A good way to find out how tense you are, is to feel your belly! No, not with your hands, with your awareness! Do your stomach muscles feel tense? Tensing the abdominal muscles is a common physiological response to fear and anxiety.
If you find yourself in a difficult situation, being told off by your boss, or getting into an argument with your teenage son. You might find, if you are aware of it, that you were tightening your abdominal muscles, tensing them to resist whatever difficulties are coming your way.
If you do enough tightening, you may find that has become an habitual part of your physiology. You might like to try this little experiment to find out how tense your abdominal muscles are.
Bring your awareness to your abdomen. Notice any tightness or tension in the muscles there? Become aware of how you are breathing. Is it relaxed, full and deep, or is it shallow, rapid and high up in the chest? Make a note of how you feel, your level of tension, stress or anxiety.
Now, soften your belly. Relax the diaphragm and the stomach muscles, letting go of the tension as best you can. This might be an unfamiliar experience for you. Perhaps after softening the belly, a few seconds later your muscles tense again. If so, soften them again. When the belly is soft, notice how you are breathing. How do you feel when you soften the belly and breathe this way? What’s your level of comfort and ease?
It’s very difficult to be anxious with a relaxed belly. Just as a tense belly is a sign of stress, a relaxed abdomen signals to the brain that all is well, you can be comfortable. Fortunately, muscle tension in the abdomen can be under concious control, we can relax these muscles and move ourselves into a more relaxed state. It’s quite simple. When you notice that you have a tense belly, soften the muscles and relax your breathing. The difficult part of this, is noticing that you are tensing the muscles, but it gets easier with practice.
When I was learning to meditate, I used a mindfulness of breathing approach. I focused on the sensations of the breath, entering and leaving at the tip of the nose. I had used this method for a couple of years, then a meditating friend suggested that I might like to try bringing my awareness down to my belly, and notice the rise and fall of the abdomen.
I tried it and was astonished to find out just how tense I was. I would relax the belly for a few seconds, then it would tense up again, relax and tense, relax and tense. It’s taken quite a while to develop long periods of soft belly relaxation, but it’s been worth it. Even though I must tense up many times a day, I can quickly soften and relax.
Spend a few minutes a day practicing softening the belly. It’s a stress reduction method that’s simple, portable, and no one will notice your doing it.
Note: It’s possible that when you soften the belly that the feelings you have been avoiding or suppressing will come up into awareness. If that happens – soften the belly and breathe into the feelings. Keep breathing and softening. The feelings will change. If the feelings that come up are very troublesome, you might like to try EFT which can rapidly defuse unpleasant feelings.