• Resilient Practice

How to Relax

"Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are”

Chinese Proverb

Physical tension in your body takes its toll. It is associated with headaches, poor sleep and a general feeling of fatigue.

As mind and body are inextricably linked, then the tension in our muscles will generate ‘tension’ in our thoughts and feelings that we commonly recognise as ‘stress.’

Have you ever suddenly noticed that you seem to be frowning all the time or your shoulders are up around your ears?

This is usually associated with feeling overwhelmed.

We all react to stress in different ways.

Some stress can motivate us but excessive or persistent levels are harmful.

Common responses to stress are irritability, poor performance, feeling upset and anxious, and the physical symptoms of anxiety; increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, chest pains and headaches.

The stress reaction has been described in our article ‘How to stop a Panic Attack.

In that we also touched on the ‘Relaxation Response.’

This was described many years ago by a cardiologist Herbert Benson.

This response is the opposite of the stress response with a reduction in both respiratory and heart rate, a resulting decrease in blood pressure and a feeling of wellbeing.[1]

The relaxation response is mediated by the parasympathetic nervous system.

The benefits of relaxation are many fold.

The lowering of heart rate and breathing helps reduce blood pressure and improves blood flow from the core blood vessels into the muscles.

This in turn helps to reduce tension in those muscles and can improve healing and alleviate chronic pain.

Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system helps our body digest food and maintain blood sugar levels.

It also results in a reduction in the circulating levels of stress hormones leading to better cognitive function, memory and concentration.

Our sleep improves as does our mood and our ability to solve problems and manage our emotions.

While the stress response is involuntary, the relaxation response is voluntary this means that we can evoke it whenever we want to.

There are many ways to achieve deep relaxation:


Breathing techniques




Tai chi


Visualisation exercises.

This week’s tool is a deep relaxation meditation exercise

Try this:

To induce physical relaxation, many sources teach the technique of ‘tensing and relaxing’ but it has been suggested in physiotherapy teaching that this may actually lead to an increase tension in our muscles.

We prefer the following method of ‘Fractional Induction’ which is used by in hypnotherapy where the emphasis for producing the ‘relaxation response’ is on language and visualisation.

This meditative exercise helps to release the physical tension in the body which in turn, eases turmoil in the brain.

It is a great way to get to sleep but you can do it at any time of the day as a ritual or if you feel that you need it.

Find a quiet, comfortable place.

Begin by bringing your awareness to your breathing

The tidal in and out of your breath

Now take 3 very deep breaths

Slow and deep

Follow the air right to the bottoms of your lungs

and beyond

Right to the ends of your fingers

And the tips of your toes

As you release the breath, allow any tension that you immediately feel in your body to be released

And the air fills your body, visualise white light flooding in on the in-breath

and any sources of tension and conflict draining away on the out-breath

Now take your attention to your toes

Notice any tension that is there and allow it to release, so that they are loose and limp, just like a hand full of elastic bands

Now move your attention to the calves

Again, allow any tension in the calves to release

Turing them loose and limp

Just like a handful of elastic bands

Opening up all the joints in the feet

And ankles

And knees

Allow this beautiful wave of relaxation to move slowly up the body paying attention to every muscle

Every joint

Slowly and purposefully releasing the tension

Moving steadily upwards



Abdominal muscles

The broad muscles of the back

The muscles around the ribcage




Neck and face

Pay particular attention around the neck and shoulders to really make sure that the tension is fully released

What are you holding onto?

That needs to be let go

Continuing to breathe slowly and deeply throughout the exercise.

Now in a deep state of relaxation focus on your breathing

in and out

slow and deep

Every time you do this it becomes easier

And easier

To relax

You can stay in this beautifully relaxed state for as long as you need

When you are ready, slowly bring yourself back to the present situation

Now agree to be kind to yourself today as you give yourself plenty of time to return to full awareness

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[1] Wallace RK, Benson H, Wilson AF. A wakeful hypometabolic physiologic state. Am J Physiol. 1971;221(3):795–9.

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