I remember watching a documentary called “Antarctica: A Year On Ice” (2013). Maybe you’ve seen it too. It’s a window into what life is like living on the harshest place on earth. What does that have to do with relaxing, you might ask?
Living in Antarctica is certainly not for the faint of heart, but comments from people who made the journey, and lived there for a year, talk about the peace they felt. What I found so profound, besides the beautiful photography, was the feeling at the very end of the movie when these individuals returned to their regular lives back home. They were returning to a fast-paced, crowded and stressful lifestyle, so different from the peace they felt while in Antarctica.
Peace … how do you achieve it in a chaotic world? I think there are many of us who live stressful lifestyles. Stress is inevitable, but we still need to rest and relax for the sake of our health. Relaxation reduces blood pressure and heart rate. It increases blood flow to our muscles. It reduces feelings of anger and frustration. Now, I’m not suggesting you move to Antarctica, but there are techniques you can do to find peace.
All work and no play can make one unhealthy
Relaxing doesn’t mean laying on the couch. Sure, that can help, but it requires a change of pace and, perhaps, a change of habits. That means doing activities like taking walks, writing in a journal and/or using relaxation techniques. Below are just some of the ways you can find your inner peace.
- Deep breathing – This is probably the easiest, simplest technique you can do anywhere. Breathing deeply encourages full oxygen exchange. Sit comfortably straight. Breathe deep through the belly from your nose. Count as you breathe out slowly through your mouth. This stimulates the vagus nerve, activates your relaxation response, reduces your heart rate and blood pressure and lowers stress levels.1
- Self massage – You can do this at your desk at work, on the couch or in bed before sleep. Combine it with deep breathing, essential oils and soft music. Start by kneading the muscles at the back of the neck and shoulders. Make a loose fist and go up and down the sides and back of your neck. Next, use your thumbs to work tiny circles around the base of the skull. Tap your fingers against your scalp, moving from the front to the back and over the sides. Then massage your face by making tiny circles with your fingertips. Lastly, close your eyes and inhale and exhale for a short time.2
- Repetitive prayer – If spirituality is meaningful to you, try repeating a short prayer or part of a prayer while focusing on your breath.
- Yoga and tai chi – Breathing is at the heart of these practices. They’ve been done for thousands of years, so it’s no wonder they are still practiced today. They can be very soothing to the body and help you find calm amid the chaos. They can also help you improve balance and flexibility while strengthening the body.
- Mindfulness meditation – This involves focusing on what is happening in the moment, not in the past or future. Pay attention to how your body feels right now.
- Progressive muscle relaxation – Another easy one to do. This involves tensing each muscle group (feet, calves, thighs, hands, arms, buttocks, stomach, chest, neck and shoulders, mouth, eyes and forehead) and then suddenly releasing the tension. Always start at your feet. Again, combine this with deep breathing and relaxing music.
- Visualization – This involves imagining a scene in which you feel at peace. This could be a tropical beach, a favorite childhood spot, Antarctica (?), or a quiet wooded area. Use all your senses to visualize the scene, the smell, how it feels, what you hear, what you taste and what you see.
- Rhythmic movement – any movement that gets you into a flow can be very relaxing. This includes walking, swimming, running and similar exercises. Add visualization or mindfulness to this for more effect.
Starting a regular relaxation practice
However you choose to relax, make sure to set aside time for yourself every day. Start with 10 minutes a day and aim for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your choice of technique. After a while you will truly harness the stress-relieving power of relaxation.
Happy National Relaxation Day!