It’s the end of a long day, and whew, you finally have a few minutes to relax before bed… but you can’t! You lie down to listen to some relaxing music but cares and worries keep cycling through your head. Finally you give up and do a few more tasks before bed and than lie awake thinking, all the while knowing you should rest so you’re fresh tomorrow.
This is a really common scenario because the mind is like a sandy riverbed. Once your thoughts are flowing in a certain direction it is really hard to change course. You can’t change thoughts with thoughts. So directly confronting the worries in your mind is like building a dam with wet sand: they just keep slipping through.
The thing is, shallow sandy rivers DO change course all the time. Come back to such a river after a hard rain, and you’ll find a different shape and pattern in the sand. A flood came through, scoured the riverbed, and left a new pattern of flow in its wake.
If you really want let go of stress and worries, your mind needs some kind of “flood” to wash away old patterns of thought so you can create a new, relaxed ways of thinking. One of the simplest ways to do this is by connecting to your body and really using it. A flood of sensory information from the body can sweep away anxious thoughts. Think of how good and relaxed you feel after going out dancing, exercising until you work up a sweat, or taking a dip in a bracing mountain stream (or the Maine ocean in July!).
We instinctively know the body can make the mind feel better. It’s why adages like “work hard, play hard” exist. It’s also why some people who’ve had really tough experiences are prone to taking up addictive, risky or self harming behaviors. They’re using, or rather misusing, their bodies to escape a particularly unpleasant flow of thoughts.
If you’re conscience of the phenomena that physical sensation can help clear the head, you can strategize healthy ways to get back into your body and wash your cares away. You can also bring more awareness to other physical activities you may be doing that relieve stress short term but are in fact a long term drain on your body’s vitality. It’s the connection to the body that makes massage such a great stress relief tool, and that’s why a challenging Kundalini yoga class leaves you feeling so good afterward. Regular, healthy, body-based actives are key to stress management.
Do you feel like you need to drop some stress NOW? Try one of these three things: turn up your favorite song* and dance, really let loose and move everything!; take a cold shower, as cold as you can stand; and (this is for you yogis out there) do one or two minutes of stretch pose. What health ways do you have to connect to your body and relax? I’d love to hear what works for you.
*Looking for a danceable song? Try this one from King of Bhangra.