Rituals of Relaxation
You would think that relaxing is the easiest thing to do in the world. When someone is good at it, they just seem to be able to stop what they are doing, and their body does the rest.
However for some, relaxation is more elusive. If it is a challenge, it can be some of the most important work you can do for good physical and mental health. Stress hormones remember drop immune function, digestive function, cognitive function and impacts sleep.
Over the years I have seen many reasons why people may struggle to relax so the solution will be different for each person.
For some relaxation is difficult because of their beliefs – “relaxing is not productive”, “if I relax I’ll fall behind”, “The world is a dangerous place”,”I don’t have time to relax”, “other people’s needs come first”.
For some it is to do with time management – habits that don’t seem to allow enough time in the day to get all the ‘important’ things done let alone the bonus activities like taking ‘time out’. There is a subtle belief here as well like relaxation is less important or perhaps ‘I can’t say no to a request’.
Some people have trained their brains to be analytical and so that becomes their default. When you are constantly in your head, you can be oblivious to what your body might need or you’re just unable to switch off. If switching off is hard, then even if you take a holiday, the mind is still at work, so there is no relaxation. For some the mind is not at work but dwelling on the past or future.
Some people require very set conditions to be met before they can relax. “I can only relax if all my family are well and happy, all my jobs are done, my bank balance is good” etc. If these factors are out of your control then you it’s problematic.
Other people have so much emotional pain, that it is easier to distract themselves with action. Calmness brings awareness so busy-ness is easier than facing personal issues that arise when there is no distraction.
Some have had a childhood where a parent was unpredictable (alcohol, mood swings, gambling, mental disorders) where the environment could change at the drop of a hat so it was not safe to relax. So relaxing becomes ‘unsafe’ so is never achieved. Or in the case of past trauma, the nervous system is stuck on high alert so the wiring just isn’t there (YET) to allow for relaxation to occur.
It can be a combination of these. If it has been like this for a while people can get so used to it, that they assume it is normal. They can be unconsciously stressed and so wondering why they are struggling so much.
The ability to calm the body is critical for health. To be calm most of the time, and to move back into calm quickly when we inevitably move into the stressed state.
But how do you go about actually doing it?
If you ask the average person how they do it, they will say things like get a hobby, go for a walk, have a morning cuppa on the verandah, meditate, exercise, get ti bed early, go for a walk, swim, socialise, have a glass of wine, tai chi, yoga.
While these are great ways to relax it is interesting to see that some people can do these things and still not see massive change in their lives. Taking time out of a stressful life to do something relaxing will undoubtedly help. However learning how to live life in a calmer way will change everything.
Learning that the state of relaxation is an internal state that does not have to rely on what’s going on around you and doesn’t require anything external is news to some people.
One thing that has become very clear to me in helping people become geniuses at relaxation is that the more subtle things can matter most.
A deep breath at a critical time, a strategic moment of distraction where you zone out and take a micro-break, a thing you regularly say to yourself that puts things into perspective and changes how you feel in this moment, a habit of getting up and walking somewhere to clear the head or perhaps a belief like – What ever happens, I will be OK. It might the ability to start afresh after a day you would rather forget and then actual forget it. These are all subtle yet critical.
Success is as much as what you do in the body as in the mind. A calm mind will help a stressed body and a calm body will help a stressed mind. Learn how to do both.
Another important piece in the puzzle is that some people drop all these important rituals when things get busy or stressful. Go figure? These should be seen as sacred rituals of health, that are practiced, especially when times are tough, until they become a new way of being in the world.
What are your sacred rituals of relaxation?