Do you even relax?
How many of you know how to relax? I bet if I were to ask this question in a room full of people, most would put up their hand pretty confidently. When I ask this question to yoga students and how they do so, the usual response is “I’m VERY good at relaxing: I watch TV, I lay on the couch and listen to music, I read a book, I go on social media, I have a drink…” etc etc. While the body may be at rest, all of these involve a form of stimulation for the mind. Is this really relaxing?
True relaxation is not possible until complete physical and mental relaxation simultaneously take place. And this is a lot harder than you might think. I can be laying on the couch, feeling pretty damn comfy, while unconsciously holding tension in my muscles. Physically relaxed? Not so much. And I can also be sitting in complete silence with my eyes closed while rehashing my day yesterday and planning for the day tomorrow. Mentally relaxed? I don’t think so.
So here’s the point… we are all very very bad at relaxing! The problem is, we aren’t even aware of it. So we “relax” at the end of the day to unwind, but more often than not, we are actually doing very little to unwind anything! This carries over to the next day and accumulates again, and before we know it, our minds are always racing, our bodies are tense and carry pain, and stress and anxiety are a constant presence in our lives.
We need to learn how to relax, but the good news is we can all do it! The not so good news is that it requires patience, discipline, and a lot of time to learn. I can guarantee you it’s worth it though.
Chilling and relaxing are not the same thing. Relaxation is an active process, not a passive one. It must be done step-by-step to achieve:
- Lie down on your back on the floor, bed, or couch, ensuring you have enough room for your body to expand and take up space. Use blankets and pillows to get comfy.
- Relax the body – first, we want to contract and tighten each muscle, and then fully release. Starting with your feet, point your toes and curl each toe and squeeze. Hold for 5 seconds and then release. Next, flex your foot, squeeze your calf muscles, hold for 5s, and release. Continue contracting the muscles in this sequence: thighs, glutes, abdomen, chest, back, arms, hands, shoulders, neck, and face. Hold each contraction for 5s and take 3 breaths after releasing.
- Control the breath – start to notice how you are currently breathing: inhales short or long? exhales the same length as the inhales? where can you feel the breath in the body? Awareness of your current breathing pattern is necessary to change it. Next, imagine your torso as an empty glass. With each inhale, imagine the glass being filled with water – the bottom fills first (your belly), then the middle (your ribcage), and finally right up to the top (your chest). As you exhale, reverse the process, with the air leaving the belly last. Make the inhales and exhales long, slow, even, and controlled – never hold the breath.
- Relax the mind – there’s a monkey in all of our minds that doesn’t want to sit still. Unless you are experienced in meditation, trying to focus on nothing will only fuel the monkey’s desire to go wild. So we need to concentrate hard on something – the breath. Follow the path of air with each inhale and exhale. Your mind will wander a million times, but keep bringing it back to the breath – time and time again. The more time we spend concentrating on the breath, the less time we have to worry, stress, and feed our anxiety.
Try this active relaxation process for 5 minutes to start, and gradually increase over time. Is this the only way to relax? No! But it works for me. Questions? Let me know!