“Rest and be thankful.” — William Wordsworth
Life can be hectic. There are a million distractions in our lives.
We have work, personal life, chores, notifications, social media, projects, and appointments to keep.
It seems that if you feel caught up with everything, new things keep coming your way. Daily stresses tip you off the balance of your personal peace and relaxation.
It is needless to say that a life with deep relaxation and less stress is vital in this connected and latte infused life.
Here are some practices that have worked wonders in my own life to bring the relaxation back when I need it the most.
Please be mindful of when and where you are trying out these practices and take full responsibility for your actions. As a general practice, do NOT try them when you are driving or operating machinery and so on. These practices are NOT a substitute for medical attention or severe depression. If you are experiencing anything serious, please seek medical attention immediately.
The full poem by Wordsworth:
REST AND BE THANKFUL! AT THE HEAD OF GLENCROE.
“DOUBLING and doubling with laborious walk,
Who, that has gained at length the wished-for Height,
This brief this simple wayside Call can slight,
And rests not thankful? Whether cheered by talk
With some loved friend, or by the unseen hawk
Whistling to clouds and sky-born streams that shine,
At the sun’s outbreak, as with light divine,
Ere they descend to nourish root and stalk
Of valley flowers. Nor, while the limbs repose,
Will we forget that, as the fowl can keep
Absolute stillness, poised aloft in air,
And fishes front, unmoved, the torrent’s sweep,
So may the Soul, through powers that Faith bestows,
Win rest, and ease, and peace, with bliss that Angels share.”
Let’s go ahead with the post! This is part-1 of the 2-part series on relaxation.
1. Deep Breathing, A Simple But Effective Relaxation Technique
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh, Stepping into Freedom
One of the least used relaxation techniques is deep breathing.
Breathe slow and deep. Instead of shallow chest breaths, switch to slow and deep belly breathing.
Sit still and become comfortable in your meditation spot with the back straight.
Place one hand on your belly and breathe in slow and deep till the hand on the belly rises up.
After you allow the abdomen to fill up, breathe out through the nose or through the mouth. Do what feels natural and comfortable to you.
Another variation is this is to become mindful of your in-breath and out-breath. Once you become better at deep breathing, You can also attach a phrase with the breath that the monk Thich Naht Hahn suggests.
“I would like to offer one short poem you can recite from time to time, while breathing and smiling. Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment. ‘Breathing in, I calm my body.’ This line is like drinking a glass of ice water-you feel the cold, the freshness, permeate your body. When I breathe in and recite this line, I actually feel the breathing calming my body, calming my mind. ‘Breathing out, I smile.’ You know the effect of a smile. A smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your face, and relax your nervous system. A smile makes you master of yourself. That is why the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas are always smiling. When you smile, you realize the wonder of the smile.”― Thich Nhat Hahn, Being Peace
2. Affirmations Are Powerful For Relaxation
“I am in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing.” ― Louise L. Hay
Affirmations are incredible and powerful means to bring you into a calm and relaxed state. Affirmations can state something positive and powerful about you.
They allow you to remember to let go of unnecessary stress and worry.
You can make up your own relaxation affirmations or work with the ones from Louise L. Hay that I listed below.
In any case, the idea is to trigger relaxing ideas and invoke the relaxation response when you say something nice about you.
Flood your body with great feelings as you allow the words to affirm and empower you. Remember that stress and tension cause the fight or flight response and flood your body with stress response chemicals.
Redial that process back and allow feel good molecules to flood your system.
Even saying “I am deeply relaxed” and feeling relaxation can take you into a relaxed mood.
This is possible because you move your focus from other distractions. And you move your focus to the possibility of peace and calm and relaxation.
Here are some affirmations from one of my beloved teachers, Louise L. Hay:
“I am willing to release the need to be unworthy. I am worthy of the very best in life, and I now lovingly allow myself to accept it”
“All is well. Everything is working out for my highest good. Out of this situation only good will come. I am safe.”
“I am surrounded by love. All is well.”
“I deserve the best and I accept it now. All my needs and desires are met before I even ask.”
“My self-esteem is high because I honor who I am.”
3. Ho’ooponono, the Ancient Healing Art
“Everything you seek and everything you experience—everything—is inside you. If you want to change anything, you do it inside, not outside. The whole idea is total responsibility. There’s no one to blame. It’s all you.”― Joe Vitale, Zero Limits
Hoʻoponopono (ho–o-pono-pono) is an ancient Hawaiian practice of peace, love, reconciliation and forgiveness.
The idea is that when you want to feel relaxed and deep healing, you say in your mind:
“ I love you,
I am sorry,
Please forgive me.
The powerful technique of Ho’oponopono uses the power of love, repentance, forgiveness, and gratitude. This powerful combination of healing modalities center you at peace with everything.
I was introduced to Hoʻoponopono as practiced by therapist and healer Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len from Dr. Joe Vitale’s book, Zero Limits.
Saying “I am sorry” and asking for forgiveness in the mind may not be for everyone. If the first two phrases bother you, you can try to say the last two. The power of love and gratitude is enormous.
“purpose of life is to be restored back to Love, moment to moment. To fulfill this purpose, the individual must acknowledge that he is 100 percent responsible for creating his life the way it is. He must come to see that it is his thoughts that create his life the way it is moment to moment. The problems are not people, places, and situations but rather the thoughts of them. He must come to appreciate that there is no such thing as “out there.” —Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len from Joe Vitale and Ihaleakala Hew Len’s book Zero Limits
4. Yoga, Pilates, and Exercise, The Great Stress Busters
“You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state.”- Sharon Gannon
The power of yoga and pilates as relaxing practices is well known.
Whether you do yoga or like going for a brisk walk or a quick run, movement and physical activity will relax you. Of course, it is best if you make a practice out of it.
Before beginning any physical program, clear it with your health provider if you are healthy to begin a program.
I love the practice of progressive muscle relaxation that can be practiced within a yoga practice as a final relaxing sequence or by itself.
The basic idea of progressive muscle relaxation is that you slowly tense and relax each muscle group in your body. You can do this while in a relaxed position such as the corpse pose or Savasana in yoga.
The most common method is to begin wiggling your little toes and begin tensing and relaxing them. Then you slowly work your way up to the legs, the torso, shoulders, arms, neck, and head.
Ideally, you would tense your focus muscle group for a few seconds before relaxing them for 10 to 15 seconds and so on. As you relax the muscle group, feel a release or letting go of your physical tension and stress.
This technique is effective in releasing the deep muscle tensions that we build up during the course of our stress filled days.
Asana and flexibility builders are great ways to get deep into your body and release stress that is usually hidden.
Even if you can practice for a few minutes or strike a few poses a day, that is a good beginning.
People feel that they do not have the time for an hour long yoga practice but after learning the basics, you can practice even for small periods at home.
“Yoga, an ancient but perfect science, deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of one’s being, from bodily health to self-realization. Yoga means union – the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul. Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day to day life and endows skill in the performance of one’s actions.”- B.K.S. Iyengar
5. Meditation, The Single Most Powerful Relaxation Practice
“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better, it’s about befriending who we are.” – Ani Pema Chodron
Meditation is a research-proven way to let go of stress and even reduce or alleviate physical symptoms that are a result of stress and tension.
This is related to the deep breathing that we covered before and the simplest meditation is mindfully following the breath.
“You begin by letting thoughts flow and watching them. The very observation slows down the mind till it stops altogether. Once the mind is quiet, keep it quiet. Don’t get bored with peace, be in it, go deeper into it.” – Nisargadatta Maharaj
Sit in silence in your favorite meditation spot and get rid of all distractions.
Then simply sit in silence and become mindful of your breath and your thoughts.
As thoughts come rushing in, do not fight them.
Instead become aware of them and gently release them.
“To understand the immeasurable, the mind must be extraordinarily quiet, still.”― Jiddu Krishnamurti
The goal is not to eliminate thoughts but to not allow them to linger in your mind. As you categorize thoughts, become aware of them, you are allowing them to be released as they come forth in your consciousness.
This non-clinging or non-attachment to thoughts is a great beginning meditation practice.
“The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this lifetime.” – Sogyal Rinpoche
6. Walking in Nature, A Deeply Relaxing Practice
“The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.”― Thich Nhat Hanh
Walking in nature has a wonderful and calming effect on the mind and the spirit. You do not have to walk in a forest to access the benefits of the power of nature.
- Do some gardening in your yard.
- Tend to some house plants.
- Take a stroll in a park with greenery.
- Go to a scenic place and take the scenic route to get there.
- Take a walking meeting.
“Smile, breathe and go slowly.”― Thich Nhat Hanh
7. Sleep More and Take Naps if Possible
“Your calm mind is the ultimate weapon against your challenges. So relax.” — Bryant McGill
Deep and uninterrupted sleep is essential for a stress-free life.
As our lives get busier, we cut corners on both sides and sleep less.
This sleep deprivation builds up and manifests as stress and tension in your life.
But you already know this! The trick is to find the time to sleep more and if possible take naps also.
How to get more sleep:
- Get more productive.
- Declutter your life and you will not have to search for everything.
- Streamline processes and structures.
- Take some of the TV watching and social media time and exchange it for sleep. Your mind and body will thank you for it!
- Try to block distractions like constant notifications and blinking lights. Distractions and excess blinking lights reduce the quality of sleep.
“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.”― Homer, The Odyssey
8. Enhance Loving Thought and Touch and Develop Deep Meaningful Relationships
“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”― Herman Melville
Research has shown the unquestionable benefits of connection and deep and meaningful relationships.
“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”― Brené Brown
What are some ways to enhance gentleness in our relationships?
- Speak with friends.
- Confide to your best friends.
- Listen to people.
- Connect with others.
- Connect with yourself.
- Touch, kiss, and express intimacy with your partner.
- Give loving hugs.
- Think kindly and lovingly about yourself and about others.
- Give a heartful handshake and nod to others.
“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”― Albert Camus
9. Develop Awareness And Presence…Enjoy the Moment And Deeply Relax
“It’s a good idea always to do something relaxing prior to making an important decision in your life.”― Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage
We are often caught up about the stories of the past and the preparations for the future. We do not seem to have any time for the present.
What are some ways to develop awareness of the current moment and enjoy it more?
- Look deeply at the current moment.
- Release all stress and worry about the future for the moment.
- The past is an example but do not carry its burden wherever you go.
- Look at things from a beginners mind, with fresh eyes. You will see things that you have not noticed before.
- Become present to your surroundings with all your senses.
- Shine the light of awareness on your stresses and tension and see them from a new perspective, one that of action and relaxation.
“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.”― Maya Angelou
10. Count Backward In Bed For Instant Relaxation
“Open your heart! Even in trying times. Relax. Breathe. Allow. Feel lighter, happier, and at peace.”― Dawn Gluskin
When you are trying to fall asleep in your bed and the stress of the day and the week is recirculating in your mind and body, try counting.
But instead of counting sheep, try counting back slowly from 100.
Reverse, slow and rhythmic counting is relaxing to some people and allows them to go to a hypnotic and relaxed state.
Counting back takes the focus away from the stress of the day. It refocuses your attention to the slow and measured counting process.
11. Laughter Yoga and The Power of Laughter
“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Many research studies have shown the immeasurable value of lightening up and laughter. Laughter can counter stress and other toxic states of mind.
This is not the laughter that people put up when they have to show a front to the world.
Instead, it is the deep belly laughter that you cannot pretend. It wrinkles the sides of your eyes and your facial muscles contort to accommodate the laughter.
Watching something funny or simply looking at others laughing has a contagious effect on us and we proceed to laugh too.
The problem is that most people forget the simple and powerful technique that is easily accessible to them to reduce stress.
Laughter Yoga is a more structured laughter practice invented by a physician, Dr. Madan Kataria. Over the years, laughter yoga clubs have popped up all over the world and seem to not be slowing down.
“I have not seen anyone dying of laughter, but I know millions who are dying because they are not laughing.”
Check out laughter yoga:
Try it next time you feel stressed and tense. Take a few moments to watch or listen to something that tickles your funny bone. Or interact with someone funny.
The results may surprise you and the stress might organically melt away.
“I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh.”― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
This is the end of part one. Please let me know in the comments below or on social media if this post resonated with you.