Fred L Miller          Author  Teacher  Speaker  
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First Chapter

How to Calm Down Chapter One 

Shifting Gears

Is this you? At any given moment during a typical stressful day, does your blood pressure rise, your pulse rate hit 10 percent over normal, and your breathing seem to stop. If so, read on.

Once upon a time, I worked all day at a hamburger stand and went to school at night. It wasn’t a bad job, but after eight hours of dealing with customers and coworkers, I was in no mood to concentrate in class. I had one hour between the end of work and the beginning of school. I was agitated and needed to calm down, to shift gears. I just didn’t know how.

One day I tried taking a nap, and ended up missing school completely. Then I found another solution: two bottles of beer. I bought the beer at a store, parked my Volkswagen Bug in the school parking lot, and sat there drinking, all the while letting my mind wander. Random thoughts and worries ran their course through my brain and then left me alone. Sometimes I had to take deep breaths, because my belly was full of beer. Other times I would close my eyes and watch pictures play out in my mind. Or I would focus intensely on the cold, wet bottle, or on tearing the label off, leaving not a shred behind.

The beer solution worked. I calmed down. Better yet, the problems of the day vanished so completely that I could go to school and really hear what the teacher was saying. Because I was able to concentrate, I started doing well in class.

After a month, however, I had put on ten pounds. My clothes no longer fit, and I felt terrible. I knew I had to cut out my two bottles of beer, but I didn’t know how to calm down without them.

I then began asking other people how to relax. They told me to go to Las Vegas. Go fishing. Get a date. None of these ideas would have helped me during that hour between work and school.

Other people’s solutions were good for them, but not necessarily for me – something I’d already learned at the hamburger stand. I’d be standing there for so long that my feet would hurt. As a result, I was always on the lookout for comfortable shoes to slip my big, wide feet into first thing in the morning. Any time I’d see someone in a nice-looking pair of shoes, I’d ask if they were comfortable. The response was usually yes. Then I’d go to the shoe store and try on a pair, but they would hurt my feet.

When I realized that I could not rely on other people for advice on shoes or on relaxation, I started noticing what I did to calm down. Often I would smoke a cigarette, which seemed to help, though initially I could not figure out why. Smoking, it turned out, was an abbreviated version of what I had been doing in the school parking lot. First, I stopped whatever I was doing at the time – that is, I took a break. Next, my attention shifted from the jumble of thoughts racing through my mind to the one simple action of lighting a cigarette and taking a deep breath. Ahhh, relaxation.

“Can I take a break without smoking a cigarette or drinking two beers? ” I asked myself. “Sure, but why? ” came the answer. “Well, just to calm down, find a moment of peace, ” I’d say.

That’s all I was looking for when I began my quest for relaxation. I was frazzled. I wasn’t running my life; instead, it was running me. I was the proverbial hamster scooting along as fast as I could on the Wheel of Life and forever losing the race. I needed a break.

What I found was much more than that. When I began practicing relaxation, my life began to change. I stopped “needing” things and became more productive. I developed more faith and confidence in myself, so much so that my outlook on life turned from negative to positive. Although I remain convinced that fear is part of the human condition, by regularly practicing relaxation, I found a way not to be frozen in fear but rather to move through it. Best of all, in learning to quiet my mind I came upon a calmness deep inside me. Reaching into that calmness, I could hear the voice of my true self, which was in tune with all things in the world – maybe even in the universe. In other words, I discovered that relaxation brings about a sense of well-being and contentment.

Coming up with an enjoyable approach to relaxation was not easy, however, especially since I had never stuck long with anything I didn’t like. As with the shoes, I had to sift through a lot of styles that didn’t work before finding one that did. After reading dozens of books and attending twice as many seminars on relaxation and stress management, I borrowed some methods and invented others. Then I synthesized the most effective ones into a series of short exercises, which you will find in the pages of this book.

If your partner, child, best friend, or doctor has been harping at you to calm down and relax, or if you yourself have been feeling the need for more serenity, then you just might find these exercises helpful. They may even inspire you to want to relax. Best of all, you can practice them almost anywhere, even while sitting back in your easy chair. You do have an easy chair, don’t you?

But before getting to more exercises, we’ll be looking at activities you may already be doing because you like them – relaxing pastimes, such as walking, reading, knitting. Do you like to go fishing, or play golf, or watch sports on TV? If so, chances are that this hobby serves as a way to relax.

Many people find, for example, that they calm down while out in nature. To some, being in nature means backpacking in the wilderness, whereas to others it means sitting in a lawn chair in the backyard while drinking a beer and turning a nice steak into a piece of charcoal. Maybe for you, being in nature means weeding the vegetables or planting daffodil bulbs. The important point to remember is that whatever helps you relax will also help you feel content.

A 1989 visit to Monument Valley, along the Arizona – Utah border, made me feel wonderful. Maybe it was the sense I had of being a part of something larger than myself . .. or the vast spaces and massive red sandstone formations I’d seen in old Western movies . .. or the clean air, blue sky, and huge clouds moving by. The only problem was that I eventually had to return to the workaday world. So what have I done to recapture the serenity I felt there? Every night before going to bed, I pull the lever on the La-Z-Boy and relax by conjuring up the feeling I had in Monument Valley. Now, to you such an idea may sound like I’m a half-bubble off level, but for me it works.

This is where many books on relaxation fall apart. They ask you to believe in someone else’s way of doing things. (“Yes, these shoes are very comfortable on me, so I’m sure you will like them. ”) Well, maybe you will and maybe you won’t. I’m suggesting that you find out through your own experience. In the chapters that follow, you will read about a number of ways to relax. Try them all. Some will work for you; some won’t. Some you’ll like; some you won’t. Use the ones that make a difference for you, and forget the others. Before long, you’re sure to find that you have made life easier on yourself, that you’ve begun dictating the circumstances of your life rather than letting them control you.

The first relaxation books I read were from the Far East. Lavishly illustrated, they showed people with shaved heads and saffron robes, and came wrapped with incense or tapes of Tibetan monks chanting with a bell choir. For a while I was afraid I’d never learn to relax, because incense made me sneeze and I wasn’t accustomed to being ceremonial; nor could I sit in the recommended cross-legged lotus position for hours at a time. But then I came upon the words of T. K. V. Desikachar, an internationally known yoga teacher from India, and I knew there was hope for me. He said: “East Indian forms of relax-ation often are not suitable for Westerners. The technique a person uses must be compatible with their own culture. ” Mr. Desikachar was describing the teachings of a ninth-century yogi named Nathamuni.

That was good news to me because my culture had led me to a frame of mind that was berserk. At any given moment during a typical stressful day, my blood pressure went up, my pulse was 10 percent over normal (normal for me, that is), and I wasn’t even breathing. On the other hand, I didn’t have to become a Hindu or a Buddhist or a yogi to learn to relax, and neither do you.

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