The easiest way to keep someone from relaxing is to tell them to relax.
Why is that? In this age of endless streaming entertainment and HD devices loaded with music in our pockets, why do we find it so hard to just chill out?
Just like trying to fall asleep, maybe the problem is that we’re too focused on how much relaxation we get, and not enough on the quality of the relaxation we get.
Relaxing isn’t just a nice way to wind down at the end of the day, it can also be beneficial to your health. The “stress response” can lead to many health problems, like high blood pressure, and too much stress can cause burn-out at work.
If it’s not enough to just tell yourself to relax, maybe you need to engage in some relaxation techniques to help get you where you need to be.
Relaxation Techniques for Everyone
1. Deep Breathing
Breath control is the easiest relaxation technique to practice on-the-go. When faced with a stressful situation or event, taking a few moments to focus on your breath can make all the difference.
Deep breathing is also known as “abdominal breathing,” as the breath fills the lungs and causes the stomach to expand.
Try it: You can do this anywhere: sitting, standing, or lying down. Take a long, deep breath in through your nose. Think of your breath like a liquid that fills the bottom of your lungs. Let the breath fill your lungs naturally, don’t worry about counting to a specific number or pushing your abdomen too far out. Breathe out through either your nose or mouth, whichever is more comfortable. Repeat as often as you like.
The Muse app has an easy-to-follow Guided Meditation called Basic Breath Practice to help with deep breathing.
2. Body Scan
In our article on interoception, we discuss how the physical condition of the body affects the mind. Like deep breathing, muscle relaxation can be done anywhere, at any time, and brings the focus onto the muscle groups of the body.
Stress affects everyone differently: some tense their shoulders, others clench their jaw, some feel pain in their lower back. It’s possible to relieve some of this tension simply by focusing attention on them.
Try it: Always start with a few deeps breaths and a decision to focus on the task at hand. Take a moment to check in with your body: do you feel any immediate tension? If your shoulders are too high, consciously let them fall. Move down your body and release any muscles you might be holding or tensing.
The Muse app has a guided meditation called Open Heart Body Scan that can help you, it’s in the “Stress” collection.
3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
A more comprehensive form of body scan, a progressive muscle relaxation will require a bit more attention, so make sure you can take the time to focus before attempting one. While the body scan helps you become aware of tension in your body, a progressive muscle relaxation uses the tension to release it.
Try it: Starting at the top of the body, make your way down from the muscles of the face to the muscles in your feet. Clench the muscle group, breathe in and out, then release them. Repeat as many times per group as you feel comfortable. Be careful not to put any undue strain or pull anything: it’s not a workout!
4. Physical Meditation (Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong)
Mediation is often thought of as a solitary, stationary experience but there are many ways to focus the breath and the body. Yoga and Tai Chi are different forms of physical mediation each one dating back hundreds, and in Yoga’s case thousands, of years.
The most popular form of Yoga is “Hatha Yoga”, hatha meaning “willful”, and consists of several held poses designed to stretch and strengthen the body.
Tai Chi and Qi Gong are similar to Hatha Yoga in that they are a series of movements designed to bring the body into alignment, but where Hatha Yoga poses are meant to be held for several seconds, Tai Chi and Qi Gong poses flow freely and easily into one another. Tai Chi and Qi Gong practitioners resemble dancers in slow motion.
Try it: Yoga and Tai Chi are all wildly popular in the West as well as their homes in the East. It should be easy to find a class or studio to learn. Qi Gong, while not “new”, is less well-known and finding a studio may be more challenging.
Note: while it is possible to practice any of these on your own, it is not advisable to learn this way. YouTube can be a powerful tool for practice but be sure to seek out personal training to start.
5. Guided Meditation
Some may find the ‘directionless’ nature of meditation too challenging. That’s okay! When faced with specific stresses it can be helpful to have a guide. There are many forms of guided meditation and the Muse app has a treasure trove of guided meditations broken into many different categories, like Stress and Sleep.
Try it: Next time you need to relax, either at the end of the day or on a break, open the Muse app and try Soften and Relax. This 5 minute guided meditation by renowned Yoga teacher Ashley Turner takes you through a four-part relaxation breathing technique that slows down and smooths out the breath & the mind.
Keep trying until you find the relaxation technique that works for you.
There’s no sure-fire way to relax. Everyone is different, and every stressor is different, so finding the right method of relaxation takes time.
Be curious! And remember that you’re not alone. There are plenty of resources to help you find the technique that works for you.