Seriously. When was the last time you took the time for yourself?
Not as an afterthought.
Planned and intentional.
Saying “no” to everything and everyone else.
For a time.
It’s true, we all hear or read or are aware that it’s important in an ever-changing life environment to have some “me” time, time to enter full and engaging relaxation.
Our doctors tell us “relax more, don’t stress so much.” But they don’t say how.
Magazine give us idyllic images of feet buried in the sand at an ocean with sunny skies and adult beverages in far-off places. But they want our money.
We have classes and gyms. But we stress over time to get there.
Let’s learn the how.
And the why.
And the skills.
And find what we lost so long ago… mainly peace of mind.
Here’s a secret about relaxation: it is both very simple, and yet it is not easy. By learning and practicing a simply and do-able technique, we can individually experience calm and focus on a regular basis, which stills our body-mind-spirit-emotional Selves. Here is the place where we meet the Divine, the stilled space of One-ness.
Medically, we define relaxation in scientific language where the parasympathetic nervous system (think: “para” chute – gentle floating downward) takes the dominant role. This is important because this is where we experience the dissipation of stress, which contributes to an estimated 75% to 80% of all modern stress-related illnesses and conditions.
Florence Nightingale herself emphasized the importance of relaxation for her cadre of nurses. Patients rest was honoured with her instructions to reduce all noise around patients, not awakening them from their first sleep in the hospital unless in absolute necessity, have physicians and friends conduct any conversations away from the resting patient, and even reminding the nurses to mind the noise of the crinoline under their skirted uniforms. She wrote that “all hustle and bustle is peculiarly painful to the sick (Nightingale).”
It is also important to note that relaxation is amazingly connected to a stronger immune system. This branch of study in medicine is called psycho-neuro-immunology. It’s called “PNI” for short. At the basis, we know that emotions are experienced in the body as neuropeptides that carry emotional messages to the body. It’s not possible to separate emotions (circulating as neuropeptides) from the physical body, and from here, I draw the importance of attending to the emotions of patients and clients.
Recognizing Stress and De-Stress
Many times we don’t even realize that we are stressed. We have become so habituated to a heightened stress response that we might come to think of it as our “normal.” Here are some of the generalized stress responses:
- Cool extremities (hands and feet)because the blood flow is impeded by blood vessel constriction
- Muscles tightening
- Personal energy field becoming constricted
- Increased heart rate
- Increased oxygen consumption (quicker, shallower breathing)
- Racing thoughts
- Increased sweating
- Elevating blood pressure
- Anxiety that seems out of place
Conversely, intentional relaxation:
- Increases peripheral blood flow
- Decreases heart rate
- Decreases muscle tension
- Decreases gastric acidity
- Reduces sweat gland activity
- Reduces blood pressure, especially in hypertensive people
A Simple Relaxation Plan: Breathing
We have certain breathing techniques that are well-accepted in practice today. The most common one I know of is the breathing techniques taught to laboring women and their coach or doula. We breathe every moment of life.
When we switch from unaware breathing to conscious breathing patterns, dramatic changes can occur in people with chronic pain, an awareness of body condition, and a feeling of union of the Self with All That Is.
There are basically four elements that are present to relaxation practices (Benson). Those are a quiet place; a mental device; gaining a passive attitude; and a comfortable position. The “mental device” that is most effective is a single syllable word or sound.
The person relaxing should be free to adopt as passive an attitude as possible, without judging and not forcing any words or the relaxation technique or response.
Additionally, there will be stray thoughts that come to mind. The best technique is to simply ignore them, let them float on by.
Being seated on a chair may be more comfortable than a yoga seated position on the ground – the goal is comfort, not compliance.
- To enter into the practice of mindful breathing, the person is invited to sit comfortably in a quiet place. Without controlling the breath, we enter into an observance of the breathing.
- With the eyes closed the person simply is aware of the breath. Just breathing and expanding the breath in and out at this time.
- Using the chosen single-syllable sound or word, simply breathe the word on the exhale, and in the mind say the word. Some words used are: SHAAAAHHHHHH. PEACE. LOVE. Any word the person desires.
- Research shows that 20 minutes daily is ideal, and longer is even better. However, this should not be a barrier at all. Even two minutes is a great start.
- If the person does wishes, a device to count the number of breaths can be devised – using a mala, or a string with 25 knots tied into it, beads…. The possibilities are many.
There are many advanced techniques, but I have personally found that a simple breath awareness practice is foundational to many other techniques. In addition, there are advanced breathing techniques, most fully developed in the Pranayama techniques, which are easily found with an internet search.
Nightingale, F., Notes on Nursing, Commemorative ed. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1992), 28.
Benson, H., Beyond The Relaxation Response. (New York: Time Books, 1984).
© Lizzie Bennett RN
Lizzie Bennett is a Registered Nurse and Ordained Minister of some years and owns Three Moons Medicine™ as her private counseling and coaching practice, a blog, educational forum, Facebook page, and outreach to support others on their journey.