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Journal

Top Ten Relaxation Tools

Top Ten Relaxation Tools

Is it me, or have you also noticed that people seem a little more stressed than usual lately? Whether it’s in response to world and national news, personal issues, transition, loss, etc., I’ve been picking up on a lot of tension in the air in recent months. It feels like a good time to share my favorite relaxation resources.

I’m no stranger to anxiety. Throughout my life, I’ve come to realize the importance of managing my stress level. It’s really not so much about what’s going on around you as it is your response to it. That being said, there are situations I’ve learned I need to avoid. For instance, fast-paced, busy, high-stress jobs are not for me. I’m not able to be my best self in that kind of environment or when I’m working too much.

Some stressors are within our power to control. We can walk away from them or change the way we look at them. However, others are stickier, and that’s what we need our self-care toolbox for. Here are some relaxation tools I swear by.

Meditation Apps

My two favorite meditation apps are Insight Timer and Calm. To describe each app would be a blog post of its own, so I won’t attempt to do that. (You can click on the links to learn more.) Instead, I’ll touch upon what I’ve found most helpful.

I mostly use Insight Timer, which is a free app. It offers more than 12,000 guided meditations in many different categories and also has a timer for unguided practice. If you want to relieve anxiety, reduce stress, sleep better, manage emotions, etc. you can find plenty of guided meditations for these concerns and more! I primarily use the timer – which can be customized with different bell and ambient sounds. However, if you don’t have an established meditation practice, I recommend trying some guided meditations for relaxation.

Calm is a paid app ($60/year), but some institutions (such as Cornell University) offer free memberships to their employees/students. If you are entitled to a free membership, lucky you! It’s definitely worth checking out! But there’s also a scaled-down, free version that has some worthwhile features.

For example, I love the Breathe Bubble that guides you to breathe slowly and deeply for relaxation. Ever since I was a child, I’ve experienced anxiety in doctors’ offices, and the Breathe Bubble helps me to calm down in that situation and whenever I’m feeling upset or frazzled. I also enjoy the Sleep Stories from time to time, especially one about lavender fields in Provence that I listen to while diffusing lavender at bedtime. The sleep stories are relaxing and are like having a bedtime story read to you. Sometimes I’m in the mood for that, and I rarely make it to the end of the story before falling asleep. Actually, I don’t know if I’ve ever made it to the end!

Yoga Nidra

Yoga nidra, or “yogic sleep”, is a form of guided meditation that promotes conscious, deep relaxation and restores your mind, body, and spirit. You do it while lying comfortably on your back. You never need to worry about doing it “wrong” because there’s no way to do it wrong, even if you fall asleep. It can be done from 10 minutes to an hour or longer, depending on the version you choose.

Yoga nidra helps me to fall back asleep if I wake up in the middle of the night or too early in the morning with a busy mind. It really knocks me out! Even if I make it to the end of the meditation before falling asleep, I’m in such a relaxed state by then that sleep will come soon. When I practice yoga nidra, it feels like I sleep much more deeply. 

There are several stages of yoga nidra meditation, including:

  • Moving awareness from the physical body inward
  • Sankalpa: A carefully chosen, positive intention or affirmation stated in the present tense
  • Rotating consciousness through the entire body (body scan)
  • Awareness of the breath, to promote relaxation and concentration
  • Experiencing opposites (i.e. cold/hot, heavy/light)
  • Visualization 
  • Revisiting your sankalpa/intention during deep relaxation
  • Bringing your mind back gradually from psychic sleep to waking state (unless you wish to fall asleep)

A few years ago, I downloaded Julie Rader’s 45-minute version of yoga nidra from iTunes and got a lot of mileage from it. It’s a good one! However, once when I was traveling and didn’t have it easily accessible, I searched for “yoga nidra” on Insight Timer and discovered a 29-minute version (“Yoga Nidra for Sleep & Rest” from The Stillpoint) that is my current go-to yoga nidra meditation. It works like a charm!

Yoga nidra doesn’t have to be done at bedtime. It can be done any time of day to promote deep relaxation. Here is a brief article to learn more.

Weighted Blanket

I love love love my weighted blanket! What’s a weighted blanket, you ask? It’s a blanket that’s filled with pockets of non-toxic poly or glass pellets to weigh it down and feels like a big, full-body hug. You know how infants are soothed by being swaddled? It’s like that. In many people, deep pressure touch causes the brain to release neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which have a calming effect. Weighted blankets can be useful for those who experience anxiety, stress, and insomnia, as well as sensory integration disorder, Asperger’s, ADHD, and Rett Syndrome.

Anyone who has tried my blanket has been instantly soothed. My daughter used it just the other day and said it felt like the blanket was hugging her! The sensation is like covering yourself with a blanket of calm. I also use it to enhance relaxation when working with Reiki clients.

I ordered my weighted blanket from Magic Weighted Blanket. Weighted blankets aren’t inexpensive but are therapeutically invaluable, in my opinion. Websites that sell weighted blankets can help you to figure out how much weight is best for you. 

Eye Pillow

Similar to the idea of a weighted blanket is a yoga eye pillow. This is a pillow that’s just large enough to fit over your eyes and usually is filled with flax seeds and perhaps a calming herb like lavender. The eye pillow puts light pressure on your eyeballs and lowers heart rate via the oculocardiac reflex and also stimulates the vegas nerve. These responses can result in deep relaxation and a sense of grounding. 

The combination of yoga nidra (or relaxing music), lavender essential oil, my weighted blanket, and my eye pillow is the ultimate relaxation! 

Eye pillows are also lovely during Reiki treatments. It’s really nice to have one with a cover or zipper that allows you to remove the filling for laundering.

Calming Fragrances

I enjoy using essential oils for relaxation. My favorite ways to use them include: diffusing, putting a few drops in a bath along with 2 cups of Epsom salt, putting a drop on my yoga mat, and even just sniffing the opened bottle.

Lavender is my go-to essential oil for sleep and relaxation. I love sandalwood, too, either by itself or blended with orange essential oil. They are my favorites! But what works for one person might not work for another, and there are sooooo many possibilities!

Tara Healing Incense, a traditional Tibetan medicine for relieving stress, tension, and depression, is my favorite incense. I’ve used it for many years. Handmade by Tibetan refugees living in Dharamsala, India, it’s an earthy, smokey, NOT perfumy fragrance composed of 30 pure and natural herbs. It’s available in most stores that sell incense and meditation supplies. 

White Noise App

I’m someone who needs white noise in the background to fall asleep, especially with all the traffic that goes by our house and over the bridge. In the summer, a fan will do nicely, and I also have a white noise machine. However, the White Noise app (from TM Soft) has oh, so many wonderful choices. The sounds are so soothing and create a peaceful atmosphere during the day, not just at night.

My favorite sleep sounds are brown noise (much gentler than white noise) and stream water flowing. Other relaxing choices include: theta waves, zen spa music, waterfalls, ocean, peaceful lake, camping in the rain, campfire, and probably hundreds more. I also like to use this app to facilitate a peaceful environment and to drown out sounds from activities going on in another room so I can focus.

Float Therapy

In contrast to a weighted blanket, a float tank provides a sensation of weightlessness and supreme relaxation that you really can’t experience any other way. You’re like a cork floating and don’t have to do anything at all to stay afloat and therefore can completely relax your entire body. Sometimes referred to as a sensory deprivation tank, it’s a chamber that usually measures around 8′ x 4′ and is filled with about 10″ of water that is so heavily concentrated with Epsom salts that you float effortlessly. I’ve written previously about float tanks, so I won’t reinvent the wheel here! You can click the links to read my articles on Flotation Restoration, Part One and Part Two. 

Restorative Yoga

There are many different forms of yoga. Restorative yoga is a particularly meditative form that adopts a very slow pace and deep breathing that triggers the parasympathetic nervous system. Restorative poses are held for a long time to allow your body and mind to relax deeply. You might even hold a pose for 10 minutes, breathing slowly and deeply. It’s very different from the more active, athletic forms of yoga!

I appreciate the restorative yoga video collection on Gaia when I have a subscription. There are also plenty of videos on YouTube to choose from. Restorative yoga sequences often require a number of props (blankets, bolsters, blocks) that allow you to really release into a pose. However, there are also some poses that only require blankets, such as Legs Up the Wall, for which instructions are given in this article. Of course, yoga studios also offer restorative classes.

It might go without saying, but if you do restorative yoga on your own, a peaceful atmosphere free from interruptions and distractions is essential. You need to be able to relax completely. Make sure you gather whatever props you’ll need ahead of time so they’ll be within reach.

This page on Yoga Journal offers a nice introduction to restorative yoga, with some useful links.

Imagination Vacation

I am enamored with filmmaker, Louie Schwartzberg’s work. He is a pioneer in the field of visual healing. He films nature in extraordinary ways, speeding up processes that are too slow to observe (such as time-lapse flowers) and slowing down what’s too fast for us to see (such as the movement of hummingbirds and dragonflies). His films “bring a sense of natural wonder, healing serenity, restoration and well-being” to your environment. I have all three of his DVDs, and there are also lots of downloads featuring diverse landscapes and life forms all around the world. His “moving art” facilitates relaxation and awe and transports you to the beautiful places he’s filmed. He even has some DVDs you can watch on Netflix. Once, I watched Louie’s videos of time-lapse flowers on my phone during an uncomfortable medical procedure, and the doctor agreed that it really worked for me. 

I also enjoy videos of ocean waves. I own a few on DVD, but there are also lots of free videos on YouTube. Ocean waves videos create such a relaxing environment. Sometimes I’ll burn an ocean-scented candle to make it even more of a sensory-immersive experience. I’ve even reclined on the floor in front of the screen with my feet in a basin of water or sand and a fan blowing for an even more complete experience! But even just sitting and doing nothing other than watching a nature video of ocean waves, fish swimming around underwater, etc. without any props can slow your breathing and heart rate. I call it taking an imagination vacation, and whenever I remember to do it, I’m glad that I did and promise myself I’ll do it more often.

When I taught kindergarten, I’d put these kinds of videos on the SMART Board for quiet interludes during the day, to promote calm. There’s nothing like nature to bring you back into harmony and balance!

Crystal Connection

A few summers ago, I was at a Mindfulness in Education conference. Meditation teacher, Jack Kornfield, led us through a guided meditation in which we received a special gift from a spiritual being. In the meditation, H.H. the Dalai Lama give me a heart-shaped rose quartz heart, and right after the session was done, I went to the retreat center shop and bought one. It has been quite literally a relaxation touchstone for me ever since.

When I hold the crystal heart in my hand, it takes on my body heat and becomes quite warm. For some reason, I find that very soothing! It’s so pleasurable to touch the warm crystal to my face. I’ll sometimes even sleep with it in my hand or under my pillow. It gives off calming energy. 

If I notice tension in my body, I often will place that or another crystal on the area that feels imbalanced. For me, that’s usually just below my rib cage. I also use crystals in my Reiki practice, placing them on certain areas of the body as I feel guided.

Use your intuition to select a crystal that feels right for you. If you have more than one, use your intuition to select which one to use at any given time. There are lots of websites that sell crystals, but I recommend going to a brick-and-mortar shop if you can get to one, so you can feel which crystals you’re most drawn to.

Energy Muse has some useful information about selecting and working with crystals, to get you started. Check out their blog for some handy guides, articles, and videos if you’d like to learn more.

Those are ten of my top twelve choices in my relaxation toolbox. I hope you or someone you know will find them useful! My two other favorites are mindfulness meditation and Reiki. I write frequently about mindfulness in one form or another and intend to write more about mindfulness meditation and Reiki in the future. In the meantime, if you would like personal instruction/coaching in mindfulness or a Reiki healing session, please contact me. I do both!


© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

One Puzzle After Another

One Puzzle After Another

About a week before I left for British Columbia to visit relatives, I was making myself crazy. I was upset about something I could not control: How other people respond to me.

It felt like the issue was really coming to a head, and it didn’t feel good at all. I felt invisible. And resentful! When such emotions arise, my automatic response is to withdraw and withhold…because not sharing might hurt less than sharing and being ignored and feeling invisible. 

But I knew deep inside that withdrawing and withholding was not the answer. It was just a defense mechanism that doesn’t serve anyone or anything except for my infantile need for attention. I can do better than that. 

Instead of stewing and chasing my tail in circles, I became still. In stillness and silence, a deeper wisdom emerged.

That wisdom assured me that I am better off not concerning myself with the response part of the equation. My responsibility is to give what I have to offer, if it feels right to do so. Leave it at that. That’s all that matters. I can’t control anyone’s response. I can only do what feels right in my heart. And doing that is really important. It’s kind of like the whole point.

It was all just a matter of focusing on the wrong thing and misplacing my attention. I could shift my focus inward rather than outward in an attempt to get my needs met and my emotional holes filled. People are fickle and mortal. Ideally, we source our peace and fulfillment from within. Then we can relate to others from a sense of wholeness instead of neediness.

If I source what I most long for from within myself (and the Universal Energy that is within me and that I am part of), I wouldn’t feel resentful or hurt by the actions or inactions of others. Then I can love more and better because the quality of my love wouldn’t be conditional and dependent on others.

May I be less needy in relationship with others and therefore more loving.
By loving myself unconditionally, may I not put unrealistic demands on others.
May I realize that I am enough as I am and not look to others to prove it to me.

In a nutshell, I realized: I AM THE ONE WHO NEEDS TO ACCEPT ME. The truth is that it never involved anyone else. I had been looking outside for something I needed to cultivate within all along. I need to accept and care about myself enough to allow myself to be in harmony with my Inner Being and not distracted away from it.

Oh my! It might sound simple and obvious, but it was HUGE! It felt like nothing short of a turning point in my life. 

Logical, rational thinking is overrated when it’s not in service of the Higher Self. We tend to overthink and complicate things, when the answers on a spiritual level are surprisingly simple. Learning about my epiphany, one might think, “No shit!” and tell me it’s nothing I didn’t already know or hadn’t heard before.

And they’d be correct. But this time, it SUNK IN. I understood it in all my cells and on all levels, not just intellectually. It’s the feeling of placing an elusive puzzle piece or balancing a rock that seemed impossible to balance. Cracking the mystifying code.

Sometimes the missing piece is hidden in plain sight, but we don’t recognize it because we don’t see it from the right angle. The right words don’t make an impression until we are ready. Hearing them at the right time can be a major turning point in our consciousness and in our lives.

This makes me think of the community puzzle table for adults at the library where I work. Patrons work on it (some are quite serious about it), and when it is completed, that puzzle is removed, and another puzzle is placed on the table. Eventually that gets put together, and then another one is put out. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to complete the puzzle. There will be another puzzle when that one is finished, whenever that is.

In other words, there’s no rush, and you’re never finished. Of course, I’m not just referring to puzzles (wink, wink).

The puzzle that was out before I went on vacation was especially challenging. The only pieces of the 1000 piece puzzle that remained to be placed were about 200 pieces in slightly varied shades of green. Sometimes I’d try my hand at the puzzle, and it was so challenging that I wondered how it ever would get finished with so many pieces that were so similar.

When that’s the case, you start looking more closely at the shapes and subtle color variations. Really get to know the contours and subtleties, and then when you’re looking at other pieces, you might recognize the piece another piece fits with. Alternatively, you can allow intuition to guide you. You might be surprised by what happens when you stop thinking so much and allow intuition to be part of the process.

When I returned from British Columbia, a new puzzle was on the table. I couldn’t believe it! The secret of the former puzzle had been cracked. Even the most challenging puzzles are not impossible. With right effort and awareness, they, too, will be resolved. 

What are the patterns in your life that are crazy-making? The ones that disturb your inner peace and keep coming up again and again in different manifestations? Those patterns are your personal puzzles. They are part of your life so you may grow and expand. It’s all good, even when it doesn’t seem that way at all. 

I believe we have access to all the resources and support we need, to help us grow on a soul level. We’ve just become really good at blocking it! If we look at a situation from a more worldly or “practical” angle, it can be tempting to conclude there’s something wrong with us or with others, when that’s not the case and is entirely beside the point. By thinking too much, we block the inspiration and guidance that is available to us. We see the same pieces again and again until we finally figure out how to connect them – until we learn what we need to and grow! 

But our work isn’t done because there’s a fresh, new puzzle for us to work on. An endless supply of puzzles! As we work on a given puzzle, we might feel hopeful, focused, frustrated, and even overwhelmed. But when the last piece is placed, it feels incredible, just like it feels when I’m balancing rocks, and a challenging rock finally clicks into balance. It’s the feeling of expanding our awareness and understanding of what is possible, the feeling of empowerment. It makes all the challenges worth it. 

And then we roll up our sleeves and keep going.

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Back in Balance

Back in Balance

It’s been a while since I’ve balanced rocks by the sea, which is one of my favorite things to do. Right now, I’m visiting my relatives on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. It’s the first time I’ve made it to either coast this year. 

It’s been 2-1/2 years since I last visited my Canadian relatives, and it’s great to be back. I’m so glad I didn’t cancel my trip, which is what seemed inevitable last week due to personal stuff, over-scheduling, and Air Canada changing my travel itinerary in a big way. I called to request that they change my itinerary to something more reasonable than having a 12-hour, overnight layover in Chicago. However, the rep said I’d have to pay a $100 change fee in addition to any price difference. I made my flight reservations back in March, and this would nearly double what I paid originally.

When I considered canceling my trip, pictures of my Vancouver-area relatives on my vision board reminded me how important it is to connect with them. I went away for my group retreat weekend immediately before my scheduled trip, and a few dear women there encouraged me to call Air Canada again and speak with a different rep. They also pointed out that leaning into the drama is an Enneagram Four pattern that I might want to be aware of. Perhaps do something different. Get a little distance from it, and avoid letting other people’s issues stop me from doing what’s best for me!

I took their advice and called Air Canada, and everything was resolved easily without any extra charges. I thanked the rep profusely and felt so happy that I could visit my beloved relatives! My cousin generously offered to pick me up from Vancouver airport, which simplified travel plans greatly. 

We spent some time enjoying Granville Island and Stanley Park in Vancouver before taking the ferry to the Sunshine Coast. The timing was perfect for an incredible sunset on the Strait of Georgia.

There is a rocky beach about a 10-minute walk from my relatives’ house where I enjoyed balancing rocks during my previous stay. I never see anyone on that beach. It’s like my own, private playground, and it’s awesome.

I noticed a starfish on the beach and picked it up along with some rocks that caught my eye. My first balance of the year was a fun warmup that featured the starfish.

The next day, it rained lightly the whole time I was on the beach. But I was determined to balance a particular rock that was shaped a bit like the state of Texas. 

This balance wasn’t as cool as the previous day’s starfish balance. If you knew how long it took to accomplish it, you’d probably wonder if it was worth it or if I didn’t have something better to do with my time.

Well, it was totally worth it! In my heart, I KNEW it could be balanced and never allowed myself to believe it couldn’t. I just knew. I was patient, determined, and really tuned in to the energy and engaged my sense of feeling rather than my dominant sense of seeing. But the main thing is that I believed this rock could and would be balanced and didn’t give up.

Balancing rocks teaches me that if I believe in something and don’t allow doubts or distractions to creep in and stop me, I can do it. Not just rocks. Goals in general. That’s why balancing rocks is so gratifying!

And that’s great. But you know what can totally ruin it? Comparing our accomplishments to others.

I’m connected with a lot of stone balance artists, including the legendary Michael Grab and Peter Juhl, who literally wrote the book about rock balancing art. Whether it’s photography, music, teaching, yoga, rock balancing, finances, or anything else, comparing ourselves to others is a surefire way to put the brakes on any positive momentum you’ve generated toward manifesting your goals. It’s not enough to believe you can. You also have to avoid the temptation to compare your work to others if doing so leaves you feeling not good enough.

It’s great if others’ work can inspire you, but if it brings on feelings of inadequacy, you have to train yourself to stay focused on your own work. Keep your eyes on your own paper, kids! Don’t be concerned with what anyone else is doing or try to keep up with the Joneses. Give your full attention to your own work. Please.

The poet, Rumi, suggested: Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. THAT is the energy to engage with, rather than the energy of comparisons and self-doubt that divert your energy and lead you astray.

This morning it’s raining, so I’m writing rather than balancing. However, I hope to have more opportunities to balance rocks by the sea before I return home. Already, I have some new pictures to bring back with me. Photographing my rock balances helps me to remember how it felt to believe I could do it – and then actually do it! Practicing that feeling is as important as practicing your craft. And sharing reminds others that they can, too…which is also important!

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

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