It can be so hard to unwind at the end of the day. Many people turn on the TV, open a bottle of wine, head to the gym, smoke a cigarette, go shopping, or a whole host of other behaviours that we think helps us to relax.
While these behaviours might numb the stress, take your mind off things, or satisfy a craving, they are not really creating relaxation of the nervous system, and it is this that we really need in order to truly relax.
When we are stressed, the ‘flight or fight’ mode of the nervous system kicks in. This very necessary function of the nervous system is designed to keep us safe from attack, injury and death. It is not meant to be activated on the morning commute, but in our world of 27/4 news, constant internet connection, rising food prices, stagnating or reducing wages….oh, I am trying to make you feel better, I am not going to keep listing reasons you are probably stressed, but you get the idea… we’re ALL a bit frazzled and scattered.
Try Some Buy Some
The consumer world keeps offering us a bajillion different things to help us relax….holidays, alcohol, shopping, the idea that if only we can be super rich then we will be happy, but in reality, they are just marketing strategies.
Alcohol will numb the emotions, so make us feel less stressed in the short term, but in the longer term, it can lead to increased stress, risk of addiction, numerous health risks and decreases our ability to feel pleasure and joy without it. As the wonderful Brene Brown says in ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’
We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions
Shopping and acquiring things feels good momentarily, but shoppers remorse often creeps in when we have made a purchase as the result of seeking to satisfy an emotional need – things cannot give us emotional connection, and the rise in minimalism is showing that many people are recognising that too many things actually is a contributing factor in stress.
A relaxing holiday can be quite transformative, but if the source of stress is something in our own mind, or a situation that will have to be returned to, then it will not be long before the stress returns.
The Relaxation Response
In 1975, Dr Herbert Benson published ‘The Relaxation Response’, a book that gave scientific explanations for the powerful effects of meditation and brought it into the Western mainstream.
This work was groundbreaking in making this knowledge accessible to the West, but, as Dr Benson himself acknowledged,
“We claim no innovation but simply a scientific validation of age-old wisdom”
What Dr Benson teaches as The Relaxation Response is taught at the end of many Hatha Yoga classes, and in other settings, as relaxation, or known as meditation by many people.
Relaxation through Yoga
Yoga provides many tools to help body and mind relax deeply and completely. The benefits of this relaxation are many – improved sleep, happier moods, better digestion, more energy to name but a few, as well as reducing the risk of chronic illness such as heart disease, stroke and asthma, all of which are linked to stress.
Relaxing the body and mind effectively through this practice can can bring deep relaxation, and promote a sense of wellbeing. It is far more effective are creating real relaxation than drinking alcohol, shopping, smoking or watching the TV!
Try this practice next time you have a tough day and need to unwind and relax your mind.
Some ‘Rules’ before you start
- Don’t think you have to clear your mind of all thoughts. The aim is not absolute thoughtlessness, it is to be able to let go of thoughts. When a thought comes into your mind, which it will do, just notice it and let it go.
- Be kind to yourself. If you get to the end of the practice and realise that you haven’t listened to a word of what I have said, and have, instead, been ruminating on your troubles, don’t feel bad, don’t think you have failed, just accept that you are clearly very stressed and try again with greater awareness
- Try not to fall asleep. True relaxation is not passive, it is an active state of conscious relaxation. (but if you do sleep, see point 2)
- Make sure you are warm and will not be disturbed before you start. Cover yourself with a blanket, switch off the phone, and make sure that the kids are being cared for or asleep.
- Don’t worry that you will be ‘unconscious’ and not able to respond to anything that actually needs your attention, you will. But try to minimise the likelihood of that happening (see point 4)
- Don’t think that the internet has stopped working and the video has finished because you feel like you have been lying on the floor for an hour. You haven’t. you are just not used to being still for so long. When I first started this, 5 minutes felt like eternity. You will get used to it.
- Enjoy it. Don’t worry that you are ‘wasting time’ or that you should be doing something else. You aren’t, and you shouldn’t. Anything you have to do will be done far better if you are relaxed when you are doing it.
Here is the video.
What are your favourite ways to relax when you’re stressed? Share in the comments below, and please pass this post on to your friends to help them relax as well…..