A New Era of Behavior

 

I have often spoke on the difficulties that resulted because of my religious up bringing.  All the connections I made from “sinful and wrong” behaviors that seemed perfectly normal to me, made me hate myself first. Next I would begin to hate God. Then I moved to a healthier state of being where I didn’t believe in God, but I still hated the institutions.  My hate wore away until eventually it revealed a deep concern.  I became conscientious toward the harms that religion did to both me and is still doing around the world today.  I became active. Now I write and debate nearly daily for years now, the desire to make a difference and prove to people that IMG_0309morality can be addressed by science and understanding is my daily goal with introspection and creativity.  Yet, in the mirror, I seem incomplete.  

I read the book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and realized that there were parts of my mind, which, I could accurately describe for the most part but didn’t have the technical terms to understand, are experiencing Flow when I played drums.  The Flow concept explains it nicely.  What also helps to understand it is a basic grip on the neuroscience of the brain’s synaptic behaviors.  Reading the works by Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Vilayanur S. Ramachandran helped open my mind to the science of morality.  Yet, it seems there another level of understanding I (1) should have been aware of and (2) began the study of, which is the science of mindfulness.

Now it is no big secret that I started seeing a therapist for anger/rage, anxiety, depression, and whatever else might come up.  What I didn’t expect out of the experience would be to find the perfect therapist considering much of the research and practiceI have already done.  My darling friend who has been in my corner about this therapy thing since it came up a few weeks ago, found this therapist and said to me “It sounded like a good fit.”  Great fit is how it has ended up.

Many of you also know that I am an avid supporter of meditation and am extremely wary of medications.  This, my, therapist is a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist who is a huge supporter of the science behind mindfulness and the power of meditative practices on mental health.  During our first session he asked about some of my methods to self contain or self medicate these issues.  I explained how I felt like I am an amateur neuroscientist and veteran mediator who has been trying to get a handle on it for my entire adult life.  The facts of failed relationships and minor run in moments with the law are what these stories contain, but there is one story that hasn’t even been fully lived yet that is more scary than all those other problem combined—the fear that I will hurt my daughter.  This is the main reason I decided to go get help.  When all the family and girlfriends have run out on me, there is only one person left in my life to hurt.  “I cannot let that happen,” is my thought whicht really pushed me over the edge.

He was receptive of my concerns and asked if I had ever read Flow. 

“No, I study Flow, is how I answered that question.  He admitted that he recommends this stuff, but that I could probably teach him a thing or two about meditation, as I have been meditating or studying meditation off and on since I was sixteen.  This is where the conversation turned to mindfulness and we discussed the science of it briefly.  He asked, “are you familiar with the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn?”  “No,” is the only reply I could have made.  He explained that Dr. Kabat-Zinn is one of the foremost leaders in the science of mindfulness, and that the good doctor might be mostly responsible for the western movement into meditative and behavioral therapies involving mindfulness.  

I have not started the book that my therapist recommended, but I didIMG_0323 purchase a copy.  Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s book is called Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. I am reading everything else I am in the middle of at a frantic pace to open up some time to start it.  I really want to see what this book has to offer, and I am having to exercise a great deal of patience to keep from cheating and firing up a couple of pages just to see what might be in store.

But, until the point where I get a little deeper into therapy and the book, my shrink gave me an exercise that he asked me to do once in the morning and once in the evenings.  It is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation.  He told me to look it up online and print one off.  Well, as a researcher I found several, that I narrowed down to two I would practice and try.  After a few days I went with one over the other; it really started to work.  I imagine that in reality as I got more practiced and proficient, my results followed suit.  Yet, it had been made more tough on me because of the nature of the “scripts” that one can find online.  They have the language of a television Yogi trying to tell everyone how special they are for breathing.  Some of the lines I found funny at the begging are, “imagine the tension in your body being released and flowing out of your body.  And again inhale…..and exhale.  Feel your body already relaxing.”  

This kind of language doesn’t help a skeptic like me.  I read someone trying to “sell it,” my bullshit meters go off the charts.  That being said, I am getting great results.  The therapist said it has a similar physiological response as taking an actual muscle relaxer.  I believe him.  Sometimes for several hours after doing the technique I am goofy and laid back, sometimes it is intense enough that I consider it a form of inebriation.

I think this little trick shouldn’t be monopolized by us sick.  I want to share it with the world, but I can’t handle the “new agey” use of words like “let the stress go” and “release tension in your legs.”  What?  Stress is what causes bones to break, and tension in the legs is caused by The Rack.  This type of language does no good for me, similar to the current good my religious beliefs from my teenage years do me.  So, if that is the case, how have I gotten it to work?

Therein lay my struggle.  My first attempt was to record the script onto a dictation machine that way I could hear it rather than having to distract myself by looking at the page.  This didn’t work.  I kept laughing at the voice I needed to read the script mixed with the shit it says.  Too funny, if anyone ever wants that version it will take a while to record, but I think it is really funny and who knows, it could help someone. After getting down the techniques that worked for me, I went a step further and crafted my own version. So I decided, to write my, now memorized, routine or “script” and share it with everyone.

You can highlight, copy, paste, and print if you want, or I would be more than happy to send a docx file to anyone who wished it emailed.

I hope that it will do everyone a tiny bit of good, and at least a few of my readers will find it as powerful as I have thus far.  Here I go:

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Script

Find a comfortable sitting position.  You don’t have to be in a classic meditative state, but make sure your legs are folded in front of you.  Relax as many muscles as you can find that may be flexed.  Once you are comfortable begin taking in full breaths.  Not deep, but full.  Take notice of how your body feels when you breath, and after a few breaths try and find an even rhythm of breathing.  Please attempt to keep this even, comfortable pace of inhale and exhale. Several of the exercises will try to mess with your breathing rhythm. If you come off track simply hold the pose until you have regained your formal rhythm. Do not clinch or flex any muscle to the point of strain or pain, as this will counter act the effect of the exercise. If you like you find that visualization helps with the tactile effect imagine the muscles, when you relax them, to be connected to some form of flow away or out of you. Water, oil, goo, or whatever fluid works best to relax you. I start the list with a high level of instruction, but a few moves in and I drop the colorful language and stick to explanation of each pose. Assume that the parts that go away are repeated for every move or pose. Okay, once your breath is even and measured, you may begin.

Tighten the muscles in your forehead by raising your eyebrows as high as you can without distress. Hold them there for about five seconds. Relax the muscles to the point where you feel they are more relaxed than before. Wait ten seconds, then repeat.

Wait about ten seconds before moving on. This should be enough time to cycle three to five breaths before going forward..

Tighten the muscles in you jaw and around your eyes by making a big smile. Biggest smile you can without distress. Hold it for about five seconds. Relax the smile until it feels more relaxed than before you began. Wait ten seconds and repeat.

Wait ten seconds before moving on.

Tighten the muscles surrounding your eyes by squinting them tightly closed. Hold for five seconds and release. Wait ten seconds, repeat.

Wait ten seconds.

Tilt your head back to look at the sky. Hold for five seconds. Bring your head upright and then forward until you feel the muscles in the back of your neck stretch a bit. Wait then repeat.

Wait ten seconds.

Clench fists for five seconds and then relax. Wait then repeat.

Wait ten seconds.

Flex your biceps by holding your fists by your ears, hold for five seconds and relax. Wait then repeat.

Wait ten seconds.

Flex your triceps by twisting you arms until the backs of your hands are facing each other then lock your elbows. Hold for five seconds. Wait then repeat.

Wait ten seconds.

Push both shoulders upwards, like an attempt to touch your ears. Hold for five seconds. Wait then repeat.

Wait ten seconds.

Try to touch your shoulder blades together in the middle of your back. Hold for five seconds. Wait then repeat.

Wait ten seconds.

Push your chest out by arching the middle of your spine and pushing your shoulders back. Hold for five seconds. Wait then repeat.

Wait ten seconds.

Clinch your abdominal muscles by drawing your stomach in ward. Try to touch your belly button to your spine. Hold for five seconds. Wait then repeat.

Wait ten seconds.

Clinch your buttocks. Hold for five seconds. Wait then repeat

Flex your quads by trying to push your heels into the ground which should raise your knees from a sitting position. Hold for five seconds. Wait then repeat.

Wait ten seconds.

On each foot try to extend your foot back touching your toe to your shin. Hold for five seconds. Wait then repeat.

Wait ten seconds.

On each foot curl the bottom of each foot by trying to make a fist with your feet. Hold for five seconds. Wait then repeat.

Wait ten seconds.

Try to flex every muscle group from this exercise all at once. Hold for five seconds. Wait then repeat.

You have finished with the exercise. Now spend another thirty seconds breathing with the even rhythm you have established.

Cover Image: Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and                                     Illness. New York, NY: Delacorte, 1990. Print.

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