Relaxation

For many of us with hectic, stressful lives, relaxation means sitting in front of the TV at the end of the day or grabbing some extra sleep at the weekend. This is not adequate to sufficiently reduce the damaging effects of excess stress on the mind and body.

To effectively combat stress, we need to activate the body’s natural relaxation response. You can do this by practicing relaxation techniques, for example deep breathing, visualisation, meditation, yoga, or by performing rhythmic exercise, such as running, cycling, or mindful walking. Finding ways to fit these activities into your life can help reduce everyday stress, whilst increasing your energy and mood. They will also help you to stay calm in the face of life’s unexpected events.

Relaxation techniques to suit your needs

Stress, or pressure, is required for life. We need stress for creativity, learning and our very survival. Stress is only harmful when it becomes overwhelming and interrupts the healthy state of balance that our nervous system needs to remain in equilibrium. Unfortunately, overwhelming stress has become an increasingly common characteristic of contemporary life. When stressors throw our nervous systems out of balance, relaxation techniques can bring it back into a stable state by producing the relaxation response, a state of deep calmness that is the opposite of the stress response.

Producing the relaxation response

We can teach you a variety of different relaxation techniques that can help you to bring your nervous system back into balance by producing the relaxation response. The relaxation response is a mentally active process that leaves the body relaxed, calm and focused.

Learning the basics of relaxation techniques is not difficult, but it does take practice. Many of the techniques described can be incorporated into your existing daily schedule, maybe practiced at your desk over lunch or on the bus during your morning commute.

If you prefer solitude, individual relaxation techniques such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation will give you the space to quiet your mind and recharge your batteries. If you prefer social interaction, a class setting may give you the stimulation and support you are looking for. Practicing with others may also help you to stay motivated.

Examples of Relaxation Techniques

1. Breathing meditation for stress relief

With its focus on full, cleansing breaths, deep breathing is a simple, but powerful, relaxation technique. It is easy to learn, can be practiced almost anywhere and provides a quick way to get your stress levels in check. Deep breathing is the foundation of many other relaxation practices and can be combined with other relaxing techniques such as aromatherapy and music. All you really need is a few minutes and a quiet place to sit or lie.

2. Progressive muscle relaxation for stress relief

Progressive muscle relaxation is a two-step process in which you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups in the body.

With regular practice, progressive muscle relaxation allows you to experience and understand what tension as well as complete relaxation feels like in different parts of the body. This awareness helps you to see and respond to the first signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress. As your body relaxes, so will your mind. You can combine deep breathing with progressive muscle relaxation for an additional level of stress relief.

Before practicing Progressive Muscle Relaxation you should consult with your doctor if you have a history of muscle spasms, back problems, or other injuries which may be aggravated by tensing muscles.

3. Body scan meditation for stress relief

A body scan is similar to progressive muscle relaxation except, instead of tensing and relaxing muscles, you focus on the sensations in each part of your body.

4. Mindfulness for stress relief

Mindfulness is the ability to remain aware of how you are feeling right now, your moment-to-moment experience, both internal and external. Thinking about the past, blaming and judging yourself or worrying about the future can often lead to a degree of stress that is overwhelming. By staying calm and focused in the present moment, you can bring yourself back into balance. Mindfulness can be applied to activities such as walking, exercising, eating, or meditation.

Meditations that promote mindfulness have been used to reduce stress for centuries. Some of these meditations bring you into the present by focusing your attention on a single repetitive action, such as your breathing, a few repeated words or a flickering light from a candle. Other forms of mindfulness meditation encourage you to follow and then release internal thoughts or sensations.

5. Visualisation meditation for stress relief

Visualisation, or guided imagery, is a variation on traditional meditation that requires you to use all of your senses including your sense of vision, taste, touch, smell and sound. When used as a relaxation technique visualisation involves imagining a scene in which you feel at peace, free to let go of all tension and anxiety.

You can choose whatever setting is most calming to you, whether it is a tropical beach, a mountainside or a quiet wooded glen. You can practice your visualisation exercise on your own in silence, while listening to soothing music, with a therapist or using an audio recording of a therapist, guiding you through the imagery.

6. Yoga and tai chi for stress relief

Yoga involves a series of both moving and stationary poses, combined with deep breathing. As well as reducing anxiety and stress, yoga can also improve flexibility, strength, balance and stamina. Practiced regularly, it can also strengthen the relaxation response in your daily life. Since injuries can happen when yoga is practiced incorrectly, it is advised to learn through a qualified instructor.

Tai chi

Tai chi is a self-paced, non-competitive series of slow, flowing body movements. These movements emphasise concentration, relaxation and the conscious circulation of vital energy throughout the body. If you have ever seen a group of people in the park slowly moving in synchronisation, you may have witnessed tai chi. Although tai chi has its roots in martial arts, today it is primarily practiced as a way of calming the mind, conditioning the body and reducing stress. As in meditation, tai chi practitioners focus on their breathing and on keeping their attention in the present moment.

Tai chi is a safe, low-impact option for people of all ages and levels of fitness, including older adults and those recovering from injuries. Like yoga, once you have learned the basics of tai chi, you can practice alone or with others, tailoring your sessions to your needs and preferences.

The relaxation techniques of both yoga and tai chi will benefit from training to help ensure that you are correctly performing the poses and movements. There are likely to be organised sessions with a qualified instructor near you.

Making relaxation techniques a part of your life

The best way to start and to maintain relaxation practice is to incorporate it into your daily routine. Between work, family and other commitments it can be tough for many people to find the time. As many of the techniques can be practiced while you are doing other things, it might be that you would like to begin with these.

Expect good sessions and more challenging ones, especially at first when you are learning. Don’t be discouraged if you skip a few days or even a few weeks. It happens. Just get started again and slowly build up to your old momentum. It is a lifestyle choice to manage your stress. Do it at your pace in a way that suits you.



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