Learn to really relax
The practice of relaxation or meditation is not a mysterious or mystical experience available only to a select few adepts.
The ability to relax, or practise simple meditation, is a natural and valuable ability which we all possess, even though we may not have practised it for many years. It’s an innate skill which most of us have forgotten how to use. As very young children we could relax at will, anywhere: but most adults rely on artificial props to help them relax, such as alcohol, drugs, television, or even comfort-eating.
With just a little persistence, about 15 minutes a day, and maybe some relaxing music you can easily reawaken this natural skill.
Why learn (or re-learn) to relax?
- Relaxation enables you to take an break and switch off from the stresses of life whenever you wish.
- It provides a few precious moments in which to re-charge your mental and physical batteries.
- Relaxation is the bed-rock of effective stress management.
- It enables you to stand back and switch off from problems – so that, often, when you return to them you can perceive solutions that had previously escaped you.
- If you have intense fears or phobias you will find your relaxation skills essential for using methods such as systematic desensitisation to dissolve your fears.
- Relaxation has been scientifically proven to be health enhancing (See Beyond the Relaxation Response, by Herbert Benson & William Proctor).
How to relax – with a relaxation CD or audio recording
Get a good relaxation recording and spend a few weeks becoming skilled at switching off and deeply relaxing whenever you wish.
At first it may be helpful to use a recording with a spoken commentary since this will take you through a series of steps to help you become deeply relaxed. However once you have learned, in this way, the physical routine for switching off and relaxing you may find it best to use a music-only recording and to use your own imagination to relax deeply and to actively utilise imagery during the session.
How to relax – without a relaxation recording
The following is a simple method of relaxing which you can develop by using mental imagery aided, perhaps, by soft relaxing music:
- Make yourself physically comfortable. Initially shrug, stretch, and then sit comfortably upright with hands resting on your thighs or lap. You can use three or four prolonged out-breaths to help you settle – but do not breathe in deeply. Keep your eyes open for now.
- Pay attention to what you can see, hear, and feel.
- Close your eyes. This gives your brain a break by reducing the amount of incoming data it has to process.
- Now pay attention to what you can see, hear and feel with your eyes closed.
- Now do a further five prolonged exhales
- With each exhale relax, in turn, a different part of your body as follows (1) Your feet and legs, (2) Your hands and arms, (3) Your torso, (4) Your head and neck, (5) Your entire body. Pay attention to the relaxing effect of each of these out-breaths.
- Now continue to allow yourself to switch off – breathing normally and shallowly – paying attention to how your body begins to relax naturally as your breathing gradually becomes calmer, quieter and shallower.
The breathing method when relaxing
- Breathe in and out through your nose
- Breathe from the diaphragm (belly breathing)
- Aim to breathe quite shallowly – deep breathing is not conducive to relaxation
- No deliberate breath holding
- Pay attention to the natural and quite automatic pause at the end of the inhalation and the slightly longer one at the end of the exhalation.
This method of breathing is key to enjoying a wonderful relaxation session. It is meant to be quite slow and completely effortless. No breath holding, no straining, no counting – just discovering the rhythm that is right for you, personally.
Why relax in a sitting position?
Because, initially, many people find relaxing to be quite soporific. Having been deprived for so long deprived of the quality of the deep rest which relaxation evokes, your mind-body can relax so deeply that you slip into natural sleep.
There is nothing wrong with this. In fact it’s a great way of getting to sleep at night.
However it is a good idea, in the beginning, to train yourself to relax in a sitting position so that you will be able to relax at will just about anywhere and for just a few minutes e.g. in the dentist chair, while waiting for a train or plane, before an important interview or presentation, etc.
More tips for your Relax Session
- Years of `normal’ stressful living undermine our natural ability to switch off and relax anywhere, anytime. You are now simply re-learning this natural ability.
- Relaxation is something you allow to happen. You cannot force the issue. It is a gradual process of discovering your personal forms of emotional and physical tension and then discovering the ways of releasing these which work best for you.
- At first most people find it much easier to relax the body rather than the mind. This is normal. You can certainly learn to allow your mind to become quieter – it simply takes a little longer.
- For the first few weeks relax in a sitting position. It is easier to relax lying down but if you make yourself too comfortable you risk falling asleep or becoming too drowsy and this negates some of the benefits. (See previous section, too).
- There is no right way to relax! So rather than attempting to ‘get it right’ experiment to discover what works best for you.
- The quality of your relaxation will vary considerably during any session. One moment you may think you are losing the experience and the next you may be even more relaxed than before. So if you think it is not working decide to calmly stay at ease for another minute or so. Then, if necessary, give up and have another session 30-60 minutes later.
- There is no ‘right’ time to relax. Take a break any time you like – especially when you notice tension or a negative mood beginning to build up. For the first few weeks you may find it more beneficial to take lots of short 3-5 minute breaks. Most people find it useful to have a relaxing session at the beginning of the day.
- Initially your tension level may rise again soon after a session and you may wonder what is the point in relaxing. Here remind yourself that had you not taken a break the tension would now be much higher – and that these breaks are conditioning your body/mind to react differently to pressures.