From an article by Michael Hutchison, author of “Megabrain” and “Megabrain Power”
Relaxation Techniques for Mindfulness Training
Following are brief summaries of some of the relaxation techniques that can be used to enhance your mind training (MT) experience.
Abdominal Breathing: Relax your abdominal muscles so that when you inhale, your belly expands, when you exhale your belly contracts. Shallow breathing (expanding and contracting the chest and rib cage) is physiologically linked to the fight-or-flight response; thus chest breathing causes the autonomic nervous system to remain in a state of arousal and inhibits relaxation.
Nose Breathing: One effective technique is to simply focus attention on the breath as it passes in and out of your nose. Feel the air, the coolness at the tip of your nose as you inhale. As you exhale, focus on the warmth at the same spot. If you wish, count your inhalations, numbering each from one to ten; when you reach ten begin with one again. Should thoughts rise into your awareness, don’t resist them but allow them to pass, and then return all attention to your breathing.
Moving Around the Body: With each breath, direct your total attention to a particular spot in your body. Move systematically through your body (e.g. you may begin at the top of your head, then move breath by breath downward through your head, neck, chest, right arm and fingers, left arm and fingers, torso, right leg and foot, left leg and foot, and back up again to end at the top of your head.
Some find it more effective to count each spot, beginning at the top of the head with one, and ending up back at the top of the head at a count of sixty or so).
As your attention moves from place to place it creates and is accompanied by strong body sensations – feelings of melting, warmth, brightness, growing “softer.” By the time you have made a full cycle you should be deeply relaxed.
Visualization of Light: The nostril-breathing practice described above can be combined with visualization: see the air entering your nostrils as pure white light. As you inhale, follow the flow of light through your nasal passages, into your abdomen; visualize it radiating to every part of your body. Then, as you exhale, see the light flow back out of your body. Focus on your breathing entirely.
There are many variations. For example, use visualization of light in combination with the moving-around-the-body technique – with each count, as you focus your attention on another part of the body, see the light flow to that part, see it glowing warmly. Move the light around your body.
How to Practice Mindfulness
Breath awareness is one element of a practice called mindfulness. It can not only be an effective relaxation technique; if practiced regularly it can also lead to profound transformations in your life.
On the most basic level, mindfulness involves simply being aware, observing patiently, with detachment and without judging, what you are doing. Ultimately, with practice, mindfulness can lead to “waking up” from ordinary consciousness into a state in which each moment is a peak experience, and in which one has direct and immediate access to one’s full powers.
The first step to mindfulness is breath awareness. As in the exercise above, simply focus your attention on your breathing and hold it there. Be aware of the sensations that accompany your breathing. Pay attention. Don’t attempt to do anything; don’t attempt to control your breathing; don’t attempt to think about your breathing. Simply be aware.
As thoughts arise, don’t fight against them, don’t judge them, simply be aware of them and then return your attention to your breathing. If you suddenly realize something has carried your mind off, notice what it was, and return your attention to your breathing.
You will find this practice rapidly calms the body and mind. Very quickly you become aware of your thoughts and feelings. By observing them and returning your attention to your breathing, you learn that you are not your thoughts and feelings, that you can detach yourself from them. In time it can lead to feelings of inner stillness, clarity, and centeredness.
Body Scan: As your mindfulness practice progresses and you find you can maintain sustained periods of attention to your breath, you may want to practice other types of mindfulness.
One technique is the Body Scan. As you become relaxed, turn your attention from your breath to your body, moving in a step-by-step fashion around your body, focusing attention on each part in turn, being aware of sensations, feelings, thoughts, whatever arises into consciousness, and then returning awareness to that part of the body. Feel each region fully, breathe to that region, be in that region, and then let go, feel all the tension and fatigue in that part of the body flowing out, and finally move on to the next region.
Meditation Music and Mindfulness
Mindfulness can also be directed at music: use a music tape in conjunction with your MT. As you become relaxed, turn your attention from your breath to the music, not thinking about it or listening to it judgmentally, but simply being aware of the music, moment by moment, as pure sound, hearing each note. If thoughts arise or your attention is drawn away, simply return awareness to the music.
As your practice progresses, you may want to focus your attention on the thoughts that flow through your awareness. Be aware of their content, and the emotional charge that may accompany them, but don’t judge them; simply observe them as “events,” and let them go. Notice what thoughts keep coming back to you, what feelings and moods. Don’t get drawn into thinking about your thoughts, simply notice them and let them go.
This 10-minute MP3 of meditation music for positive energy should get you relaxed in no time (right-click and “save link as”):
The Many Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness and enhanced perceptions: Mindfulness is a practice that can be carried beyond your MT session into the rest of your daily life. The evidence is that it can have profound effects, ranging from boosting your immune system to enhancing your mental functioning to heightening your awareness to intensifying the pleasure and the quality of your life.
One series of studies done at Harvard Medical School tested a group of subjects who practiced mindfulness and a control group and compared their abilities to perceive brief, millisecond flashes of light on a device called a tachistoscope.
The mindfulness group’s perceptions were extraordinarily keen. While the control group was barely able to see the flashes or separate one flash from the next, the mindfulness group was able to perceive the flashes with such clarity that they could observe the instant the flash started, the moment it reached its peak, the moment the flash began to cease, the moment the flash was gone etc.
Such studies are a clear indication that the practice of mindfulness can have dramatic effects on brain functioning and consciousness. Fortunately for users of MTs, reports from users suggest that MTs can be a powerful adjunct to mindfulness, not only helping novices learn mindfulness, but actually increasing one’s powers of mindfulness and attention.
For over 20 years Dr. Les Fehmi has been one of the leading biofeedback researchers, with a particular interest in developing techniques to induce peak-performance brain states. His research led him to believe that one key to peak brain function was whole-brain synchrony – a phenomenon in which the dominant brainwave activity throughout the whole cortex shifts into a single, coherent, in-phase rhythm.
Fehmi designed a biofeedback device that would monitor the brainwaves for synchrony and give the user a signal when synchrony was occurring. I have written in Megabrain about this device, the Biofeedback Brainwave Synchronizer. I’ve also used it extensively in Megabrain Workshops, and have found it’s an extraordinarily effective tool for rapidly teaching users to produce heightened states of consciousness.
In this video Dr. Les Fehmi and Susan Fehmi discuss Open Focus in meditation:
But of course few can afford to own a $3,000-plus biofeedback machine. Fehmi began searching around for a simple technique that would induce the same state of whole-brain synchrony as could be learned by using the Brainwave Synchronizer.
To do this he hooked subjects up to the Brainwave Synchronizer and tried various spoken inductions and procedures, searching for something that would produce synchrony. As he experimented, Fehmi drew on his own experiences as a Zen meditator. He felt that whole-brain synchrony was linked to attention.
In modern western civilization, he observed, we value the ability to have a narrowly-focused attention: the ability to concentrate on a single matter and ignore other “distractions” is highly rewarded. Unfortunately, Fehmi became convinced, this narrow focus of attention also leads directly to tension, stress, and all the stress-related ailments.
Experienced Zen meditators, on the other hand, strive to open up their field of attention to take in everything. They have what Fehmi called “open focus”. When he analyzed the brain state it took to produce whole-brain synchrony on his Biofeedback Brainwave Synchronizer, Fehmi discovered that it too was an open-focus state.
He found, as he told me, that brain synchronization “is correlated experientially with a union with experience, an ‘into-it-ness.’ Instead of feeling separate and narrow-focused, you tend to feel more into it – that is, unified with the experience, you are the experience – and the scope of your awareness is widened a great deal, so that you’re including many more experiences at the same time. There’s a whole-brain sensory integration going on, and it’s as if you become less self-conscious and you function more intuitively.”
Seeking a simple way to produce this widening of attention, this open focus, Fehmi developed a spoken induction that uses “objectless imagery” to guide the listener through a progressive opening of focus. When subjects were hooked up to his Brainwave Synchronizer EEG (electroencephalogram), he found that the open-focus exercise produced a state of whole-brain synchrony.
As he began to experiment with the open-focus exercise, he found that it was also effective in learning-enhancement, stress management, pain control, improved health, psychotherapy and peak sports performance, among others.
When you listen to the basic Open-Focus exercise, what you hear is a voice asking you a series of questions that begin with the words, “Can you imagine…?” You begin with an opening of awareness in your head (Can you imagine the distance between your eyes… between your ears… the volume of your tongue… the space inside your throat) that progresses throughout your entire body, requiring a gradual opening of awareness (Can you imagine the distance between your hands, the volume of your fingers, the space between your feet, the volume of your feet), and moves you beyond the limits of your own body to an awareness of everything within you and around you.
The tape ends by having you imagine that you can enter this open-focus state any time you wish, and there’s no doubt that after you’ve gone through the exercise enough times, you can learn to enter the open-focus state at any time simply by remembering what it feels like and by intentionally being there.
Most importantly for the purposes of this article, the open-focus state adds an extraordinary dimension to the use of any “mind machine”.
On the first level, you can listen to an Open Focus tape while using a mind machine, and I think you’ll find there’s a unique synergy: the mind training (MT) seems to make you more “into it” (to use Fehmi’s terms), more at-one with your experience, and thus more able to enter the open-focus state. The guided exercise on the tape, on the other hand, seems to organize or give shape to your MT experience, giving it a direction and a dynamism that it might otherwise lack.
On the higher level, once you have learned to enter the open-focus state quickly, on demand, you can begin all of your MT experiences by putting yourself into open focus and then doing whatever else is your primary purpose, such as accelerated learning, sports-performance training, self-suggestion, self-healing etc. Being in open focus seems to make all these other techniques and practices even more effective.
Meditation for Beginners
If you’d like to know more about meditation but aren’t sure where to start, you’ll find “Master Your Mind” to be a great introduction to the fascinating world of meditation. It could change your life for the better. Watch the video below for more info: