When I begin a relaxation in a class, we begin with a "settling time". This simple process is the most valuable skill I can impart to a student.
Why? Because it's the part of formal relaxation - lying down on the floor, breathing and visualizing - that is most transportable into daily life.
Everyone understands how a day can go from bad to worse. Simple everyday things insert themselves into something that began calmly. The phone rings, good or bad, it sets that calmness swirling. Outside demands are made on you and soon you're juggling three things at once. You fall behind, and the pressure builds. Soon it's a race just to keep your head above water. Along with this comes all the associated emotions; irritability, frustration and feeling overwhelmed. Your energy, that began quite centered, is swirling. You end your day feeling crazy and depleted, and is it any wonder.
Mastering that transition back to calmness from craziness, is mirrored in the first five minutes of a formal relaxation. In a formal relaxation we lie down comfortably, and then we wait for changes to take place inside us. It's amazing how few of us have the patience to wait (on our own behalf) for the body to calm. For most of us, it has to be a journey of trust. Very few of us have a concept of a deep reservoir of calmness inside ourselves. It's not the kind of thing we learned at our parents knee.
The reality is we do have calmness inside us, but we need to know how to find it. Much of what we experience as "stress" is to do with our body. Too much stimulus pushes up our heart rate, raises our blood pressure and engages our flight or fight nervous system. Even a small but continual assault of over-stimulus can bring about a stone age response in the body. It prepares for battle when none is needed. When we allow that response to continue unrelieved over time we burn out. We become like a candle burning too wildly, we devour the wax and too soon snuff out the flame of our own essence.
This is where training ourselves to settle down is helpful. We can learn how in formal relaxation, and we can practice it in daily life. Here are some things you can do to help yourself settle during the day. All of these things take 5 minutes and that's all it takes for your body chemistry to change enough to begin to relax.
- Take breaks. Take one every hour. Take these breaks as quietly as you can. If you can, go outside into fresh air, but indoors will do, even if it's at your desk. Just stop and release the activity.
- Breath deeply. One of the quickest ways to get the body to relax is to breathe. Practice a deep abdominal breath standing or seated.
- Shut off the noise. Turn off the radio, TV, etc. Close the door. Get small children to take a relaxation break by reading or listening to a story. Avoid office gossip. Bathe in quiet.
- Learn to recognize your own relaxation release point. Whilst you relax, observe your body. You'll feel the point when it begins to relax. For me it's a feeling of pleasant heaviness in the muscles and a feeling of coming down to earth. When you recognize your own point, it's easier to go back there again.
- Gaze at a beautiful picture, or listen to the sounds of nature. In this digital age, via wallpaper and apps, it's not hard to do. The beauty of nature both uplifts and calms us.
- Learn an uplifting or calming affirmation. "All is well" is one of my favourites. Close your eyes and repeat it slowly inside a few times. If that's too new agey for you then repeat a favourite prayer. One of my favourites is this prayer from St Theresa of Avila.
Let nothing upset you. Let nothing frighten you. Everything is changing, only God is changeless. Patience attains the goal. He who has God lacks nothing. God alone fills every need.
- Take time for lunch, a whole hour. Go for a walk, sit quietly and eat something delicious and healthy. Your productivity will soar later in the day.
And that's what I'm going to do right now, break for lunch. We can take comfort that in our busy lives, craziness is not necessarily inevitable. We can acquire new habits that support relaxation, but it takes application. May you have a joyously relaxed day!