Stress is an inevitable part of life. The trick isn’t to avoid all stress but rather to embrace it and get really good at it. What we’re talking about is activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System, sometimes called Flight or Fight. There are various shades of this activation but common qualities include a raised heart & breath rate, changes in body temperature, and changes in emotional state (fear, irritability, rage etc).
I’ve used this meditation a lot to develop my capacity to stay calm under pressure. It uses a stress position and then incorporates a breath pattern commonly associated with a more relaxed state. As the pressure builds in the arms, it becomes a challenge to maintain the breath. This meditation gives you an experience of your sympathetic nervous system and then invites you to develop a functional breathing pattern within it. One of the most common reasons for dysfunctional breathing patterns is habitual stress. If you can master this, then you’re well on your way to mastering stress states.
Sit with a straight spine (you can be cross-legged, kneeling or in a chair with feet flat on the floor). Relax your shoulders and draw your chin towards your neck (not enough to get a big double chin, just enough to avoid poking your chin forward).
Extend your arms straight out in front of you and parallel to the ground. Curl the fingers of the right hand into a fist with the thumb pointing up. Wrap your left hand around the right, extending the left thumb up. Let the sides of your thumbs touch and focus on the “V” formed by tips of thumbs. Look through the V, into the distance.
Inhale deeply for 5 seconds, exhale completely for 5 seconds, hold the breath out for 15 seconds. If this breathing pattern is too difficult you can reduce the times but try to keep it proportional – for example inhale for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold the breath out for 12 seconds. You can go beyond 15 seconds on the hold out so long as you can control the inhale – in other words, if you gasp for your inhale breath you’ve gone too far. The inhale breath should be soft and smooth.
Start with 3 minutes – remember you want to feel stressed so you need to go beyond your comfort zone. Build up to 11 minutes, adding in extra minutes when you can.
Then sit for a while, observe the tone of your nervous system as it settles, watching the switch from stress to relaxation. Make sure your breath is light, slow and deep before you step away.