We live in an age of tension, and there’s no doubt that most of it comes from the fast pace of society, and the pressure many of us feel as we try to get ahead (or just keep our heads above water). Without realizing it, most people go about their day in a state of tension that seems normal to them. They don’t know what relaxation is, or means, and they don’t know that aside from making you feel nervous and anxious, it can also cause long-term problems for your health. Not only is it hard on your heart, but it also causes insomnia, high blood pressure, fatigue, depression and many other things.
Learning to relax can therefore help you immensely. In fact, it can change your life. You might not think of it as such, but tension is actually a habit — a particularly bad habit. But with a little practise it can be changed into a good habit, namely relaxation. You can be relaxed and feel great throughout the day, day after day.
Tension can hit any part of the body, but it’s most common in your jaw, shoulders, neck and eyes, so it’s a good idea to concentrate on them. This doesn’t mean that there’s no tension in other parts of your body. There is, and you should also get rid of it.
Tension arises primarily from the things that go on in your mind — your thoughts. But strangely, to get rid of it, you have to concentrate on your muscles, and there are four basic techniques for relaxing them. They are:
- Deep breathing
- Direct muscle relaxation
Other things also help, but I will concentrate on these four.
Deep breathing is closely associated with meditation, but I’ll leave the discussion of meditation to others. For deep breathing you have to begin by learning to breathe properly. Most people breathe shallowly within their chest; for “deep breathing’ you have to learn to breathe from your abdomen. This means that you abdomen should be moving in and out, and not your chest. Also important is closing your mind and paying attention only to your breathing. All of us have little “conversations” going on in our mind most of the time. You can’t relax if your mind is cluttered. So keep it blank and concentrate on your breathing.
A comfortable chair is also important and you should make sure your clothing is loose and comfortable. Loosen your collar and belt. Relax… think of your body as an old sock. Start by breathing smoothly, with your abdomen moving in and out; gradually deepen your breathing as you allow each breath to flow smoothly to the next. Increase it until you are breathing deeply, then gradually decease it. Continue doing this for 10 or 15 minutes.
The above can be coupled with direct muscle relaxation. There are two forms of this. In the first, usually referred to as passive relaxation, you start with the tip of your head and progressively relax each part of your body, one at a time. Think about it, then relax it. Start with your eyes and jaw — relax them; let them hang heavy and drop as you concentrate on your breathing. Then move down to your neck and shoulders. Continue with your arms, mid-section and legs.
An alternative to this is progressive muscle relaxation. In this case you tense each part of the body, then release it and relax it. Again, you can start anywhere (usually with your head) and move through your body as above.
Music is also helpful in releasing tension. Again, sit in a chair and make yourself comfortable. Put some relaxing music on your stereo or ipod. It’s important to find music that is relaxing to you (and this will differ significantly from person to person, depending to a large degree on your age). As you sit back let the music wash over you, and again, focus on your breathing, and try to keep your mind clear. Just listen to the music; feel yourself relax as you listen to it. Let yourself float with the music — let it wash over you.
It’s also helpful to combine this with another technique called visualization (it can be combined with music or done alone). The idea is to focus your mind on a relaxing image. For each of us this will be different. Laying on a warm beach watching the clouds drifting overhead, or the waves rolling in, is calming to most people. Sitting near a stream watching it flow by, listening to the sound it makes, is calming to others. Thinking about a particularly happy family gathering is also enjoyable and calming to many.
Find something that works for you and use it. Make the scene come alive in your mind. Pretend you’re there; enjoy the sensations, smell the aroma, feel the sun on your face.
Relaxation techniques of the above type should be used each day. Select one, or a combination of the above, and spend 5 or 10 minutes doing it. You can even do it at odd moments when you have time during the day — even a few minutes is helpful. You’ll soon find it has become a habit, and it will help you feel much better and more relaxed.
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