“Just relax!” That’s generally the last thing anyone wants to hear when the pressures of life seem to surmount. Being instructed to “calm down” or “chill out” can in fact, make a person feel more tense in the middle of stressful situations. Because we know that a casual response or flippant comment isn’t likely to help you when things get hectic, we’ve put together a master list of our top relaxation tips, tricks and resources. At the end of the day when you might have had to deal with a toddler stuffing your toilet with IRS forms, someone at work stealing your lunch from the break room refrigerator or that certain family member who calls to rehash an argument from twelve years ago, take a step back and consider practicing one of these tried and true relaxation methods to help you slow your roll.
#1 – Meditation is a powerful relaxation technique. When someone suggests meditation for relaxation, it’s often met with an eye roll. Many people have tried a form of meditation that wasn’t for them and given up on the idea entirely. But there are several types of meditation and the practice is definitely worth a second look. Here are a few meditation techniques that we found excellent for inducing relaxation.
Metta Meditation (also called Loving Kindness Meditation)
With eyes closed, in a meditative posture, generate feelings of kindness and love in your heart. Focus on feeling kindness and love toward yourself and others. Follow a list, such as the one below. Don’t move on to the next person on the list until you’ve successfully developed feelings of loving-kindness for each individual.
- A good friend
- A “neutral” person
- A difficult person
- All four of the above equally
- The entire universe
Mantra Meditation (also called OM Meditation)
Get into a meditation posture – seated with your spine straight, feet firmly on the floor, eyes closed. Choose a mantra, or word you can repeat over and over. Some use a one syllable word, while others are comfortable with a longer word. Anything will do – as long as it isn’t distracting to you.
As you begin your meditation, you will repeat the mantra in your mind, slowly and silently over and over throughout your meditation session. Some will set a timer and repeat the mantra until the time is over. Others prefer to set an amount of repetitions instead. Either way – the practice can help you enter into deep relaxation.
Modern Contemplative Prayer (also called Centering Prayer)
Whereas most popular meditative practices come from the eastern religions (Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism), Modern Contemplative Prayer, or Centering Prayer has Christian origins. Similar to Mantra Meditation, above, when practicing Contemplative Prayer, you’ll designate a sacred word. The sacred word is much like a mantra. However, instead of an arbitrary syllable or sound, you choose a word from the Christian tradition. Some use words like love or Jesus. Set a timer for 10 to 30 minutes and repeat the sacred word the entire time you are meditating. When your mind begins to drift, bring your attention back to the sacred word.
Meditation can help the soul recover from all sorts of physical, mental and emotional stress. Often, people who engage in meditation find healing and renewal in the process. It’s a valuable practice that ushers in a deep relaxation and refreshment.
#2 – Practicing yoga and tai chi are excellent ways to relax the mind and body. Yoga is just about everywhere these days. Many libraries, recreation centers and public parks have free or low-cost community yoga classes available year round. Yoga is more than just stretching. It’s a practice of breath control, body postures and simple meditation. Although yoga has eastern religious origins, people of all walks of life practice a non-spiritual form of yoga to stay active, gain flexibility and attain a relaxed state. The practice of yoga can be incredibly relaxing and beneficial to the mind and body.
Tai chi is another excellent exercise to promote relaxation. Tai chi is a Chinese martial art with a focus on slow and controlled movements. In tai chi, you have to learn to relax your body, your energy and your mind. Learning to relax the body is pretty straight forward. But learning to let go of tense energy takes a little more insight. Similarly relaxing the mind has to come from within as well. A good tai chi practitioner can help you become fully relaxed and get the most from your tai chi experience. Look for tai chi classes at community centers and libraries in your area.
#3 – Controlled breathing can lower your blood pressure and relieve tension. There are several methods for controlled breathing. One of the simplest, yet quite effective, controlled breathing techniques is called equal breathing. When practicing equal breathing, begin by inhaling for five seconds, then exhaling for five seconds – breathing through the nose only. If five seconds seems too long, try four instead. After you’ve done this for a while, try six or seven seconds. This breathing technique has been shown to calm the nervous system and increase relaxation.
One of the best things about controlled breathing is that you can do it anywhere and anytime. You don’t need an instructor or any special equipment. You need nothing but your own breath. If you’ve had an especially stressful day or you’ve had caffeine too late in the afternoon, controlled breathing can also help you shut off your mind at bedtime.
#4 – Make a playlist of songs that promote relaxation. Listening to music is an effective relaxation method. Whether a little Diana Ross gets your body moving and your cares flying out the window, or you prefer to let your stresses melt away while you enjoy contemplative piano pieces by Yanni – music can help you go from tense and tight to footloose and free in just a few measures. Finding the music that helps you relax is fairly easy. Go with what feels good. Deep trance relaxation tracks may work for some, but not for everyone. Perhaps 1950’s doo-wop songs help you release tension and cool down. Search the web for “relaxation music” to find ready-made playlists. Or just dust off your very favorite cd’s and pump up the volume. Music has a way of reaching right to the center of a person to invoke a soothing and joyous response like none other.
#5 – Use essential oils to create a relaxing aroma. Essential oils are highly concentrated aromatic compounds found in plants. They are distilled or extracted from the seeds, flowers, roots or bark of the plants to be used in a variety of aromatic, therapeutic and medicinal applications. There are written records of people using essential oils all the way back in Biblical times for their healing properties.
Several essential oils are particularly excellent for promoting relaxation. Tangerine, lavender, ylang ylang and bergamot essential oils are all commonly used to bring about relaxation and calmness. Frankincense, rose, chamomile and vanilla are other oils that are said to relieve stress and tension. Try one or two of these oils. The best way to get an idea of what might work for you is to go to a shop that sells them and smell a few of their tester bottles to find one that has a calming effect on you. Once you’ve found one you like, use it by dabbing a bit on the bottom of your feet before bed, using a diffuser to disperse it into the air or add a few drops to some bath salt and turn your bathroom into an aromatic spa.
Pure, high quality essential oils can transform your home, office or car into a stress melting, relaxing environment. It’s worth noting here that you shouldn’t have to tap into your IRA to purchase good essential oils. There are plenty of reputable brands available that offer reasonable prices for high quality oils. Read the labels to ensure you are buying 100% pure essential oils. And research brands to make sure you are buying from a company you can trust.
#6 – Progressive muscle relaxation is another highly effective practice. One relaxation method that we found extremely helpful is called progressive muscle relaxation. The technique was first introduced by a physician named Edmund Jacobson in the 1920’s. It is still widely used today to help relax the body, control muscle tension and treat insomnia. Progressive muscle relaxation is another method that is free and easy to use for anyone. It can be done in your home, without the need for an instructor or any equipment.
Here’s how it works. Choose a muscle group, such as the feet, and tense them up for a count of five seconds. Then fully relax them for five seconds. Follow with the next closest muscle group (which would be the ankles, in this case) and tense that group for five seconds. Then release for five seconds. Continue with all the muscle groups in the body, in order, until you finish with the muscles in your face. At the end of this practice, most people find that their body is completely relaxed and limp.
#7 – Pet the dog. This one may sound overly simplistic, but it’s been shown in numerous studies that spending time with a furry friend (or even watching fish swim in an aquarium) relieves stress, lowers blood pressure, and fosters relaxation. If the sheer thought of owning a pet brings you stress, don’t worry. You don’t actually have to be a pet owner to reap the relaxation benefits of a pet. Volunteer for a few hours a week at an animal shelter. Offer to walk a busy neighbor’s dog, visit a farm or go horseback riding. Regular contact with animals can boost your mood and help you enter into a relaxed state.
When the inevitable tensions of life surround you, this list of resources will provide you with an arsenal of relaxation strategies to help you keep your cool and remain calm. Try one or two of these techniques the next time you’re facing pressure. Some days, you may need to use all seven relaxation tips to avoid flipping your lid. But rest assured, these practices will help you make it through the struggles in life and move forward.
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