Don’t make things too complicated. Try to relax, enjoy every moment, get used to everything.Angelique Kerber
Knowing how to relax, and how to create a space of mental and physical quiet during the vicissitudes of daily life is a very important skill to acquire. In fact, the positive effects of this practice, both on a physical and mental level, are numerous and irrefutable.
In the extremely interesting article of 1986 “Relaxation: surprising benefits detected” by Daniel Goleman, published in The New York Times, the results of various researches on the positive effects of relaxation are reported.
Goleman points out that “in addition to the obvious psychological effects of relieving stress and mental tension, the new findings indicate, deep relaxation, if practiced regularly, can strengthen the immune system and produce a host of other medically valuable physiological changes.“
I have gotten better at saying to myself, ‘Relax and just take this moment in. Appreciate it for what it is.’Chris Carmack
The 6 relaxation techniques listed below will help you to:
- release emotional tensions
- feel in a good mood
- increase your energy level
- ward off the negative effects of stress
1. Meditation: The emotional lifesaver
Meditation is to be aware of every thought and of every feeling, never to say it is right or wrong, but just to watch it and move with it. In that watching, you begin to understand the whole movement of thought and feeling. And out of this awareness comes silence.Jiddu Krishnamurti
Meditation is certainly one of the most important practices for improving one’s emotional well-being, developing greater awareness, and living the here and now.
When you find yourself at the mercy of your emotional storms and the waves of anger, anxiety and fear resemble a force 10 sea with waves like cliffs, meditation represents the emotional lifesaver you can cling to for re-emerging from the turmoil and tensions of everyday life.
Although it can be put into practice in emergency situations, the best approach is to maintain constant “training” (at least 2-3 times a week) to increase one’s self-control capacity in times of stress.
In this regard, I recommend 3 Meditation Techniques:
- Leaf meditation: this meditation comes from the ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) approach, a methodology that has roots in Mindfulness that is based on the use of metaphors and principles related to acceptance. Smell the leaf. Note the scent. Inhale deeply and notice the memories it may bring up. Close your eyes and take a minute to breathe deeply and allow yourself to be in awe and wonder of the moment you have had with the leaf. Proceed with a newfound calmness and appreciation.
- 5-minute meditation: one of the most popular excuses for not practicing meditation is the classic “I don’t have enough time”. Five minutes can feel like a small amount of time, but it is actually enough to complete a 5-minute meditation and set the tone for your day.
- Lake Meditation: it is a guided meditation that refers to a mindfulness technique used by Jon Kabat Zinn. The lake metaphor for the human mind helps to reflect on how certain experiences affect inner calm. This meditation is done in a lying or reclining position and begins by paying attention to the actual sensations of contact and support.
Here is an audio version of Lake Meditation, guided by Dave Potter (adapted from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s version)
2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a two-step relaxation technique that involves tensioning and then relaxing the different muscle groups in the body. By practicing it regularly, you can develop a greater familiarity with how you feel when your muscles and other parts of your body become tense.
Thanks to this increased awareness, you will be able to quickly notice the first signs of muscle tension that accompany stress.
How to do it?
Muscle relaxation usually starts from the feet and progressively reaches the face.
Slowly tense your right foot muscles and count to 10, then relax your foot and focus on the tension flowing away and how your foot feels. Finally, shift your attention to the other foot and follow the same sequence for all muscle groups in the body (right foot, left foot, right calf, left calf, right thigh, left thigh, hips and buttocks, stomach, chest, back, right arm and hand, left arm and hand, neck, shoulders, face).
3. Guided imagery: A mini-vacation in your mind
Guided imagery can not only be a simple and effective technique for relaxing, but if added to muscle relaxation, as also emerged from research conducted by psychologist Mary Jasnoski, it can further enhance its effects. Jasnoski’s studies during the past years at Harvard and George Washington have shown that “guided imagery (in which a person visualizes a robust immune system) and relaxation exercises can increase the number of disease-fighting lymphocytes in the blood and boost antibody levels in saliva”.
The use of this technique is very similar to a daydream and with practice, it can become automatic.
How to do it?
Bring attention to the breath. You can start by putting yourself in a comfortable position, closing your eyes, and bringing your attention to the breath.
Imagine a relaxing environment. Continue by imagining yourself in the middle of a relaxing environment or a landscape that evokes feelings of peace and serenity in you. You may find yourself floating in the pool in the clear waters of a tropical island, with pleasant background music, or imagine yourself sitting near a roaring fire in an isolated mountain cabin comfortably lying on a soft carpet.
Use all your senses. While imagining this relaxing scene, try to use all of your senses. What particular scent do you smell in the air? Do you hear the sound of a crackling fire, the roar of a waterfall, the chirping of birds? Make this image as real as possible and savor it.
Return from the trip. You can stay in this “relaxing dream” for as long as you want and when you are ready to go back to reality it counts from 0 to 5, once you get to 5 say the following affirmation in your mind: “When I open my eyes I will feel much calmer and at peace, ready to enjoy the rest of the day “.
4. Mindful breathing
I have so much chaos in my life, it’s become normal. You become used to it. You have to just relax, calm down, take a deep breath and try to see how you can make things work rather than complain about how they’re wrong.Tom Welling
When you are under stress or when you experience a negative emotion, one of the first physiological alterations you can notice is a change in the rhythm and depth of your breathing. In fact, under stress, we tend to have fast and shallow breathing.
Mindful breathing is therefore the simplest and most powerful weapon you have to relax instantly. Breathing techniques are one of the most effective tools for releasing everyday anxieties and tensions because they are easy to learn and can be practiced anytime and anywhere.
Breathing is the cornerstone of many other relaxation techniques and can be combined with other elements such as guided imagery and self-hypnosis.
Mindful breathing techniques:
- Piko Piko Technique: This is a breathing technique used by Hawaiian Kahunas to relax and have more energy. Piko points are energy points and Piko Piko means center to center. In practice, this technique consists in bringing attention to two specific points during breathing, from the head to the navel. If you want to learn more, I suggest you read the article in which I talked about Piko Piko.
- Three-step technique: this is a simple three-step breathing technique that helps you relax instantly. During this Three-Part Breath, you first completely fill your lungs with air, as though you are breathing into your belly, ribcage, and upper chest. Then you exhale completely, reversing the flow, and repeat a few times.
5. Anti-stress habits
There are some simple and underestimated acts that can make those who do them feel better right away.
- Take a walk in nature and immerse your senses in its colors, sounds, and scents.
- If you have a pet, spend time with him, for example, it seems that bringing attention to his relaxed breathing can lead you to the state of calm typical of the animal.
- Take care of yourself. Dedicate yourself a little bit to yourself, if you think about it it is very similar to what happens when you go to a spa, a hot shower, a relaxing herbal tea, or a massage with scented oils.
- Laughing is the best medicine. Watching a funny movie is sure to help you. Laughing and smiling release endorphins and reminds you that life can be simpler.
- Exercise. This is one of the best, scientifically proven ways to significantly reduce stress.
In practice, try to cultivate all those habits in which you take care of yourself, and make you feel good.
6. Focused meditation
Among the practices listed here, expert meditators would agree that this is one of the most powerful and least known methodologies used to dissolve stress and bring balance and harmony to life.
Its benefits and uses, however, are not limited to those related to meditation as it can be used to intervene specifically to dissolve fears, tensions, and physical pain.
Discovered by chance by one of the pioneers of Neuro-feedback during one of his experiments on alpha waves, it then developed through a series of research and experiments conducted over more than 40 years.
Focused meditation or focused attention meditation (FAM) allows you to focus your attention on an object, sound, or sensation rather than trying to achieve a clear mind without a specific focal point.
When to relax?
We need time to defuse, to contemplate. Just as in sleep our brains relax and give us dreams, so at some time in the day we need to disconnect, reconnect, and look around us.Laurie Colwin
Since the superior benefits are obtained with constant practice, an excellent habit would be to carve out at least 10 minutes a day to devote to relaxation and take care of your emotional well-being whenever you feel that you are accumulating stress and tension.
At the end of these mini “mental vacations,” you can typically neutralize 90% of any excess mental tension or activity and take back what you were doing in a much more focused and productive way.
Knowing how to relax, “disconnect” from worries, and counteract the serious negative effects of stress is crucial for a healthy, peaceful, and above all long life. For this reason, it is a skill that must not be missing in your set of principles for your personal growth.
By dedicating a few minutes a day to practicing one of these relaxation techniques, you will give your mind and body the opportunity to regenerate, restart with energy, and face the different challenges of daily life with the ideal physical and mental state.
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