she maintained that this breath practice resulted in more restful sleep due to her newfound ability to quiet her mind.
While staying with her breathing, she consciously observes any thoughts or feelings she may be experiencing, realizing she is strengthening her management of any thoughts, feelings and what she might be inclined to say or do. All of these are optional add-ons, which she is free to choose. She observes from her core self or true self. A thought is just a thought she emphasized; it is an electrochemical construct in our brain that we can accept or reject. We also can change our feelings by physical movement or cognitive reframing.
She stressed that these wonderful changes may take months of daily practice. But when they materialize, they will surprise you. It will simply dawn on you that you are behaving in a kinder and more self-valuing manner, built upon staying in awareness or the currently popular word, mindfulness, which is defined as staying in the “now” or present moment while being nonjudgmental.
Being accepting is absolutely based upon being self-accepting. When we are unaccepting, it is a red flag for us that we have slipped out of being self-accepting. We accept what comes into our awareness but hold it at arm’s length as we stay with our breathing and practice being observational. We may wish to take note of an awareness that frequently recurs because it will keep returning until it is faced and resolved.
Sometimes, she continued, our thoughts and other awarenesses can be very sticky. They can loop around endlessly.! We can let go of our current awarenesses or our attachments to long standing hurts, resentments, prejudices. The end goal is to gradually be at peace with everyone and everything. Anything that tightens our bodies is proof that it is healthy to let it go.
Daily practice for many months may be necessary to achieve desired results and she added, that upon reflection, journeying into greater peace, kindness and steady mindfulness is actually an endless, life-long endeavor. All of us are frail. We back-slide. We forget. But we remember the Japanese proverb, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.”
Eventually, she assured us, we will notice effortless changes in ourselves. Changes in how we treat ourselves, treat others, how we walk, talk and eat. The changes will be subtle; they will dawn on us unexpectedly. We will see with fresh eyes.
Dr. Jim David is a retired psychotherapist in Silver Spring. Currently busy with personal, spiritual and executive coaching, he can be contacted [email protected] or thru his website at www.askdrdavidnow.com.
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