Relaxation Techniques

Tracey Kelley
Adopt a relaxation technique to wash away the cares of the day.

There are numerous benefits to learning relaxation techniques. Even though each person "powers down" differently, a basic relaxation foundation can put anyone on the path to calm relief.

Relaxation Means Better Health

Humans' basic physiology is designed to handle immediate stress. The "flight or fight" response enables us to avoid danger or push through a difficult circumstance for a short period of time. However, chronic stress, with little to no rest or relaxation available by which to recover, puts the body in distress.

Many researchers have explained how stress affects the body. Stress is a common instigator of physical ailments such as headaches, back pain, high blood pressure, skin conditions, heart problems, chest pain, and asthma. Chronic stress can lead to problems with sleep, as well as worsen existing health conditions.

In 2006, researchers at Johns Hopkins University uncovered strong indicators that stress impairs many brain functions as well. These include verbal abilities, visual memory and learning, hand-eye coordination, and overall processing and functioning. Emotional health is also affected by stress, which manifests itself through depression and anxiety.

It's vital to positive health to incorporate relaxation techniques into your day-to-day routine.

Stress vs. Life

Someone with a busy schedule may say, "I'm not stressed - my life is just full." Surprisingly, that person may be right. The principles of Ayurveda teach the importance of balance in all aspects of your lifestyle. There are some people who appear to manage a variety of duties - work, family, volunteerism, personal pursuits, exercise, and so on - with ease.

But, if we look closer, we'll probably discover that a person engaged in a full life has already realized the benefits of balance and healthy living. He/she most likely attributes knowing how and when to relax as a way to achieve both goals.

Various Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques are as unique as every individual, but here are some guidelines to get you started. In time, you will add flourishes of your own, such as scented candles, special oils, and warm blankets.

Breathing

Yogis have emphasized the importance of breathing, especially the power of pranayama, for centuries. Quite simply, if more of us would take deep breaths instead of shallow chest breaths, we'd feel a lot more relaxed.

Breathing is a simple relaxation technique that you can do at the office, while waiting in line, and commuting home, with certain degrees of caution, of course.

Basic Breathing Relaxation Technique

  1. Sit or stand up straight.
  2. If in safe place, close your eyes. If at work or out in public, focus on a soft point, like a blank wall or a plant's leaf. If driving, shorten this sequence and perform it when at a stop light or stuck in traffic. Better yet, do it before starting the car.
  3. Inhale through your nose for a count of four, mouth closed, all the way into your belly.
  4. Fully expand your diaphragm. The belly will rise if you're doing this right, not the chest.
  5. Hold the breath for a count of four.
  6. Exhale the breath for a count of four. mouth closed. As you exhale, imagine all the chaos and clutter leaving your body. For some people, they envision something or someone tangible. Others inhale while picturing their body filling with light or a favorite color, and exhale a "darkness".
  7. Repeat the sequence up to 10 times.

Dr. Andrew Weil is also a strong proponent of the use of breath for both relaxation and rejuvenation. See his suggestions here.

Muscle Relaxation Technique

Many people experience great success with progressive muscle relaxation. By moving through the body tensing and releasing a portion at a time, you can remove any blockages in the body. This is a great technique to try before falling asleep.

Another note: focused breathing is important with muscle relaxation. Don't hold your breath! Rather, inhale on the tense, and exhale on the release.

Short Version

  1. Get comfortable. Loosen your clothing if necessary.
  2. Curl your toes and tighten for a count of 10. Release.
  3. Flex your foot (arching toes upward) and hold for a count of 10, release, and then extend your feet, hold for a count of 10, release.
  4. Move onward and upward through the body, tensing each area for a count of 10 before releasing.
  5. When you reach the hands, tense and release first with fingers splayed outward and extended, then with the hands balled into a fist.
  6. When you reach your head, scrunch your face together.

Long Version

Do all of the above, but add the following:

  1. Lay down, preferably in a darkened room.
  2. As you move through the body, instead of the whole portion, do one side, then the other. For example, ball one fist, count, and release. Then switch to the other side and repeat.
  3. Hold the count for 20, instead of 10.

Meditation as Relaxation

Meditation is another tool to achieve a quality level of relaxation. Guided meditation is an easy way to start this practice, as it helps the individual train the mind to "empty" and accept stillness.

An audio guided sequence on CD or DVD prepares the body and mind, and after a while, you may find you don't need this prompting anymore.

In Summary

Adopting relaxation techniques can help you let go of numerous factors, including the hustle of the workday, the details of a stressful circumstance, even deep-rooted issues that can only be resolved with focused stillness. Try just a few minutes each day to accept relaxation into your routine, and find the power in the practice.

Relaxation Techniques