Relaxation brings clarity of thought and freedom from stress and is, therefore, a route to improved mental and physical health. But we cannot force the process. The best approach is to learn about the classic techniques and apply yourself patiently to the ones that attract you most.
Relaxation is more than just a mood we enjoy when things are going well for us – it is a profound state of mind that ideally should be the mental plateau we inhabit in most of our daily encounters. For many, however, daily life is quite the opposite. The 19th-century American writer Henry Thoreau once said that ‘the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’. This may be stating things a little strongly, but if you are aware of a background buzz of anxiety as your habitual state, you would probably benefit from practising one or more of the tried-and-tested approaches suggested below.
Some relaxation techniques can readily be accommodated in virtually any daily routine – even during work breaks.
How we breathe is related to our state of mind. When we are stressed, breathing becomes shallow and rapid; when we are calm, it is deep and slow. Taking a deep breath is an automatic and effective technique for winding down, and deep breathing exercises, from the diaphragm, consciously intensify his natural reaction. They are good preparation for meditation.
Breathe in slowly and deeply through the nose to a count of 10, making sure that the abdomen expands but the chest does not rise. Exhale through the nose, slowly and completely, also to a count of 10. Repeat 5 to 10 times. Counting through each cycle in a concentrated way will help to quieten your mind. You might also imagine yourself inhaling energy and calm, and exhaling worry and tension. Repeat this several times a day.
Deeply rooted in Eastern cultures, meditation is now widely practised in the West. It is the experience of the limitless nature of the mind when it ceases to be dominated by its usual mental chatter. Although meditation brings mental peace, this is best achieved in a state of open-mindedness, rather than with any specific goals.
Wearing loose, comfortable clothing, sit comfortably upright in a pleasant place and close your eyes. Breathes deeply from your abdomen. Then for five minutes – or longer if you wish – imagine a radiating point of light behind your forehead. Think of this as an outpouring of positive energy. Don’t worry if thoughts also drift across your mind – just let them pass, without trying to influence them.
The optimum meditation is performed without intention, expectation, impatience or disappointment, but there is no need to be anxious if you do experience such feelings: simply be aware of them.
How we stand, sit and move can have a profound effect on our well-being and energy levels. Many common ailments, such as frequent headaches or low back pain, stem from muscular tension caused by bad posture. The most common failings are slouching, rounded shoulders, and arched back and tilted head. More and more people are coming to believe, in line with Eastern thinking, that the body has the optimum flow of energy (the Chinese call this energy ‘chi’), and that any blockage in the flow can disturb the harmony of body and mind. Improving posture is the key to eradicating such problems. It can even help to alleviate insomnia and depression.
Good posture depends on the spine, which should be lengthened and centred. When standing, your weight should be spread evenly over both your feet and your shoulders level. Viewed from the side, there should be a straight line through your ears, arms, hips and knees to your feet, and a gentle curve in your lower back. When sitting, keep your knees slightly lower than your hips: a wedge-shaped cushion can help. All the flowing are taboo: slumping in a chair, crossing your legs, and holding a phone between chin and shoulder.
4. Muscle Relaxation
Muscle relaxation techniques such as tense-and-relax exercises and stretching are simple to learn and can be practised at any time.
Tense or clench each muscle tightly for 5 to 10 seconds, then release it completely, being consciously aware of the muscle relaxing. Start with the toes and move progressively up the body to your face and head. After each tense-and-relax, imagine that the body part has become warm and fluid. Visualize each element as flowing freely. With practice, the exercise becomes more effective and will induce relaxation more quickly. It can be particularly useful in getting to sleep.
Loosening tight muscles by stretching is effective for anyone whose job involves sitting for long periods, or continue using the same muscle groups. Stretching increases oxygenation and stimulates lymphatic drainage, which reduces back pain, headaches, and indigestion. Reaching your arms high above your head or stretching your legs with a quick walk is enough to get the blood circulating more strongly again, and will reinvigorate you.
A classic relaxation technique is to visualize an image or scene that fills you with peace – a bit like running your own stress-busting movie in your mind.
Find a quiet place and ensure you will not be disturbed for at least 10 minutes. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, then conjure up a favourite or idealized place – perhaps a tropical beach, a city park, even a golf course. Gradually build up the details of the scene in your mind – not only the sights but also the sounds and smells. Be aware of the weather – a cool breeze or warm sun according to your preference. Retreat to this inner sanctuary whenever you need to regain peace of mind.
Yoga is an ancient Indian repertoire of techniques integrating mind, body, and spirit. It improves suppleness, digestion, circulation and relaxation. It can also heighten intuition and creativity. At a more profound level, it provides a way to achieve enlightenment or self-realization – in Eastern term, to forge a union of the individual self with the ‘universal self’. The most popular form is Hatha Yoga, which aims first to cultivate physical awareness though classic postures, or ‘asanas’ and then moves on to develop higher mental awareness. The benefits are physical, emotional and, ultimately, spiritual.
One problem with modern life is that we are so often ‘on the go’, there is little time left for reflection. Short periods of quiet introspection have been shown to reduce stress. They help you stay in touch with your inner self and enable you to put tribulations of your life in perspective.
By spending five minutes or more letting your emotions, whatever they are, subside and thinking about what really matters to you, you will come to see that you have choices. You do not have to confirm with other people’s opinions if you disagree with them. This is a belief in the ‘sovereignty of the self’ is a cornerstone of modern approaches to personal fulfilment.
Try one of these quick relaxation techniques today and bring peace into your mind. Don’t forget to let us know which one is your favourite relaxation method in the comment below!