Learning to Relax

SONY DSCAre you laughing already after reading the headline? For many women, relaxation can seem as elusive as a unicorn, the mythic creature that symbolized purity and grace in ancient Greece. The daily pressures of our lives, including work, family and the new age-related adventures we are suddenly dealing with often conspire to interrupt our sleep, give us headaches, make us clench our jaws and bring on really bad moods.

If any of the above is familiar to you, it may be time to try Relaxation Training. Relaxation training is an easy regimen that involves physical and mental activities geared to regulate your heart rate and help you relax your muscles. The thinking behind it is similar to the theory that the act of smiling can make you feel happier – if you train your body to relax, you can use your newfound zen to ward off stress.

There is a formal science behind Relaxation Training, and there are psychologists and other therapists you can work with to develop a regimen. But if you want to try it on your own, here are a couple of simple techniques you can try out.

Deep Breathing
The goal of taking deep, slow breaths is to help you increase oxygen flow to the brain, which can help prevent headaches and promote more wellbeing in general. Deep breathing can take a couple of weeks to master, so start out by practicing the technique for 5 or 10 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day. Once you have it down, you’ll find yourself doing it without thinking.

  • Start by placing one hand on your chest and the other just under your ribs, so you can feel yourself breathing.
  • Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, trying to fill your lungs completely
  • Breathe out slowly, pulling your stomach toward your spine. If it helps, close your eyes, or silently focus on word you associate with being relaxed, like “beach,” “nap” or even “relax.”
  • When you feel that you are breathing in deeply, start to slow your breathing until you feel totally relaxed.

Muscle Relaxation
In this technique, you will tense and then relax your muscles as a way to help you identify and combat tension as it occurs.

  • Start with one stress-prone area, like your shoulders. Sitting, standing or reclining, gently and slowly tense and relax these muscles.
  • While you are tensing and relaxing, focus on your breathing and slow it down. As you do with deep breathing practice, you can think about a peaceful word or scene.
  • Once your shoulders feel relaxed, move on to other areas, including your face, feet and stomach.
  • Each session can last from 5 minutes to 25 minutes.

Deep breathing and muscle relaxation can teach you how to recognize and shut down stress before it turns into a headache or worse. Don’t give up if it doesn’t seem to work after the first few times. It can take a while to get the hang of it. Stick with it and you’ll be glad you did.

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Image via Martin Abegglen/Flickr