Serving in the military and being a soldier is a tough, challenging and at times a brutal experience. As a soldier one undergoes many tests of strength, will and honor. The stresses experienced combined with the darkness one witnesses through being in combat can have a negative effect on emotional and mental wellness. Finding some simple practices to incorporate into daily life can bring some relief and offer a safe, natural escape from stressful or traumatic memories of the past. In this article, I will share some well researched techniques that have shown to help reduce stress and improve one’s state of emotional well-being.
First is breathing, yes simply breathing is a mindfulness technique. Properly using the lungs as they are designed to fully inflate and deflate can improve emotional wellness. Paying attention to the breath is an important technique in reducing stress. Yoga teachers and breathwork practitioners alike instruct students to “watch the breath”. This refers to one being present with the inhale, fully feeling the movement as the lungs inflate, noticing the sensation of air-filled lungs, and then mindfully “watch the breath” flow out - being present with the sensations as the lungs deflate. As we go through life and experience stressful situations, we slowly develop poor breathing skills. This is why at the start of a yoga class we are asked to sit and breathe. Proper breathing is one of the most important aspects of a yoga practice, it is also essential for general wellness and vitality.
Our lungs are designed to fill thoroughly bottom, middle, top and empty top, middle, bottom. Stress and trauma result in tension, causing incomplete filling of the lungs. As babies and young children, we breathe deep into the bottom of the lungs, often referred to as the belly breathing. Stress and trauma over time result in us becoming chest breathers, an unhealthy breathing habit. When we do not fully inflate our lungs, we are depriving ourselves of a necessary element for life and vitality - oxygen. Studies have shown that proper breathing and using specialized techniques can greatly reduce stress, tension and anxiety resulting in better health and emotional stability.
To curb reactivity….
Take a few moments to pause…
This is also another important mindfulness technique. Taking the time for a few moments to properly breathe provides space for calm, clear headed thinking. Then to ascertain the situation, look at what is being asked, or what the full picture of a situation might be. Before speaking and while we are watching our breath, we can ask ourselves the following questions as suggested by talk radio show host Bernard Meltzer, “Is it true, is it kind, is it necessary and is it helpful”?
A pause to breathe, rather than reacting, can provide an opportunity of clarity resulting in a positive experience with minimized sensitivity or emotional reactivity. Often the trigger, or stress of a situation can be soothed through this simple process of breathing and allowing a pause before speaking.
Now that we have an understanding of why proper breathing is important for a state of emotional well-being, we can further discuss a meditation practice I find exceptionally suited for those new to meditation, those with an active mind and those who would like to experience a meditation practice with spiritual influence. Japa Mala Meditation, my favorite form of meditation, is a repetition of a mantra chanted in Sanskrit.
Sanskrit is considered the second oldest language in the world and japa mala mediation has been around for thousands of years. It was discovered during the Roman Invasion of the East. The early Catholics adapted the mala into a Christian prayer practice known as The Rosary. There are 54 beads on a rosary and 108 on a mala. Both practices are specific with intention based on personal needs. The formulation of verse, or mantra would be used for a specific number of days and frequency to attain a desire or provide protection (as an example) in a particular situation. The ancient practice of japa mala meditation is a form of prayer used to realign one’s energy and deepen connection to source, God or the Divine.
In my personal experience, this form of meditation can be good for an active mind since the active mind is in a thinking state - thought forms and or words are swirling through the mind. By using a mantra in repetition, a stilling of the mind begins to grow over time. The sound vibration has an energetic effect on the physical body leading to more inner peace as karma is burned away due to the transformative nature of chanting mantra or reciting prayer. This is a fulfilling practice that can support both physical and spiritual wellness as well as emotional stability.
There are literally thousands of mantras available for many conditions, aspects or issues. As well, are also Buddhist mantras (as this religious sect was born out of Hinduism). If you feel more drawn to Buddhism you may want to explore mantras from this lineage.
I will share 2 great beginner mantras with you. Later in this article, I will recommend a book I highly suggest for anyone interested in seeking mantras for enhanced wellness, peace and prosperity.
1. “OM GUM GANAPATAYE NAMAHA” Sanskrit Mantra - used to remove obstacles.
2. “HUNG VAJRA PEH” Tibetan Mantra - to destroy negativity
For meditation, try using a gazing practice focused on an object. This is known for helping to improve concentration and promote relaxation. Trataka, also known as Candle Gazing Meditation focuses the eyes on the flame of a candle set at eye level. Be sure to try not to blink. This practice is a focused, yet soft gaze, not a forced or intense gaze. Be mindful to not strain the eyes. Trataka helps to improve one’s ability to concentrate and it can strengthen eye muscles when combined with meditative eye exercises.
Eye exercises are important for the health of the eyes and more. The practice of Sivananda Yoga includes eye yoga as part of the warm up sequence in the yoga practice because it also helps to induce a state of relaxation!! A more relaxed person equals a happier person and if you enjoy candles, you might find Trataka to be a perfect meditation practice for you!
Lastly, two of my most favorite classes to teach, Guided Meditation & Guided Relaxation are experiences used to reduce stress, instill inner peace and cultivate a sense of general well-being. These practices can be very helpful in promoting emotional wellness. Resting and relaxation techniques provide the body with a near sleep-like state. When the body is sleeping is when it renews, taking the time for regular guided meditation relaxation practices minimum of 2-3x a week better if practiced daily can offer an opportunity for a deeply nourishing sleep like experience. We all know how great of a feeling it is to wake up from a good night’s rest. The benefits of these powerful practices can offer a much needed escape from the daily grind of life and stressful, traumatic experiences of the past. If you have experienced violence or trauma, be sure to find qualified teachers and practices that will appropriately address your specific needs.
I hope you will find your inner peace and have some noticeable stress reduction by experiencing some of these practices I have shared with you. The information and links provided below will help you explore how these modalities can meet your needs and curiosities.
“Healing Mantras”, a book for understanding the history, science and spiritual practice of Sanskrit Mantra written by my teacher and Guru, Namadeva, Thomas-Ashley Farrand.
Against The Stream - recommended for stress, individuals who have experienced violence, trauma and addiction. https://www.againstthestream.com
Deep Energy Podcast - a great resource for music provided by local musician and friend, Jim Butler, for meditation, relaxation and sleep. Go to- https://www.jimbutlermusic.com and click on “Deep Energy Podcast”.
To work with a qualified Breathwork Practitioner, contact Rachael Walter, who is part of Aloha Wellness Collective here in Keene, NH. She offers discounted and free mini sessions perfect for an introduction to transformative and healing breathing practices.