"Our bodies are our gardens, our wills are gardeners."
- William Shakespeare
Some people might think of relaxation as sitting in front of the TV, going to the pub, spending time with family or friends. These may be relaxing times, but they still require a degree of emotional, mental and physical stimulation. True relaxation is a moment of emotional, mental and physical quiet. Your breathing and heart-rate slows, your muscles relax and you feel calm and at peace in your body.
Here I will describe progressive relaxation which is basically a relaxation routine where you relax your muscle groups from the top of your head, all the way down to your toes. It was devised by Dr Edmund Jacobson sometime in the 1920's as a simple way for a person to consciously relax whole muscle groups at a time and their mind. It was similar to the standard hypnotic induction as a way a person can consciously relax. It was an effective, but slow process.
Other therapists mainly Richard Suinn, then Herbert Benson both in the 1970's modified the procedure and speeded it up. Now progressive relaxation is a proven, simple way of relaxing the muscles of your body and mind.
Relaxation itself is valuable to health as it relieves mental and physical tension. When both your body and mind are at ease, other mental skills become unlocked, then your progress toward mental training, self-esteem, goal-setting and concentration will be smoothly accomplished:
Close your eyes if you want.
Take a deep breath and clench a fist tightly. Hold for three seconds, imagining the tension in the fist as a colour, light or electricity, something that will represent tension for you.
Relax your fist as you exhale slowly. Imagine the muscle tension change colour, light blue or green work well, or change the substance, feel it dissolving or melting away. Notice the difference in your hand before and after it was clenched and the relaxation it should feel now.
Do the same with your other hand and in the future, you can clench both hands at the same time.
Breath in slowly, carry on with the muscles of both arms, really tense them, imagine the colours or shapes, however you imagine the tension to be, then release and exhale letting the colour or shapes change. Let the arms relax and enjoy the feeling.
What other part of your body do you think we will relax next!
Onto your face. Really scrunch your face up and notice how good it feels when you relax it.
Shrug your shoulders, hold, then go through the relaxation procedure. Just let go.
Next your chest and back. Start to feel like a rag doll.
Now onto your waist.
Proceed to your hips and buttocks, breath in, tense and relax them.
As you breath out, you might think about the feelings in your legs. Tense your thighs, let them go. Feel yourself sinking into the floor.
The calf muscles now, getting soft and loose.
Finally your feet. Feel all the tension draining away.
Isn't it interesting how your body relaxes without trying too hard. Enjoy the feeling of calm. You can go through this exercise as many times as you wish, just notice how relaxed you feel at the end.
You can also do it quickly. Tense and relax the upper body as a whole, then the lower body, then the legs. Relax that way between sets.
You can utilise this relaxed state by making positive suggestions to yourself.
Another way to do this is without tensing your muscles, perhaps just before you sleep as you lie in bed, as physically tensing your muscles may keep you awake. Imagine a wave of relaxation soothing it's way down through your body, maybe it's a soft colour, one that can really relax you, going into every fibre of your body. Remember a time of quiet and peace, a sanctuary perhaps or gazing at the stars on a clear summer evening or lying on the beach, hearing the waves gently lap on the sea shore. Engage in the moment.
Here's an ideal method for instant physical relaxation which comes from Yoga. Breath through your eyes. That's right. Imagine as you inhale, the air your breathing is entering your body through your eyes. You can actually feel your muscles relax if your eyes are open, or closed. It happens all by itself!