20 Proven Ways to Relax
1. Close your eyes
In 1908, an Austrian Psychiatrist named Hans Berger discovered Alpha brain waves. Today we know that people who have more Alpha brain waves experience less stress and anxiety. In 1929 Berger demonstrated that closing the eyes decreases sensory input and increases alpha power. From an intuitive perspective, we know that your eyes collect vast amounts of information, all of which your brain must process. Thus, simply closing your eyes is one of the easiest and fastest ways to give yourself a refreshing break.
2. Use your breath to remind you to be “present”
It’s all too easy to race around worrying about the past or being obsessed with some future goal. But being relaxed depends on your ability to focus your attention here and now. Since you breathe every moment of every day, your breath is a wonderful anchor to pull you back to the present. All you have to do is pay attention to the feeling of air coming into your body and then being exhaled. That’s it. Don’t think about trying to relax, understanding your body, or anything else. Just be aware that you are breathing. That’s it.
3. Walking meditation
“Walking meditation means to enjoy walking without any intention to arrive,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the most widely read advocates of mindfulness. (This essentially means to devote your full attention to one and only one thing.) He explains that during walking meditation, you abandon any intention of arriving anywhere. You just walk. “Usually in our daily life we walk because we want to go somewhere. Walking is only a means to an end, and that is why we do not enjoy every step we take. Walking meditation is different. “Walking is only for walking. You enjoy every step you take. So this is a kind of revolution in walking. You allow yourself to enjoy every step you take.”
4. Write down what kind of person you want to be
Although you may have spent years appearing to be a hard-charging professional or a conservative suburban parent, that may not be who you truly are. It’s not necessary to run out your front door and scream to the heavens above your true identity. In fact, doing so will almost certainly unsettle your neighbors. But you could write down some aspirations in a private journal or notebook. There’s no pressure to get all your thoughts down on the first page. Feel free to take page after page to explore possibilities. You could cut out pictures from magazines and newspapers, or print out images from online, and paste them into your notebook – all to better help you visualize the person you want to be. Keep at it. This may take many weeks, months, or even years. But the process itself feels good. Enjoy the journey.
5. Progressive awareness
Once you become accustomed to paying attention to your breath, take the next step: become aware of your body. Start with one of the simple breathing exercises, then when you are calm turn your awareness in turn to each major part of your body. Do nothing more than be aware whether that part is relaxed or tense, or something in between. Don’t try to change, just be aware. Move from your head and face to your neck, shoulders, arms, hands, chest, stomach, pelvis and butt, thighs, legs, ankles, feet and toes. Pause at any point for as long as you like. Your goal is to feel your body become increasingly relaxed. To feel, you need to stay awake.
6. Progressive relaxation
Move in turn through each of the following muscle groups, tensing one group and hold it for about ten seconds, then release the tension and relax while you enjoy the relief from tension. Do these in turn:
- Raise your eyebrows, then release
- Open your mouth wide, stretching your jaw, then release
- Scrunch up your face, then release
- Bring your chin towards your chest, then release
- Tense your right hand and arm, then release (do the same for your left arm)
- Tighten your stomach, then release
- Raise your right leg and tense it, then release (do the same for your left leg)
- Take a few minutes to be aware of how all the muscles in your body feel. Just observe.
First you tense a muscle group, and then relax it. The whole point is to enjoy the feeling of tension being released from each muscle group.
7. Imaginary mini-vacation
If you imagine a pleasant scene, you tend to relax. If you imagine a pressurized situation, your body starts to tighten. In both cases, you are stimulating the nerve cells in your brain that react to similar real life situations. To relax, imagine a setting or experience you consider inviting. It could be a favorite beach, a special time with a loved one, a walk down the winding paths of a small village, or simply the experience of lying on your back in a field of grass and watching the clouds drift by. Once you are comfortably within this imaginary experience, start touching things and pay attention to how they feel. Sniff around… are there any distinctive scents? The more you engage your senses, the more real – and relaxing – this imaginary escape will be.
8. Look at this
In our free online relaxation break (available at Space Relaxing Music | Cosmic Relax | StormSound – Avalon), the end of the break provides an endless pattern of circular images fading into the distance. The images, the pace at which they move, and the words and sounds that accompany them are all designed to make it easier for you to deeply relax. All you have to do is watch, and let go. Some people accomplish similar results by watching a river flow or by looking into a campfire. Pick something you find both entrancing and reassuring, and give yourself permission to do nothing but gaze peacefully at it.
9. Perceive interconnections
Most of the suggestions in this book identify a source at the bottom of the page. This one doesn’t, because we wish to share a personal observation that may or may not be a scientific fact. The longer we practice the sort of relaxation techniques described in this book, the more we perceive a connection between everyone and everything. It’s impossible to describe this perception adequately in words (no, it doesn’t look like a dotted line or a piece of string.) You just have to experience it for yourself. To do this, you need to open your mind completely. Buddhists call this state “no mind.” You temporarily set aside all your thoughts hopes, fears, and preconceptions. The vast majority of people who experience this state find it to be utterly reassuring and highly comforting. But be patient… it takes a great deal of gentle practice.
10. Listen to crickets, waves or rain
The vast majority of people relax when they listen to the sound of crickets, gentle rain, or crashing waves. The same is true for the sound of a babbling brook. Whether you listen to the real thing, buy a recording, or simply imagine one of these sounds, focusing on these soothing sounds is likely to calm your mind and body.
11. Make a circle with your eyes
Ever notice that when people try to remember a detail, they look up and away? This is because our eyes are literally connected to our brains. Knowing this, you can use deliberate eye movements to dislodge from your mind an image or thought that is causing you stress. Just look down and to the right, without moving your head. Then look down and to the left, keeping your head still. Then circle your eyes around three times in a clockwise direction. Finally repeat the whole process, but at the end circle your eyes in a counterclockwise direction. The effect won’t keep bad thoughts away forever, but it does give you enough of a break to find positive thoughts and images to replace the bad ones.
12. Eye see what you think
Your eyes often reveal how you are thinking. Neuro Linguistic Programming suggests that people use three types of thinking, each of which influences your eyes to focus differently:
Visual thinking – you look up, to either side
Auditory – you look to one side or the other
Kinesthetic – you look down, to either side
So, when we talk about our feelings, most of us look down. When we recall what we heard, we tend to look right down the middle. And when we are visualizing something, we tend to look up. Once you understand this, you can wipe a negative image out of your mind simply by moving your eyes up and down; this accesses multiple levels of thinking and essentially clears your head. Try keeping this ridiculous image of Flip in mind while you move your eyes up and down. Our bet is you can’t do it!
13. Reach out to an…animal
The Delta Society is one of many organizations now devoted to using animals to provide therapeutic benefits to people. Their web site has dozens of references to research studies documenting such benefits. For example, animals pull our attention outward; this is especially useful when stress or worries cause us to focus inwardly. Animals also provide a non-threatening, emotionally safe relationship. They offer unqualified acceptance. Finally, for most people the touch of an animal is a safe and reassuring event. Besides, they just make us smile.
14. Convey affection
Arizona State University associate professor Kory Floyd studies the therapeutic benefits of expressing affection. “Being affectionate is good for you,” he reports. “Affection can be a simple, non-pharmaceutical, cheap way to reduce stress.” Floyd’s research reveals that thinking affectionate thoughts about another person isn’t sufficient to reduce your own stress levels. “It is conveying your feelings that produces” the positive result. So write someone you love an affectionate letter, tell them how you feel about them, or simply put your arm around them. Where you take it from there is none of our business.
15. Drop your jaw (and relax your eyes)
For their size, the muscles in your jaw are the best in your body. In most people, they tend to be far too tense. You can relax them by simply rubbing the side of your jaw with your fingers, and then opening your mouth as wide as possible. Alternate these two several times. Likewise, the muscles around your eye sockets and on either side of the bridge of your nose – you know the spot, people pinch it when they are tense – relax beautifully when you gently rub these spots.
16. Up against the wall
Find a rubber ball or tennis ball; the rubber ball is generally softer, so be careful if you use a tennis ball. Stand with your back against a wall, with one foot forward and both knees bent. Place the ball between your back and the
wall, and lean against the ball, firmly. Now move slowly side to side or up and down, so that the ball massages your back. Many people enjoy focusing on their upper back, shoulders, and the area around their spine… but far be it for us to exert peer pressure on you. If you find an area that feels especially tight, lean into the ball and hold it for 5-10 seconds. When you release the pressure, enjoy the feeling of relaxation in that area. At first, you may drop the ball. But with a little practice, you’ll get the hang of it. Just remember to move slowly and gently. Of course, if you have back problems of any sort, please skip this exercise.
17. Just stretch
Many people stretch because they want to exercise. So they rush through the stretch. But stretching is one of the most relaxing activities you can do, especially if you take your time. Set aside twenty five minutes for stretching. This may seem like a lot, but it will give you the luxury to be patient with each stretch. Take the first ten minutes and do a cardio activity to warm up. When you stretch, remember to keep breathing. Only stretch to the point where you feel a slight tightness; never bounce or allow a stretch to hurt. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds. Do every stretch at least twice; you will often see improvement the second time.
18. Be mobile
Move. Take a long walk. Go for a swim. Ski all day. Hike up a mountain. Ride a bike. To enjoy significant benefits, do it for at least 30 minutes and go fast enough that both your heart and breathing rates increase noticeably. (As always — don’t overdo it.) Be as mobile as you possibly can. In addition to the physical benefits of exercise, by changing the manner and speed with which you move through our physical world, you alter your perspective and literally change the way your brain is functioning. On an anecdotal basis, we notice that the most relaxed people we meet generally tend to be the most mobile ones, too. If you are feeling down, getting out and moving can often be the best strategy for shifting your system into a more positive state.
From personal experience, we have always found juggling to be an excellent way to reduce stress and put a smile on our faces. But now a medical study in Japan has formally documented this effect. The study involved women with a broad range of anxiety disorders. Half of the women taught themselves to juggle with both hands, using beanbags. After six months, the group that juggled had significantly lower anxiety levels than the control group that didn’t juggle. From our perspective, juggling requires concentration and focus; it also causes your eyes to move in a pattern that tends to clear your mind of any pre-existing images. Both help you to relax. There are many excellent “how to juggle” lessons online. For example, go to www.videojug.com and type “how to juggle” into the search box.
20. And now for something completely different
When all else fails, try an utterly new experience. Go to fantasy baseball camp. Volunteer to build a house with Habitat for Humanity, especially if you’ve never before held a hammer. Take a “singing for tone-deaf people” class. If you’re a senior citizen, volunteer at an elementary school; if you are young, volunteer at a home for the elderly. Whitewater raft. Learn to drive a tractor trailer. Take up knitting, taekwondo, or the ancient game of juego de pelota (but be careful, it can be extremely violent.) Each time you change your physical situation and your set of experiences, you alter your perspective. The result is a more interesting and satisfying life.
This book was written by Jim George and Bruce Kasanoff, co-founders of Multiverse Labs. While this book is copyright 2008 Multiverse Labs, you are welcome to share it with others. 20 Proven Ways to Relax and De-Stress!