Stress and Concentration

In order to develop fully your powers of concentration, itís important to banish every kind of interference and distraction. Stress saps mental energy and can even be the source of physical pain. Relaxation, on the other hand, is the ultimate gesture of non-violence to the self. The following are some basic relaxation strategies to help you maximize your concentration by releasing stress.

Bailing Out the Water

Be aware of stress building and take corrective action before the stress becomes overwhelming. Imagine that youíre in a rowboat with a small leak. Think of your accumulating stress as water leaking into the boat.

Then, occasionally, let yourself take a moment to bail out the water. By doing this regularly you can sail on safely. Stress, like water in the boat, is only a danger if you carelessly leave it unattended and let it get out of control.

Scanning Your Body

On a piece of paper, draw a simple outline of your body. Now sit quietly for a moment and try to become aware of pockets of stress in your physical self. Scan through your body and tune into the areas that are speaking to you most loudly.

As you become aware of stressful areas, indicate them on your drawing. Try to show not only where the feeling is, but also what it feels like. Do you feel tingling in your fingertips...tightness in your shoulder...butterflies in your stomach? Whatever your internal radar discovers, doodle it into your outline.

As you tune into what your body is telling you, make notes on your drawing to indicate the intensity of stress in each location. Rate your comfort or discomfort in an area on a scale of Ė10, meaning extremely uncomfortable, +10, meaning extremely pleasant or pleasurable.

Because control follows awareness, this body scanning technique gives you a very powerful tool for identifying and managing tension.

Tense and Relax

An effective method of reducing stress is to blend with its force and then redirect it. One of the best ways to apply this principle is to take control of stress by intentionally increasing and decreasing it.

To begin, take a deep breath...and tense up every muscle in your body as tightly as possible without hurting yourself. Then, after a moment, exhale and relax completely.

Now, as you take another breath, tense yourself up again, but this time only half as tightly as before. Hold the tension a moment, then relax, exhale and let it all go.

Do it one more time, but with the tension again reduced by half. You should pay particular attention to this level of stress because this is the condition in which most people spend the majority of their time.

Now breathe, relax...and let it go.

As you begin to feel more relaxed, think of something that makes you feel mildly tense. Hold that concern in your mind...hold it...and when youíre ready, just let it float freely through and out of your mind, like a cloud in the wind. Let it simply dissolve in this inner, open space of awareness.

This principle of transforming stress into positive energy is one of the most powerful techniques for enhancing concentration. Once you get a feel for this method, it will build confidence in your ability to redirect and actually use the tied-up energy that has been creating tension.

[Adapted from the booklet "Awareness Training: Exercises for Mindful Attention" by Joel and Michelle Levey]

Return from Stress and Concentration to Concentration Techniques

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