Are you feeling stressed right now? Of course I’ve felt it too – plenty of times. Nobody gets to escape stress in our world!
I learned about a very simple, and very effective method to calm my stress from a company called HeartMath. I’ll tell you how to use their method, and then I’ll tell you about them. Even though I meditate pretty regularly, and even though I’m pretty aware and mindful – sometimes stress piles up inside of me and my usual methods don’t work. So I turn to HeartMath.
HOW TO EASILY CALM YOUR STRESS
Here’s how you can use their method:
Sit down somewhere comfortable and close your eyes. Start breathing deeply and slowly through your nose. Now visualize your heart and the whole area around your heart – visualize the whole 360 degrees around your heart, including the back of your heart – all the way around.
Do this for a few minutes – keep visualizing. Now take more deep breaths. As you breathe in, imagine that your breath is coming in and flooding your heart. As you breathe out – imagine it’s coming from your heart.
Keep doing this over and over for maybe five minutes, or however long you feel good doing it.
MY IMAGINARY KITTEN MAKES ME HAPPY
Now for the part that makes an interesting difference. Keep doing your breathing but imagine that you are deeply joyful about something or someone. Do this even if you’re stressed and unhappy right now. Try to remember something deeply joyful – maybe a person or a place or memory.
Start with something easy, and then layer by layer, find something that gives you deep, rich joy. For me, an easy place to start is visualizing a cute little fuzzy kitten sitting on my chest purring. I always feel good thinking of this, even if just for a moment. Maybe you have a person who really loves you, or your dog or maybe you’ve had a sweet moment at a beach or park or a particular day when you had a beautiful hike in the woods. Come up with anything that pretty reliably makes you feel joy. And then as you go – you can get deeper and deeper into what brings you rich joy.
A woman I know told me that there is a piece of music that brings her the deepest joy of all – it touches her very soul. For her, it’s La Mamma Morta, sung by Maria Callas. Click here and see if it makes you swoon! She remembers this song when she wants to get her heart into “coherence.”
Whatever you choose, keep imagining and feeling your joy while you’re breathing in and out from your heart. Keep doing it and when your mind wanders away, just calmly notice and bring it back to breathing from your heart and imagining your joyful feeling.
Be sure to give your joyful feeling as much detail as you can. For instance, when I think of a kitten purring on my chest, I visualize what a little fuzzy kitten looks like, then I might imagine its paws kneading up and down and I’ll imagine the sound of it purring. I might keep visualizing and imagine the kitty is sitting up to start, and then maybe I’ll visualize it curling up on my chest. I might even visualize the little kitty is snuggling up under my chin and I can feel and smell the soft fur, the warmth from its body, and even the vibrations from the purring. And so on. I relish in my visualization.
So put some details into your visualization – think of all of your senses – smell, touch, hearing, sight and possibly taste if that’s part of your visualization. Whatever you can do to bring your feeling of joy alive in your mind and body.
Keep visualizing and breathing for 10 – 20 minutes and notice if your stress level changes. You may not get a miraculous result the first time, so keep practicing. In fact, I’d suggest that you don’t wait until you’re stressed to try this. Make it a daily practice so that by the time you’re feeling stressed, your body will start to know what it feels like to be more calm, and it will be able to return there.
And by the way, a Harvard study shows that people who live in a state of high anxiety are four and a half times more likely to suffer sudden cardiac death than non-anxious people.
OUR CONSUMER WORLD BENEFITS WHEN WE’RE STRESSED
Another study showed that people who are unable to effectively manage their stress have a 40 percent higher death rate than their non-stressed counterparts. So its a good idea for you to learn this, or another method to calm yourself. The world will always be stressful, and stressful stuff happens. In fact, a HeartMath coach told me that our world actually benefits when we’re stressed because we then drive more, we eat more junk food and we shop more. Don’t you love it? Our consumer culture encourages us to be stressed!
Back to HeartMath. They conducted loads of studies and determined that when people are able to experience deep joyful feelings, then the heart goes into a state of “coherence,” which means your heart rhythm pattern is smooth. Coherent heart rhythms help activate feelings of security and calm.
You can actually test this. HeartMath has a little gizmo called an emwave. You might be able to find it used on craigslist or amazon, but please know that you don’t NEED this thing in order to calm yourself. It provides a way to watch, in real time, as your heart rhythm calms down – but you don’t need it. If you’re interested, however, the older version is a teeny little personal biofeedback tracker. You put your thumb on it and it tells you, using lights, when your heart is in “coherence.” You can practice your visualizing and breathing and see what happens. They also have an app as well as a visual computer program – they’re all versions of a personal biofeedback mechanism to tell you in real time if your heart is calm.
The point of these biofeedback gizmos is to train your body and heart to get into coherence. You’re able to watch your heart rhythm pattern change in real time as you change your thoughts and feelings by using this HeartMath technique. If you train every day for maybe three months, your body will know how to respond and then you won’t need to use the tools except here and there. You’ll be able to calm yourself while on a walk, cooking dinner, at work or wherever.
I won’t go into detail here – but you can read more in the HeartMath book, Transforming Stress, by Doc Childre and Deborah Rozman, Ph.D.
For now, what you need to know is that HeartMath teaches you how to quickly get your heart into coherence – you’re training your nervous system to calm down. Learning this method won’t make the world disappear, but it will change how you walk through the world. And that’s a fabulous thing to know.