In part 2, we discussed adding gratitude as a habit into our lives. Creating habits and feeling gratitude are foundational practices to hone our mental attention. The ability to stay focused and increase our attention is one of the more challenging skills to master in our modern society. Our lives are filled with an ever increasing menu of distractions.
The next phase of our prep-work is learning to control our thoughts. This isn’t a new idea. Like being thankful, it’s value has been understood for thousands of years. Unfortunately, meditation was relegated to the category of mysticism and has been primarily a “spiritual” practice for most of our timeline.
It was only during the mid 20th century that relaxation and meditation began to be seen as a health practice. Dr. Herbert Benson’s studies in the 60’s and 70’s correlated relaxation to multiple physical and mental benefits.
Why is meditation a biohack?
Meditation is a way to control aspects of our health and brain activity through intentional practice. It falls within the foundational Awareness category. Biohacking is about taking conscious steps to improve our health and well-being through the most efficient and beneficial methods. The process I advocate is a slow, methodical approach. It focuses upon building core skills that will be needed to meet your endgame goals with consistent success.
What are the benefits of the relaxation response?
- Reduces Stress
- Helps control anxiety
- Promotes Emotional Health
- Enhances self-awareness
- Increases attention span
- Can reduce age-related memory loss
- Generates Kindess
- Helps fight addictions
- Improves sleep
- Helps control pain
- Can decrease blood pressure
My Relaxation Response Routine
My choice for this hack is to practice at a specific time each day. This will be 15 minutes of physical and mental stillness. I try to do it a half-hour before bed each night. I like to think of it as my mental purge and reboot.
Things I use in this practice:
- A specific space with a 1 meter square foam pad (you can have these cut to order for cheap at most fabric stores).
- A lamp with a red LED as the only source of light.
- My phone and a pair of wireless earbuds (around $30).
- A binaural tone generator app called Atmosphere: Binaural Therapy Meditation. (The purpose of this is to block out external noises. You can use any white noise generator though. We will discuss the benefits of binaural tones in a later post).
Set a timer on your phone for 15 min. Many tone/noise generator apps also let you set a duration. The timer is important because you are training your brain to work in a specific time constraint.
Sit naked, legs crossed, on the foam cushion. Very loose and comfortable clothes is fine too. Just avoid wearing anything restrictive. Start the sound program and place your hands comfortably on your knees. You can have your palms up or down, whatever feels most natural.
Close your eyes and take five deep breathes slowly in through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Let your muscles relax and just be comfortable.
Next place a hand (it doesn’t matter which) on top of your head and think to yourself, “I will be still.” Repeat this slowly in your mind three times then return your hand to your knee.
Shift your focus to the empty space above your head. Just try and imagine it. Whenever a thought comes into your mind, visualize it dropping down to your head. Nothing can stick up there. It’s pure emptiness.
Quiet the voice in your head. Don’t think to yourself. Just stay focused on the empty space you imagine above your head.
If you are new to this, it may be easy to get discouraged by the amount of internal noise. This, like everything else, is a process of brain reprogramming. If you are overwhelmed by all the random thoughts in your head, let that go, too. It’s normal. In time that will begin to quiet down.
After the 15 minutes is done, continue with your regular bedtime routine. As you can see, this routine doesn’t need to be overly complicated: get comfortable, increase oxygen, tell your brain your intent, focus on nothing. I’ve tried countless relaxation programs, and while they certainly are beneficial, I’ve cut out the excess and streamlined the program to fit my purpose. That purpose is specifically to create a mental stillness state.
In addition to the health benefits listed above, training our brains to go into this stillness state will be important for future hacks, so you can more easily introduce new mental programming.
Add “15 minute still state” to your daily habit tracker.