If you’ve ever had trouble learning how to meditate, it’s probably because you tried to do it while you were already stressed out. The thought process is that meditation is good for stress relief, but that’s really only true if you already know how to meditate. Otherwise, it probably just seems frustrating and ineffective.
Fortunately, your body has a natural way of making this process easy. Every 90-120 minutes your brain activity alternates between high and low phases, like a wave. This is called the basic rest-activity cycle (BRAC). Most people have heard of this during sleep – you go up and down, alternating between deep sleep and light sleep. But this cycle continues during the day. For 15-20 minutes every 2 hours or so, you’ll hit the peak of alertness. This is when you’re super productive and engaged. About an hour or so after that, you’ll hit the low phase for 15-20 minutes. This is when your brain feels foggy, you might feel fatigued or tired, and you read the same sentence 17 times and have no idea what it said. Most people try to ’wake themselves up’ during this ‘slump’ by moving around, drinking coffee or some other stimulant.
This rest phase of the BRAC is actually your body’s natural way of trying to de-stress though! By skipping this phase, most people will become more and more tired throughout the day, which is why people often experience the effects of stress at the end of the day.
If you learn to be sensitive to when your body is telling you to rest, then not only will you be able to function much better during the day, you’ll also sleep better at night. This rest phase of the BRAC is the ideal time to practice meditation as well! Because your brain is already zoning out, you don’t have to worry about quieting your racing thoughts like you would when trying to meditate while being stressed out. All you have to do is notice when your body is telling you to settle down. Once you notice this, you can set a timer for 15-20 minutes (or not) and just let yourself zone out. Many people like to close their eyes and they may even nap, but that‘s not necessary if you don’t want to. It’s important that you don’t do anything during this time. Even if you consider watching YouTube a relaxing activity, it is still stimulating your brain. Now is a time to just zone out and let your thoughts wander. Many people also try to ‘calm’ their thoughts or ’empty their mind’. This is also unnecessary and, in fact, you should allow your thoughts to go wherever they want.
After the 15-20 minutes, you can rouse yourself back to being alert and continue on with the rest of the day until you feel it’s time for another break. While this cycle does happen many times throughout the day, it’s not necessary to take a deliberate rest break every time. Generally 1-3/day is enough to significantly improve your stress, energy, productivity, and sleep.