We live in stressful times. The dominant culture of continuous development combined with the steady financial worries and the outbreak of the pandemic is affecting our psychological well-being. Keeping the right balance between daily obligations and mental stability is essential for our overall health. Let's take a look at some relaxation techniques that can be extremely helpful.
What are relaxation techniques?
Getting insight into the ways we can achieve relaxation and mindfulness is probably one of the most underrated arts of life. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) relaxation techniques “include several practices such as progressive relaxation, guided imagery, biofeedback, self-hypnosis and deep breathing exercises.” NCCIH points out that the goal of all the above techniques is similar, referring to the resulting body responses:
- Natural relaxation
- Slower breathing
- Lower blood pressure
- A feeling of increased well-being
Indeed, there is always a strong link between physical and psychological conditions. A balanced state of mind leads to a healthier functioning of the body. Harmony is a result of mixed factors. Focusing on one aspect of ourselves and neglecting others is not a good option. Gaining the right balance should be a constant motivation.
This is a crucial topic that too often goes unnoticed by a great number of people. Yet, it can be a decisive factor for achieving relaxation and enhancing health. Because it is the medium for delivering oxygen to all the cells of the body, adjusting our breathing patterns can bring real change to our state of mind. Unlike the fast-paced world, healthy breathing requires slow frequency. What do you need to do for controlling effectively your breath? Firstly, you must adopt the right stance keeping your chest up for raising the diaphragm and allowing the oxygen to move smoothly through the body. This will facilitate the comfortable flow of the breath down to the belly. Then, you should practice gentle and regular breathing, using the nose for inhaling and the mouth for exhaling. Make sure that you consciously practice the right mechanics of breathing until it becomes an automatic process. Getting the air to the lower lobes of the lungs and keeping a slow and steady pace of breathing can make all the difference we need for effective breath control.
When speaking about muscle relaxation there is again a correlation between the inner and outer world. The more anxious and stressful situations we are dealing with, the more tense and rigid our muscles become. There is a reflective relation between psychological and muscle conditions. The more stressed we are the more likely it is to feel our muscles tense. On the other hand, muscle relaxation leads to mental calmness. The term that is widely used for describing this technique is progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). Introduced in the 1930s by American physician Edmund Jacobson, PMR focuses on achieving relaxation in all major muscle groups of the body. Interestingly but not surprisingly, right breathing is a significant factor of effective PMR. Breathing in, as you tense a group of muscles, and breathing out as you relax them, is the standard process. Realising that when our bodies are relaxed there are no feelings of anxieties, is important for understanding the core principles of PMR. Never a tension of the body results in peace of mind. As you can see at the above link, there is a certain order of working the muscle groups. Beginning with the upper parts of the body (arms, shoulders, forehead and neck), moving down to the chest and stomach, and resulting in the thighs and legs, the outcome of the PMR method can be outstanding for stress relief.
One of the basic reasons for unhealthiness is the increasing disorientation of people and societies. The rising life uncertainties and insecurities are causing confusion and the inability to concentrate on the present. Very often people tend to think about the past or plan for the future and they completely miss what is going on here and now. Mindfulness meditation aims in achieving introspection as well as a constant understanding of our thoughts and emotions. Obtaining awareness of them and being intentional in our daily actions are the first crucial steps of understanding why we think and act the way we do. Breathing is again a central point of meditation by paying full attention to its functioning. Our thoughts and physical sensations are the next centres of attention that come together with their unjudged acceptance. Instead of reacting to those stimulations, we need to just notice them and let them pass. What is amazing about mindfulness meditation is that you can practice it anytime anywhere. Either you are brushing your teeth, walking or swimming you could reach a state of deep mental focus and generate positive emotions.
This is a quite sophisticated but greatly successful technique of mindfulness meditation. It involves the mind picturing the outcome of an action before this happens. Visualisation became popular as a method for improved athletic performance, in the 1980s by the Olympic team of the, then, USSR. It was also used excessively by an American former competitive swimmer and the most successful and decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps. His coach Bob Bowman said in a 2016 interview with Forbes: “For months before a race, Michael gets into a relaxed state. He mentally rehearses for two hours a day in the pool. He sees himself winning. He smells the air, tastes the water, hears the sounds, sees the clock”. Of course, visualisation is not solely used in sports. It can be excellent preparation for cases like preparing for a pubic speech, participating in exams or even getting ready for good night sleep. The benefits of visualisation are numerous and can apply to most aspects and actions of our lives.
Awareness brings change
In current days, the issue of awareness is crucial. Or to be more accurate, the issue of non-awareness is causing stagnation and backslide. People don't know why they are unhappy, what causes their discomfort and how they could change that. Very often, they seek salvation in excessive abuses and irrational behaviour. Such attitude though only leads to a worsening condition. On the other hand, incorporating relaxation techniques in our daily lives and allowing the time and energy for recharging our batteries and taking a better look at our inner selves could produce miracles. All people must realise a simple and undisputed fact: Without mental stability and balance, there cannot be any real progress.