Daily stresses, as trivial as being stuck in traffic, were getting the best of me. Some days felt like a series of negative emotions: impatience, irritability, and anxiety. Living like this was exhausting and affecting my loved ones. I knew that I would benefit from meditation, but I couldn't always make time for the seated, silent practice. Mantras became my "Meditation On The Go."
A mantra is an instrument of the mind. It is a powerful and positive word, capable of creating transformation. Mantra meditation prevents destructive emotions from escalating, while making room for positive emotions like peace, joy, and kindness.
Placing your focus on a mantra is a meditative technique that is easy to incorporate into your daily routine. It can be used wherever and whenever you need it, just as soon as a negative feeling bubbles up: while driving during rush hour, negotiating nap time with a preschooler, or even in the middle of a conversation.
Here's how it works:
1. Without judgment, identify the negative emotion. For example, "impatient."
Notice when when you first start experiencing a negative feeling. Perhaps you notice the physiological signs: shortness of breath, tense shoulders, chest pressure, a furrowed brow, sweat, or even an upset stomach. Stress and anxiety manifest themselves in different ways, in different people. Ask yourself, where is it hurting?
Look around. What is happening in your environment that brought on this feeling? Are you running late, yet again, and that is causing you to feel frustration, guilt, or impatience towards the other drivers around you? Get to know yourself and your environmental triggers. Pinpoint why it is hurting.
Name the feeling. When you observe your thoughts, as just thoughts, you are able to detach yourself from the negative emotion. You become an onlooker. You are not impatient. The feeling itself is impatient, and you are separate from it.
Being a non-judgmental witness allows you to grow self-compassion. Destructive emotions happen, human brains are just wired that way. When you respond to these feelings with loving-kindness and understanding, you cultivate your own well-being. Consider a mother's unconditional love for her child. Picture her comforting him and wishing that he be free from suffering. In a self-compassion practice, you and your thoughts are both the mother and the child. Allow yourself to soothe yourself, to be nurtured.
2. Choose the opposite, or positive, emotion as your mantra. In following the above example, you would choose "patient."
Use any word or sound that inspires you or quiets your mind. Positive words have powerful connotations. Compassion, mindfulness, gratitude, content, patient, authentic, kindness, community, calm, and strength are the mantras that I use regularly. I choose based on what I need most that day. Just as the intention you set at the start of your yoga class, the more you come back to that intention, and check in on it throughout your practice, the more beneficial. Seal it in.
Mantras are effective because they are fast, easy to remember, and they are not statements of belief. Your conscious mind is more receptive to a single positive word than it is to an "I am..." affirmation. For example, "I am calm and relaxed in this moment," may be immediately followed with feelings of judgment or disbelief, especially when you are in the midst of an anxious moment. "Calm" is strong enough to stand alone.
3. Deep breath. Take a huge inhale, hold it in, exhale. Say the word in your mind. "Patient." Deep breath. "Patient." Deep breath. Repeat if needed.
Breath is essential to well-being. It is both automatic, meaning that we can voluntarily take a breath or hold our breath, and autonomic, meaning that our body is ultimately in control of this function and it happens naturally on it's own. Short, shallow breathing is a symptom of stress. It heightens your fight-or-flight response, sending a signal to your brain that you are in danger. When we choose to take deep, slow, deliberate breaths, it delivers a message to the brain that all is well. Your relaxation response is activated, slowing your heart rate back down, decreasing your blood pressure, and relaxing your muscles.
Recent studies in neuroscience show us that practiced positive thinking actually alters the structure and function of the brain. Thanks to neuroplasiticy, we can change our moods through regular mental training.
In a matter of weeks, I found that I required fewer mantras and deep breaths to get through the day stress-free. I felt more emotional stability, patience, and energy. Positive thinking became a habit.
The compassion I was busy cultivating in my own self had manifested in other relationships as well. I had grown a greater capacity for love, and I am a better mom, wife, sister, friend and community member for it. Negative emotions do still arise in me from time to time, as it is part of the human experience, but now I have a strategy for rising above those emotions, even on the busiest of days.
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