Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop. ~Ovid
Experiencing deep relaxation from time to time is essential for you to be able to function at your peak performance.
Imagine a toy car run by a rechargeable battery. Every night the battery is recharged, but not quite enough. The car runs slower and less efficiently over time. In the same way, you recharge your energy every time to go to sleep. But sleep doesn’t always fully recharge you. Deep relaxation offers you a boost in energy by recharging you. Without charging, you can’t expect to function well. If you see relaxation in this way, hopefully you won’t feel so guilty – you’re just boosting your energy levels.
Ultimately, you can’t rush relaxation. That’s a contradiction. Relaxation is the opposite of rushing. Rushing implies being under pressure. Relaxation is about easing off the pressure and having a break. Deep relaxation takes an investment of time, but is well worth it. Your health is your wealth.
Mindful Body Scan Meditation
I have taught this technique to clients for many years and most people do find it deeply restful after having practised it a few times. The meditation usually takes from 30-45 minutes and is done lying down on your back, on a bed, mat or soft carpet. If you’re a beginner, you may prefer to be guided in this exercise using an audio track.
Lie down and feel the natural sensation of your breathing for a few minutes. Then shift your attention to your toes, and very slowly move your attention up your body. The idea is not to try to relax, but just to be aware of the sensations that you notice. You’ll find your mind wondering off from time to time, but that’s to be expected. No need to judge or criticise yourself. When you have finished scanning your whole body, just lie there and rest for a few minutes. Enjoy any feeling of relaxation that has arisen for you. And if you don’t feel relaxed at all, see if you can just accept how you feel at the moment – that’s what mindfulness is about – being in the moment and accepting the sensations just as they are.
When doing the body scan meditation, don’t try to relax. Think of it as an awareness exercise. The awareness will naturally lead to relaxation in the long-term.
A nice, hot bath
This is a deeply relaxing experience for many. If you’ve never tried it before, have a go.
Think about how you can relax yourself in the bath by offering some pleasure to all your senses. The heat of the water is touch. The nice scents that you add is the sense of smell. If you play some music in the background to relax you, that’s sounds. If you dim the main lighting, and have a few candles on, that’s sight. And if you treat yourself to a nourishing herbal tea, that’s taste! Enjoy.
Don’t spend too long in the bath if you’re sleepy.
Stretching for relaxation
When you’re stressed, your muscles usually tense up. Stretching your muscles is a great way to relax. If you notice the physical sensations in your body as you stretch, being aware of your movements, your mind is taken off its worries and anxieties. If you don’t like the idea of doing ‘yoga’ just think of yourself as naturally stretching, like a cat!
You could start your day with some relaxing stretches. A great way to set yourself for the day. Alternatively, you may enjoy stretching after a long day at work. The more you focus on the sensations of your body and your breathing as you stretch, the more you’ll enjoy it. Combine with some relaxing music if that helps you to be in the moment.
Here are a set of tips for effective stretching:
- Breathe slowly, smoothly and consciously. Feel your breathing as you stretch. Avoid holding your breath. Tune into the sensations in your muscles and joints as you stretch
- Don’t stretch too far – it’s not a competition. You shouldn’t find the stretch painful. And remember to avoid bouncing in the stretch
- Take your time. You’re better off sustaining a gentle, relaxing stretch rather than forcing a deep stretch, which can lead to injury.
Self-hypnosis can lead to deep states of relaxation. Let go of any mystical or magical ideas of hypnosis, and think of it as a useful tool to achieve deep relaxation.
To achieve a deep sense of relaxation in self-hypnosis, follow these tips:
- Find a quiet, comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed
- Prepare your affirmations before you start so you aren’t thinking about it during the hypnosis
- Before you start the session of hypnosis, do some relaxation through deep breathing or by any other favourite method of yours.
- Allow yourself at least 15 minutes and up to half an hour to enter a deep relaxed state
Yoga Nidra is a yoga exercise that helps to create total, deep relaxation. It is said to bring supreme stillness of mind and profound insight. Regular, persistent practice will help you to enjoy the relaxing benefits of Yoga Nidra.
Yoga Nidra means yogic sleep. The idea is to enter a state similar to deep sleep whilst actually remaining awake. The technique has been used for thousands of years. According to yoga, the three main states of consciousness are waking, dreaming and deep sleep. Yoga Nidra offers a way to enjoy conscious deep sleep.
- Lie down on your back in a quiet place. Cover yourself with a blanket if necessary. Let your arms be by your sides, with palms facing up, and let your feet naturally fall away from each other. Use pillow for comfort.
- Move your attention through your body, starting from the top of your head, feeling the sensation in each body part from the top of your head, through to the tips of your toes.
- Now move your attention back up through your body again, from your toes all the way up to the top of your head. As you do this, imagine breathing in a sense of relaxation or calm, and breathing out any tension or stress.
- Become aware of your body as a whole. Play with the idea that your whole body gently expands as you breathe in, and contracts as you breathe out.
- Next, do some spinal breaths. Imagine your breath can move up and down your spine. As you inhale, imagine or feel your breath moving up from the base of your spine and out of the top of your head. As you breathe out, imagine or feel your breath going down from the top of your head to the base of your spine. Play with the idea without trying too hard or taking it too seriously. Enjoy the feeling if you can.
- Now, go through some of the energy centres, which are called Chakras in Yoga. For each energy centre, rest your attention there together with an awareness of your breathing for a couple of minutes. Notice if there is an associated colour in each chakra if you are a visual person and find it restful. Try these three chakras: the space between your eyebrows, then your throat area and then the centre of your chest. Enjoy any sense of relaxation, stillness or silence that arises there.
- Now simply rest as deeply as you can. If you feel calm and relaxed, stay in that state. If you feel agitated, notice the various thoughts and feelings that are coming up for you and allow them to drift away. Watch them come and go. Do this for about 10 minutes or so.
- To bring the exercise to a close, become aware of your breathing. Then become aware of your body as a whole and start to gently wiggle your fingers and toes. Allow your eyes to gently open when you’re ready.
Relaxation Response Meditation
This is a meditation exercise that’s really simple to do, and thoroughly well proven to create a state of deep relaxation very rapidly, without any esoteric or need for any belief or guru. The basis of the technique can be found in almost every religious tradition. This technique is secular and so can be practised by anyone. The meditation simply involves repeating a word or phrase to yourself and focusing your attention on it, without straining or trying too hard. It’s one of the most well-proven mind body relaxation techniques in the world, a bit like mindfulness meditation.
- Sit in a comfortable posture and close your eyes. Scan through your both for a minute or two, letting go of any excess tension.
- Feel the natural sensation of your breathing. Each time you breathe out, repeat a word, phrase or prayer to yourself.
- When you notice that your mind wonders off to other thoughts, gently guide your attention back to your chosen word or phrase.
- Bring the exercise to a close after 10-20 minutes. Keep an eye on a clock rather than setting an alarm. That’s a more gentle, relaxing way of ending the meditation.
Benefits of the relaxation response meditation include:
- Improved focus and concentration
- A deeper state of natural relaxation everyday.
- Greater awareness of when stress arises in your body, and improved ability to relax after a stressful event.
Have a laid back, passive attitude in this meditation, rather than putting it too much effort and trying hard. Hey, this is your time to relax after all!
Tai chi is essentially meditation in movement. The philosophy of tai chi is based on the idea that relaxation requires a balance of energy, or Qi, to flow around the body.
Tai chi emphasises awareness of the sensations of your breathing, together with the sensations of movement of your body. You are taught to maintain a healthy physical posture, helping you to release tension from your body. Through moving your arms and legs in a smooth, controlled way, you help to improve your flexibility and send nutrients into your joints. You also gradually strengthen your muscles, ligaments and tension.
Find a local tai chi or qi gong teacher, and have a go!
The relaxing effect of tai chi comes through learning to focus your attention on your physical sensations as you move, and your breathing. In this way, you let go of your worries and concerns and train your brain to live in the present moment. The part of your brain that deals with focus actually grows over time, automatically ensuring you live in the here and now, and less obsessive attention on your worries.
Human touch has an automatic effect of relaxing the body. Massage helps to tease out the tension in your muscles and offers you some ‘me time’. Swedish or Shiatsu are the most popular for relaxation.
Self-massage is an alternative and free option, which many people, forget about. You can do it anywhere.
- Shoulders: Press the muscle on your left shoulder using your right palm or fingers. Close your eyes and breathe smoothly and start to either gently squeeze or make circular movements. Repeat on your right shoulder with your left hand.
- Neck: Reach around and gently squeeze the back of your neck, beginning at the base. Gradually make your way up the back of the neck. Repeat as many times as you wish.
- Face: Place your fingers in the centre of your forehead. Draw lines from the centre of your forehead to your temples. Smooth out your forehead. Move your way down to your eyebrows. Then use your fingers to make small circular motions around your temples. Continue with this circular motion down to your checks and further down, massaging your jaw muscles.
- Feet: Sit on a chair and rest one foot on your knee. Slide your thumbs up and down the soul of your foot. Then push your thumb or knuckles into any tense areas of your foot. Squeeze each toe with your thumb and finger. Finish by squeezing and releasing your whole foot with both hands. Repeat on other foot.
Don’t massage to the point of pain.
You use your imagination all the time. Tap into this inner power through the use of guided imagery.
1. Find a relaxing, quiet place and turn off any potential distraction. This is time for you. If you want, play some relaxing music in the background, or perhaps a nature sounds CD. Or just lie down outside if you can, and listen to the real sounds of nature.
2. Close your eyes.
3. Imagine your most relaxing place. It could be outdoors or indoors. You could be with others or on your own. You could imagine a place you’ve visited before, somewhere you’ve never been, or a combination of the two. Some people like to be on a beach, in a hammock, in a warm log cabin, in a forest or walking through some field. Choose a place that works for you. The key is to use all your senses to imagine what it’s like there.
Here’s an example I like:
- You walk along the beach with bare feet and enjoy the warm sand. You look out at the beautiful clear blue water. As you walk along the shore the warm water caresses your feet. The warm sun gently heats your glowing skin, which sparkles and glows as you stroll. You see a hammock tied between two large palm trees. You climb effortlessly into the hammock and gently rock as you listen to the birds and smell the flowers nearby. You feel so relaxed and notice a smile on your face. You are offers a glass of cool, refreshing lemon juice which you enjoy sipping.
4. Enjoy your feeling of relaxation in your imagined place. Let the feeling of deep rest sink into your muscles and bones. Let go into relaxation. You only need to relax as much as you feel comfortable doing so.
5. When you’re ready to end the exercise, softly open your eyes and have a nice stretch if you wish.
Don’t be concerned if you find yourself zoning out. Sometimes you may find your body moving in a strange way or feel a little dazed afterwards. Having these kind of experiences is normal. If you keep falling asleep in this exercise, try sitting more upright or even standing up. Alternatively try it during a time of day where you’re more awake.
When you’re in a deeply relaxed state, press your thumb and index finger together. Then you associate relaxation with that sensation – you are programming you body to relax with your finger and thumb touching. Whenever you want to get into a state of relaxation, simply press your thumb and index finger together and you can begin to access the feeling of relaxation immediately.
You can achieve all sorts of results with imagery or visualisation. Arnold Schwarzenegger visualised himself as winning a ‘Mr. Universe’ competition and before long, achieved his dream. So try imagining yourself as Mr. or Mrs. Relaxation, and you never know how calm and relaxed you’ll become!
Progressive Muscular Relaxation
This is a popular method of relaxation, especially for those who find it difficult to feel sensations in the body and like a slightly more physically active way of relax.
- Loosen tight clothing and get comfortable, sitting or lying down.
- Begin relaxing by take a few deep, slow, smooth breaths.
- Move your attention to your right foot. Notice the sensations there.
- Tense your right foot to a count of about 10 and notice how sensations change as you do so.
- Relax your foot. Take a deep breath as you notice the more relaxed sensation in your right foot. Repeat this process with your left foot.
- Gradually move up your body in this way, tensing and relaxing each part of your body.
- Finish by enjoying any feeling of relaxation that has arisen. Take a few slower, deep breaths to deepen your experience.
Sample sequence you could follow: Right foot, left foot, right calf, left calf, right thigh, left thigh, buttocks, stomach, chest, back, right arm and hand, left arm and hand, shoulders, neck, face.
You may think activities like driving, walking and speaking are all processes that take time and effort to learn, but not relaxation. Perhaps you think relaxation is something you can do instantly or you can’t.
This is simply not true. Relaxation is a skill. As you practice, you get better at achieving a relaxed state.
Eventually, you can relax almost instantly, at will, just like you can scratch your head or make a cup of tea. And your ability to relax deeply is enhanced too.