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4 Steps To Complete Relaxation

The issue is simple: You’re overwhelmed every day, and the stress is reaching into every little corner of your life. Take charge of it and regain some inner peace by following these four steps toward reaching a state of complete relaxation.  

The benefits of relaxation are widely documented, but they beg repeating nonetheless. Relaxation can lower high blood pressure,  lower stress levels throughout your body, especially in your heart and your mind, leading to better overall health, more energy and a better ability to concentrate and to cope with emotional issues. 

As a species, we don’t relax nearly enough. And when we do, it’s often plagued with external problems. To that end, the following four-step plan is a versatile one that can be applied at home, at work or almost anywhere you might find yourself.

Keep this in mind: The ability to relax is a learned skill. It requires practice and patience.

step 1

Commit to relaxation

The first of the four steps to complete relaxation is probably the most important. Set aside 20 to 30 minutes with a single, specific purpose in mind: to relax. Once you’ve done it and felt the benefits, this commitment becomes easier and easier to make. 

You might feel a tendency toward cutting this relaxation time short, and while this is expected early on, ask yourself: Where’s the purpose in that? This exercise relates directly to your personal health and happiness — something you should never cut short.

So, whether you’re in the office, on the bus or at home, get yourself into a comfortable position. Naturally, you have more liberty at home to loosen any tight-fitting clothing and be more comfortable, but the demands in life don’t always allow for this. Thus, cater your position to the locale and really let yourself go for that period of time. It doesn’t take long; it just takes commitment and the desire to better yourself and your life. 

step 2

Mental focus

Now that you’ve made a commitment for those 20 to 30 minutes and are in a relaxed position, you’re going to start to wind down your mind and whittle away all the bullsh*t you’ve dealt with by using an object, a sound or an appropriate mental image to focus on. In short, you’re going to meditate, or more specifically, engage in “concentration meditation,” common to myriad forms of spiritual insight.

The point of focus should be something soothing and personal — such as a ring, a sound or a hum (think of the pranava mantra in Hindu, “Aum,” which is a sacred syllable meaning in literal terms, “yes”) or a mental picture of yourself last summer on the beach in Mexico. Sustain that attention on your point of focus for at least three minutes. 

Now, other things are bound to enter your mind; when you realize other thoughts are popping up, don’t sweat it or get frustrated — simply dismiss them and return to the point of focus.

Now for the physical side of the 4 steps to relaxation process…

The greater goal of step 2 is to slow down your mind. You want to eradicate the excess and unneeded fragmentary thoughts that, like grenade shrapnel, clog your mind and rip apart any hopes of feeling any sense of peace throughout the day.  

step 3

Deep breathing

Having corralled any manic thoughts or feelings and having set your mind at ease, turn your attention and concentration to your breathing. Deep breathing exercises are ubiquitous in virtually every relaxation method, and for good reason: Stress causes us to take shorter and quicker breaths, reducing the flow of oxygen to the brain and body, and tightening up your entire torso. Deep breathing gives it all back to you.

Maintain a slow, measured rate by counting for five seconds as you inhale through your nose. When exhaling, do it slowly and thoroughly, again counting through five seconds. Consolidate all your attention on the in-and-out movement of your chest and abdomen. If necessary, keep one hand on your stomach just below your rib cage to feel the movement and rhythm of your breath.

Keep your focus converged on deep breathing for three to five minutes.  

step 4

Muscle relaxation

The last step is the longest. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) involves tensing up a group of muscles until they’re tightly contracted, then releasing them. You’ll move from group to group across your body like you’re mowing the lawn, holding each for 10 seconds before releasing.  

If necessary, you can begin with your fists — perhaps flexing them is more familiar to you than flexing the muscles in your face, or your toes. However, if you start with your fists, move in a sensible direction. Next, flex your arms; then your shoulders and back; then move to your neck, jaw and eyes. Then skip to your abdomen, then groin (think of the Kegel exercises here) before moving through your quads, calves and feet.  

Throughout these muscle tenses and releases, be sure to maintain that deep, controlled breathing — it’s essential. By the time you reach the final muscle group (in whichever order you go), you should achieve an astounding level of relaxation. And, as mentioned in the introduction, this is a learned skill. The more you do it, the better you’ll get — and the healthier and happier you’ll be.

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