How to Relax
"Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are”
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.
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:
This week’s tool is a deep relaxation meditation exercise
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
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
Allow this beautiful wave of relaxation to move slowly up the body paying attention to every muscle
Slowly and purposefully releasing the tension
Moving steadily upwards
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
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
 Wallace RK, Benson H, Wilson AF. A wakeful hypometabolic physiologic state. Am J Physiol. 1971;221(3):795–9.