3 Ways To Fully Relax
Do you know how to relax? And, no I don’t mean sitting in front of the TV avoiding all of the stressful thoughts and things going on in your life (and I get it we all need that now and again).
I mean, do you know how to FULLY relax?
If your answer is no, let's go through some useful techniques that help you feel more relaxed.
What is relaxation?
Relaxation is a calm state of being in the moment, which also enables you to handle difficult emotions.
So, why relax? Well... first of all it feels SOOO good. In fact, relaxation helps reduce stress, symptoms of mental health conditions (e.g. schizophrenia, anxiety, depression), and helps your overall health, too.
Examples of how relaxation benefits the mind and body:
• Reduces heart and breathing rate
• Lowers blood pressure
• Reduces tension held within the muscles
• Reduction in chronic pain
• Improves energy levels
• Reduces anger and frustration
• Boosts confidence in handling issues
I understand that you may be thinking, well how do I actually relax? It is definitely not easy to relax, if you haven’t established relaxation techniques that work for you. Trust me I’ve been there!
That’s why I have taken the time to find some research, on what relaxation techniques you could use, to find that inner place of serenity!
Firstly, we have MEDITATION, a practice that helps train self-awareness, attention, and detached observation, through focusing on an object, mantra, thought or activity. This helps create mental clarity, and helps induce an emotionally calm state.
From personal experience, meditation helps you identify and process negative, difficult emotions that cause discomfort (e.g. anxiety, fear, guilt). When thinking about emotions it’s key to think of them as energy-in-motion. In fact, they are energy-in-motion, hence their name e motions.
Emotions can cause instability in our mind, and dis-ease in our body. So, it is important that we learn to let them FLOW through us.
Don’t get me wrong emotional processing is nowhere near as easy as it sounds! It takes practice, patience, and self-compassion.
You are here to live your life, caring too much can be a burden sometimes, but it is also a strength, as long as your caring nature also includes you in it’s equation.
Meditation is an act of self-care and compassion, as it can help stabilise your mind when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
So, be sure to prioritise your mental environment before someone else’s, as this can lead to emotional and physical burnout.
Now that we have covered what meditation is and how it can help you emotionally, we are now going to see …
How meditation biologically relaxes you?
The relaxation response in the parasympathetic nervous system becomes more dominant during meditation, which counteracts the stress response from the sympathetic nervous system, that fires when in a stressful state.
Luberto found that individuals felt a reduction in negative emotions, such as stress, when their relaxation response was activated more often.
Also, the vagus nerve (which activates your relaxation response), fires more when you meditate, resulting in a quicker recovery from stress (i.e. calming you down). So, putting the effect of meditation on the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic
nervous system together, meditation helps reduce stress and increases levels of calm in your mind and body.
Examples of relaxing meditations
Here are 3 examples of different types of meditation that could help you relax:
Body Scan Meditation:
This involves scanning the body and undertaking progressive relaxation to reduce the tension we are feeling. So, through guidance you are told to slowly tighten and relax one muscle group at a time throughout the body.
Mindfulness Meditation, refers to meditating in a way that helps increase someone’s ability to experience the present moment. Mindfulness refers to being non-judgmental, open and accepting towards this present time, which helps calm the mind and body.
Self-Compassion meditation, focuses on being kind to yourself, forgiving oneself, acknowledging that the nature of humanity is perfectly imperfect, and being mindful when thinking negatively about oneself. Developing self-compassion through meditation, can help you approach yourself in a fairer, calmer way. So, if you are having one of those days where nothing is going right, and you are or have been tearing yourself down, pick up your phone/tablet/laptop and do a self-compassion meditation!
Meditation is also often used in yoga classes:
Yoga is a practice involving strength enhancing poses, that aim to stretch the body with the use of meditation and guided breathing.
Sounding a bit intense to induce a state of relaxation? I suppose stretching and strengthening your body can give that impression. But there are many types of yoga varying from intense to calming. All of which occur at different paces.
So, although, not all yoga types are best known for relaxation, there are types that are!
How does yoga increase relaxation and reduce stress?
If you enter a yoga session stressed, the breathing techniques used within the class would help regulate your rapid breathing into a slow healing breath. This stimulates the calming branch within your nervous system (parasympathetic nervous system), ultimately dampening the effect of the fight or flight response (responsible for stress), resulting in a calmer state.
A part of this relaxation is being mindful of what each part of your body is feeling, being accepting towards your bodily sensations and stressful thoughts.
Examples of relaxing yoga styles
Known for its conscious relaxation powers, Nidra is like meditation and helps individuals reach the edge between their mind and pure consciousness. Yoga Nidra puts you into a state where you feel as if you are half-meditating and half-asleep.
With a focus on relaxation and healing, restorative yoga is used to ‘restore’ or refresh the body and mind. This is especially useful for those who’ve experienced emotional, mental and physical trauma, such as recovering from a joint or muscle injury, or surgery.
Relaxing Yoga Poses:
Before we go further, know that these poses are not always relaxing to everyone, due to different bodies having different needs.
In restorative yoga you use props when needed to support your body, so that you can relax in the poses as much as possible.
Examples of props are: blankets, cushions, bolsters, blocks, yoga straps, candles, aromatherapy, and music.
Child's pose (those with hip and groin pain would benefit from support under the knees)
Downward Dog (those who struggle with vertigo or giddiness may not find this pose comfortable- so please don’t force yourself)
Any supported pose, such as reclined butterfly over a bolster
Legs Up The Wall
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Something I have learned, too, is that the yoga poses that feel good one day may not feel as comfortable another day. This is totally normal, because your body changes due to differences in mentality and physical needs. So, please be kind and patient with yourself, it is MORE than okay to experience poses differently on different days!
As simple as it may sound, breathing deeply into your abdomen for 20-30 minutes a day, can help improve your anxiety and stress levels.
The reason for this is that when you breath quickly, you activate the fight or flight response (I.e., sympathetic nervous system), which fires during times of stress. Whereas, the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated when the brain receives more oxygen during deep breathing! Inducing a feeling of relaxation, your worries wither away, your mind quietens, and you feel more connected with your body.
Nice and calm, your body invests less time into breathing in oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide, meaning your body has more energy to put towards self-healing, digestion, and cell regeneration.
Deep Breathing Technique:
1. Lie or sit down in a position that is comfortable for you
2. Get your hand and rest it on your abdomen just under the rib cage
3. As you inhale oxygen, your stomach will expand and rise
4. During your exhale, breathe through your mouth completely, until the stomach is empty
5. Repeat steps 1-4 until you feel more relaxed
Deep breathing isn’t the only breathing technique out there however. So, let's glance over a few others:
1. Sitting comfortably take a long deep breath
2. Exhale slowly
3. Close your eyes
4. Take 10 breaths that are natural, and while exhaling for each breath, count down from 10
5. While breathing notice any tension that releases itself from your body
6. Repeat 1-5 until your exhale lasts from the count of 10 to 1, open your eyes
During this technique your worries become evident to you, which means that you can begin to control and release these thoughts.
1. First take a slow inhale, first filling up your lower lungs then your upper lungs
2. For a count of three hold your breath
3. Through pursed lips exhale slowly, and notice how the muscles in your face, jaw, stomach, and shoulders loosen and relax
Do this 10 times a day- especially during transitions (e.g. between different projects) to release tension that’s stored in the body.
4-7-8 Breathing Technique:
1. Lift your tongue to the roof of your mouth (behind your front teeth)
2. Breathe through the nose for a count of 4
3. For seven counts hold your breath
4. Now, make a whoosh sound while exhaling for a count of... yes you guessed it: 8!
5. Repeat steps 1-4 without a pause between steps 4 and 1 for another 3 times or so.
6. Go back to breathing normally
4-7-8 breathing can really help after a time of shock or panic, where your breath is shallow. This breathing technique, therefore, gives you and your body a chance to release the excess carbon dioxide (caused by shallow breathing) that has yet to be released.
You can take one of the above techniques, or mix and match. Pro tip: start small. If meditation sounds scary, start with a short breathing exercise with your eyes closed, and do it for just a minute. You can always increase the time you do the exercise.
Or settle into a child's pose, and listen to your breath. Put a piece of music on that lasts for a few minutes and let the world pass by.
Science has shown that taking a time-out for even just 60 seconds gives the brain a much needed break to restore.
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