Relax! (and lower stress)

Published 3:02 pm Friday, August 27, 2010

All of us know how to relax, right? Perhaps not.

Theres an immense difference between effective relaxation and taking a nap or kicking back and watching a movie. Relaxation involves a person concentrating so well that the heart and breath rates slow, blood pressure lowers, muscle tension and pain decrease, blood flow and alpha brainwaves increase, and a sense of well-being floods the body.

As the stress releases, soothing feelings intensify. Our concentration improves; our anger and frustration disappear; our confidence is boosted.

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From birth, some of us have more of a tendency toward tension than others. We readily see differences in temperament among small children. Among adults, we hear of type A personalities and their tendency toward heart attacks. Vividly, we recall our own moments of tension, anger, and high stress.

Weve all experienced that edge, the times when weve been acutely uncomfortable, almost out-of-control. The good news is that even if we tend to a high-stress, high-tension profile, we can dramatically lower those sensations with learned techniques.

Relaxation techniques have many names: meditation or prayer; yoga, stretching, or breathing exercises; tai-chi; sensitivity training and self-hypnosis; massage; communing with nature. The underlying component of all of these is: the individuals inward focus is toward a calming state.

Lets take a simple example breathing. We all know how to breathe; its automatic. When we focus on the breath, however, we begin to sense a change. We feel the breath; we shut out distractions.

Basically, there are two types of relaxation: autogenic and progressive. Autogenic comes from within us. Repeat a mantra or visualize a beautiful place. The focus is on slowly tensing and then relaxing each muscle group, starting with your head and ending with your toes.

Other techniques include: looking for good news, smells, and tastes. Reading a popular novel, listening to music, smelling the coffee, and eating dark chocolate can be beneficial, too. Related to reading is keeping a journal, especially noting the best moments of a day.

Another venue is: getting out of town. Often, this change of perspective can bring good feelings as well as good times.

Its positive news that almost everyone can learn to relax. If in the past youve had difficulty relaxing, there are guided programs that can teach you the process (search on-line for learning relaxation techniques). In addition, there are musical and other sound recordings as well as white noise machines, fountains, even, foot massagers.

All relaxation training helps us achieve a calmer, centered state of being. With regular practice, relaxation dramatically improves our health and our lives. Its used by athletes to enhance their performance. Its used by the devout to feel closer to their religion. Its used by the fearful to release their fears. It can be used by all to simply feel better and more in control of their day-to-day lives.

Whats more is: People who engage in regular relaxation improve their mental as well as physical health. So, get out there and practice relaxing!

Editors Note: This article is based on one of Mara & Ford Smiths 101 Secrets for a Great Retirement. That book and others by Mara and Ford are available at Tryons Book Shelf.