(a.k.a. ‘head and shoulders, knees and toes’)
Mediation can be one of those annoying buzz-words within the ‘Wellness’ sphere, where social media has allowed it to conjure images of skinny women who are #blessed, sitting on a beach in their (sponsor gifted) micro bikinis, sipping on alkaline water and detox tea without a care in the world. For everyone else living in the real world, this is neither practical nor achievable.
However, there are no denying the benefits of meditation, which has been subject to enormous amounts of research in the last few years in the context of having a chronically stressed population.
While I love the concept of meditation, I know exactly what it feels like to be exhausted and time poor. After a busy evening shift in the emergency department where I may not leave until 1am, I can hardly manage to shower and get into bed, let alone spend 30 minutes on self-reflection, so any meditation exercise which is quick and effective suits me perfectly.
I will confess that this is not my own handiwork; rather that of my taekwondo school where I have been training and teaching for nearly two decades. This is a reordered and somewhat abbreviated version of a longer meditation that we use with our students at the end of class, and I have always found it helps to relax me, sometimes even enough to fall asleep when my brain is overworked. I’ve nicknamed it “heads and shoulders, knees and toes” to make it easier to remember.
Start by lying down, closing your eyes and concentrating on your breathing. Take a big breath in for five seconds, and sigh it out for five seconds. Repeat.
Now it’s time to concentrate on your muscles.
Focus on your face and your scalp. While keeping the rest of your body relaxed, tense your face and scalp muscles. Screw up your face as much as you can, tighten your scalp by scrunching your forehead, and hold for five seconds. Then relax. Then repeat.
Then focus on your neck, chest and shoulder muscles. While keeping the rest of your body and face relaxed, tense your neck, shoulders and chest muscles. Flex your biceps and triceps, pull your shoulders back, puff your chest out, flex or extend your neck, and hold for five seconds. Then relax. Then repeat.
Then focus on your thighs, knees and backside muscles. While keeping the rest of your face and torso relaxed, tense your thighs, knees and glutes. Really try to pull your knee-caps up while tensing your backside, and hold for five seconds. Then relax. Then repeat.
Then focus on your feet. While keeping everything else relaxed, tense your feet. Flex your ankles towards the floor and curl your toes. Then relax. Then repeat.
Now do the whole thing in sequence. Heads, then shoulders, then knees, then toes – and hold everything for five seconds. Then relax your feet, then your knees, then your shoulders, then your head.
This is not an exercise in building muscle, but you will find it’s rather hard to concentrate on the millions of thoughts running through your head while your focusing on tensing such specific muscle groups. Enjoy!