Relaxation is a key to better mental and physical health
Take a deep breath. Now drop your shoulders away from your ears. Unclench your jaw.
Most people carry a tremendous amount of tension in the body without knowing it. You may grind your teeth, give yourself a headache, or find it hard to rest. All of these are symptoms of a body that can’t find a relaxed state. And if you aren’t careful, the situation will spiral, and you’ll end up feeling crummy constantly.
In our always-on society, most of us have forgotten to relax. It sounds silly, but we’re so used to firing off emails on our phone, cooking meals for our family, leading Zoom calls, then falling into bed to get up and do it all over again that breathing deeply and unclenching our jaw is revolutionary.
But it shouldn’t be.
Relaxation reduces stress and anxiety and can aid your general health by lowering your blood pressure and decreasing the chance of heart disease. And it’s not something you need to shell out hundreds of dollars at the spa to enjoy.
With these five techniques, you can cultivate more relaxation in your daily routine. Remember, taking time to relax doesn’t make you lazy or unproductive; it’s a critical part of taking care of your body and spirit.
1. Tune into your body
To reduce stress, you need to recognize it. Because most of us hold anxiety in the body, understanding your aches and pains is a powerful tool. As you try the tactics below, notice which muscles feel tight and where you ache. Jot down notes after your practice so you can understand patterns. The goal is to have a better idea of your body’s signals that it needs to unwind.
- Stretch: Find at least five minutes every day to hold at least three stretches for fifteen seconds. Of course, you can spend an hour in yoga class, too, but if you want to dip your toes into stretching, start with smaller time commitments. One basic stretch is holding your arm across your chest. You can also try to touch your toes.
- Go for a walk: Moving is a great way to attune to your body and going for a walk is a perfect low-impact exercise you can do at nearly any time or place. Try to focus on your body moving rather than any worries about your schedule or to-dos.
- Body scan: Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Now consider how each part of your body feels, starting with the top of your head and working all the way to your feet. Give each area at least ten seconds of consideration before moving on. You’ll find that your body will tell you a lot if you give it the time and attention it needs.
2. Find your focus
We talk about breathing a lot on this blog, and that’s because it’s a great way to find calm amidst the hustle and bustle of life. It’s also an excellent way to relax. Breathing exercises can take two minutes or an hour—it just depends on the time you have at any given moment. It’s as simple as closing your eyes and taking a deep breath. Count to five as you inhale and seven as you exhale. Close your eyes and focus on how your breathing feels—the flow of air through your nostrils, the expansion of your lungs, and the flex of your core—and if any thoughts arise, return your mind to your breathing.
Another great way to unwind is to give yourself 20 minutes to focus on one pleasant activity. This could be reading a good book, listening to a new album, or deep conditioning your hair. Try as hard as you can to think about and enjoy the activity at hand and not the things you need to get done today. Give yourself permission to enjoy these 20 minutes and don’t feel guilty. It’s amazing how refreshed you can feel when you let yourself do something you enjoy.
3. Use heat
Warmth is a great way to relieve the tension in your muscles. Take a hot shower or draw yourself a bath—even better if you can light a candle or use relaxing bath bombs.
Of course, we don’t always have time to hop in the bathroom, so invest in a heating pad you can use while you’re at your desk or hanging out with your family. There are really great options made to rest on your shoulders or hug your lower back. Heating pads are also wonderful to use during breathing exercises or other mediation practices.
4. Make a weekly date with yourself
Whether you’re a retiree, parent, or student, you should never feel guilty about taking care of yourself, but we often don’t make the time. Relaxation happens when we give ourselves room to exist without any expectations. Every week take yourself on a date – this could be to the movies, to grab a coffee, or to an exercise class. This time is for you to do something you enjoy without worrying about anything other than your enjoyment.
And the activity doesn’t have to be anything directly related to your body—although getting a massage is always nice! You’ll find that the simple act of letting yourself exist without expectations will ease the tension in your muscles. And giving your mind freedom to think about something other than work, family, or school can also bring up important thoughts you may normally push away.
You didn’t think we’d write a blog about relaxation without mentioning meditation, did you? Meditation allows you to find calm wherever you are. It helps you relax and melts tension from the body. Even better if you find a guided meditation that focuses on relaxation. For more information about the benefits of meditation and how to get started, check out these blog posts.
- Meditation 101
- 8 tips on how to start a meditation practice
- How meditation makes you healthier, happier, and more productive