Developing Relaxation Habits

by Dr Joan Vernikos

In recent weeks I have shared information on the importance of quality sleep and its impact on personal well-being. We all know that a good night’s sleep leaves us refreshed and full of energy to tackle the day. What a wonderful feeling that is!

So what about during our waking hours? During these times the analog to getting quality sleep is our ability to relax.

Let’s talk about relaxation

Relaxation is to release tensions – the tension that comes from feeling that things are not quite right (or really not right!). This tension manifests as different emotions but is characterized by a lack of ease. To relax is to let go and settle into what is, to stop being carried away by the things we see, hear, taste and touch (including ourselves), and instead remain open and curious to what is happening. In essence it is a change in how we relate to the vast amounts of information we manage each day.

Relaxing is a way to lessen the negative effects of stress on your mind and body. Practicing relaxation techniques is basically free and will help you cope with daily stress as well as stress related to particularly difficult situations, from illness to job loss to the death of a loved one. When we are more relaxed, it improves how we feel and how we relate to those around us. Like improving your sleep habits developing ways to relax will help you de-stress your life and improve your health (and surprise! experience more restful sleep.)

The first step begins with developing greater awareness of what is happening around you and especially of what you are feeling. It’s important that we learn to notice when we are getting stressed out in a way that is not helpful or necessary. When we can recognize getting uptight we can then apply instant relaxation techniques. Similarly, we can practice techniques that help us be more relaxed on an ongoing basis. 

Remember that relaxation techniques are skills. As with any skill your ability to relax improves with practice. Be patient with yourself — don't let your effort to practice relaxation techniques become yet another stressor. If one relaxation technique doesn't work for you, try another.

But it does take practice.

Relaxation Tips for Today

  • Breathe. Take a deep breath into your abdomen, hold it and exhale in a big sigh. Do this 3 or 4 times. Breathing is the easiest way to experience immediate relaxation, and your breath is always available to you.
  • Relax your face, jaw and scalp. Allow it to droop - you'll feel better in only a few seconds.
  • Pull your shoulders down. Drop your ear to your shoulder and hold for a couple of breaths. Repeat on the other side.
  • Practice gratitude. In mornings it is easy to feel a bit anxious. Instead, as you wake up consider the gift of another day and what you want to do with it. During the day take a break to recognize a few good things about your life. The more you look, the more you'll find.
  • Participate in your own creative hobbies. Shoot photographs or paint, write or scrapbook, whatever yours may be.
  • Spend time with your pet, showing it love and affection.
  • Exercise. People who are more active experience a greater level of positivity.
  • Unplug. Need any more be said on this?
  • Laugh! Watch or listen to funny shows or spend time with people who make you laugh.
  • Shift it from You to Them. When around stressed out or unhappy people practice developing compassion for the person, thinking how terrible it is for them to be feeling so poorly. Even if they are being unkind, consider that they are only that way because they are unhappy.
  • Go easy on the caffeine.
  • Soak. How stressed can you be in a warm bathtub or jacuzzi?
  • Get a Massage. But don't marry a massage therapist - you'll never get one!
  • Keep a journal. Journaling may be the best way to develop a more accurate view of what is going on in your life, and what you might do differently.
Ongoing Methods for Relaxation 
Practice Meditation, Tai Chi, Yoga or a myriad of other traditionally calming activities. Many have now been scientifically proven to relax you both while you are doing it and well afterwards. Personally, I practice yoga in a class setting once or twice per week and have found it greatly beneficial since I took it up in recent years.

For tips on getting started with a mindfulness meditation practice click here .

A Gravity-based Technique for Deep Relaxation

Here is what I use that might help you too achieve whole body relaxation. 
Lie on your back on the floor with eyes shut, palms up. Try and clear your mind of thoughts. Focus on your breath, gently in and out. Think about gravity pulling you down through the floor. Feel the weight of your heels sinking. Holding onto that feeling, slowly move up to your calves, hips, lower back, abdomen, shoulders, arms; let go giving in to gravity pulling you downward. Feel the knots in your shoulders and neck let go and dissolve.  Mentally move up to your head. Let go of all 15 pounds of it sink through the floor. Feel your scalp and your hair slide down away from your face. Let all thoughts on an imaginary screen be erased by gravity. Nothing is more important than this moment. Now you are in total relaxation. Stay there as long as you like. Relish the moment. Nothing else matters. When you open your eyes you shall feel calm and energized.

We live in a world today that sometimes seems to value busyness over calm – a go-go-go lifestyle that often leaves us feeling stressed out. But the good news is that our natural state is relaxed and open – this is why it is possible to become relaxed at any moment, just like that. If we practice habits of relaxation, over time it becomes easier and easier to let go, even when things are quite challenging. Commit to practicing some or all of these relaxation techniques for two months, and I guarantee the changes you experience in your life will not disappoint you. Good Luck!