The ability to relax at will is an important ability that everyone should possess, in my opinion. Today’s life in the western world is very tense, stressful, both mentally and physically. This is true for high-tech and computer workers, who sit long hours in front of the screen, creating constant tension in some muscles and joints, for many hours a day. This is also true for other workers, such as those who drive a lot, especially in dense traffic, when the mental pressure is high. Stress is a very common word these days, as people blame stress for many of their problems. People have a hard time to relax. In this article I’d like to summarize the best 5 ways for a healthy (and legal) relaxation, in my opinion.
Relaxation technique 1: Breathing to relax and to calm down
The most basic skill you need to allow yourself to calm down quickly and relax is controlled breathing. Taking your breathing under conscious control for some time distracts from other stressful thoughts you might have. Some breathing techniques have fast tranquilizing effect. I suggest the following breathing exercise:
- If possible, lie down or at least sit comfortably.
- Close your eyes and concentrate your attention on your nostrils, where air enters the nose.
- Take a slow and deep breath in through your nose. Notice how the air is cold, entering your nose.
- Hold your breath for a seconds holding your attention on the same spot.
- Breath out slowly and quietly through the nose. Notice how the air is warm on your nostrils on the way out.
- Do this for a few minutes, until you let disturbed thoughts go and feel relaxed.
The above exercise uses several techniques to calm you:
- Closing eyes and getting in a comfortable position already induces a little relaxation.
- Slow breathing with a stop in middle reduces the heard rate. It is especially useful when you feel agitated for some reason and need to calm down fast. You might do this at times of pressure, without all the preliminary steps, if there’s no time or place for them.
- Concentrating on the cold and warm air moving through the nostrils occupies the mind and distracts you from other, negative thoughts, you might have. See also technique #8, Thought substitution for calming and relaxation.
Relaxation technique 2: Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a known relaxation technique. It was developed by American physician Edmund Jacobson around 19391. The argument is that since muscular tension accompanies anxiety, relaxing muscular tension will reduce it. While performing the exercise, don’t tense the muscle too much and don’t tense muscles that are not at the specific group mention at each step. The muscles should be more relaxed after releasing tension than before it was applied to that group. Sit comfortably in a chair or lie down. Do a number of slow breaths. Then move in the following progression2:
- Hands. The fists are tensed; relaxed. The fingers are extended; relaxed.
- Biceps and triceps. The biceps are tensed (make a muscle – but shake your hands to make sure not tensing them into a fist); relaxed (drop your arm to the chair). The triceps are tensed (try to bend your arms the wrong way); relaxed (drop them).
- Shoulders. Pull them back (careful with this one); relax them. Push the shoulders forward (hunch); relax.
- Neck (lateral). With the shoulders straight and relaxed, the head is turned slowly to the right, as far as you can; relax. Turn to the left; relax.
- Neck (forward). Dig your chin into your chest; relax. (bringing the head back is not recommended – you could break your neck).
- Mouth. The mouth is opened as far as possible; relaxed. The lips are brought together or pursed as tightly as possible; relaxed.
- Tongue (extended and retracted). With mouth open, extend the tongue as far as possible; relax (let it sit in the bottom of your mouth). Bring it back in your throat as far as possible; relax.
- Tongue (roof and floor). Dig your tongue into the roof of your mouth; relax. Dig it into the bottom of your mouth; relax.
- Eyes. Open them as wide as possible (furrow your brow); relax. Close your eyes tightly (squint); relax. Make sure you completely relax the eyes, forehead, and nose after each of the tensings.
- Breathing. Take as deep a breath as possible – and then take a little more; let it out and breathe normally for 15 seconds. Let all the breath in your lungs out – and then a little more; inhale and breathe normally for 15 seconds.
- Back. With shoulders resting on the back of the chair, push your body forward so that your back is arched; relax. Be very careful with this one, or don’t do it at all.
- Butt. Tense the butt tightly and raise pelvis slightly off chair; relax. Dig buttocks into chair; relax.
- Thighs. Extend legs and raise them about 6in. off the floor or the foot rest but don’t tense the stomach’ relax. Dig your feet (heels) into the floor or foot rest; relax.
- Stomach. Pull in the stomach as far as possible; relax completely. Push out the stomach or tense it as if you were preparing for a punch in the gut; relax.
- Calves and feet. Point the toes (without raising the legs); relax. Point the feet up as far as possible (beware of cramps – if you get them or feel them coming on, shake them loose); relax.
- Toes. With legs relaxed, dig your toes into the floor; relax. Bend the toes up as far as possible; relax.
Relaxation Technique 3: Calming visualization
Visualization is a powerful mind tool. Research showed that the subconscious mind can’t differentiate between real events and visualized ones. Because of that visualized imagery can have a profound effect on the mind.
- Sit comfortably or lie down. Close your eyes and do a number of slow breaths. Allow yourself to be undisturbed by turning off communication devices near you.
- Imagine being in a quiet, calming place of your choosing. It could be on a quiet beach, in the woods, sailing on a boat or any other place that generally makes you feel relaxed.
- Hold that image and imagine experiencing the bliss of the moment, all the positive feelings that come being at that place.
- The more realistic your imagination is, the more positive you will have.
- When you feel comfortable and more relaxed, slowly get out of the visualized world and return to the real one.
Relaxation Technique 4: Inducing alpha and theta levels using audio programs
The human brain operates at different states of consciousness and attention. The different levels differentiate by the frequency of the brain waves, as can be seen on EEG (Electroencephalography1). These are called using letter of the greek alphabet. The general agreement regarding the brainwave patterns is as follows:
- Beta – 14Hz and higher. Alert, active state of mind. Associated with thinking and being awake.
- Alpha – 8 to 14Hz. Relaxed state of mind. Associated with daydreaming, general relaxation.
- Theta – 4 to 8Hz. Deeper relaxed state. Light stages of sleep. Hypnosis. Meditation.
- Delta – below 4Hz. Deep sleep. No conscious awareness.
The alpha state was discovered to be a very healthy state of mind as it is associated with relaxed brain activity. It is also used a platform for advanced mind control techniques such as meditation, Jose Silva Method, and similar.
It is possible to induce alpha brainwave activity using special audio recordings, utilizing binaural beats2 effect to directly affect the brain and bring it to work at the desired frequency. One such recording that gives good relaxation results is Immrama Institute’s Insight CD. It provides the benefits of binaural beats to reduce stress layered over the sound of falling rain, which by itself has a tranquilizing effect.
There are many other recordings available that utilize similar technology but some are said to be better than the other.
Relaxation Technique 5: Entering alpha state of mind by yourself
It is also possible to learn and enter the alpha state of mind by yourself, without the aid of special audio recordings. Of course, it requires some learning but has the benefit of allowing you better control over your brain. Jose Silva1 has dedicated his life to develop a technique to better utilize the human potential. His work is based on knowledge to enter and stay in the alpha state of mind. There are several ways to induce alpha state. Here’s one that works well for me:
- Sit comfortably or lie down, closing your eyes. Perform a number of deep breaths.
- Visualize the number 3 and say to yourself “Three” 3 times.
- Visualize the number 2 and say to yourself “Two” 3 times.
- Visualize the number 1 and say to yourself “One” 3 times.
- Visualize the number 10 and say “I’m relaxing”
- Visualize the number 9 and say “I’m calming down”
- Visualize the number 8 and say “I’m relaxing more and more”
- Visualize the number 7 and say “I’m calming down more and more”
- Visualize the number 6 and say “My consciousness is clear and tranquil”
- Visualize the number 5 and say “My whole body is relaxed”
- Visualize the number 4 and say “I’m so relaxed so that I can’t feel the weight of my body”
- Visualize the number 3 and say “I’m totally calm”
- Visualize the number 2 and say “I’m totally relaxed”
- Visualize the number 1 and say “I’m totally calm and totally relaxed. I’m at alpha.”
When you get to this point, you’ll be at alpha and should feel very relaxed. Note, that if you perform this while lying in bed and a bit tired, you can fall asleep even before your reach the end of this exercise. If you have trouble falling asleep, this is a good exercise to do every time you lie down and intend to sleep.
Other relaxation techniques to consider:
This post is part of ProBlogger.net group writing project
1 Jacobson, E. (1938). Progressive relaxation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.