What is Relaxation?
We are conscious beings and consciousness is our window to the world. As children our consciousness was clear and uncomplicated and we were in awe of the fascinating world around us. But now our minds are cluttered with all our adult concerns, worries and the torrent of distractions that surround us. Relaxation involves periodically stepping away from our hectic lives and resting and refreshing ourselves. Through meditation and mindful exercise we can calm our racing mind and let go of the overwhelming flood of thoughts.
Relaxation Begins Inside Yourself
Learning to relax is a kind of spiritual process in which you change your focus from looking outward, to looking inside. We experience stress every day, we can’t control that. But we do have some control over how we react to it. Reacting from present moment awareness instead of from the past or future is key to stress relief.
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, “Stress has been linked to all the leading causes of death, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, accidents and suicide.” So learning to relax is important. But how do you do it? It begins with mindfulness.
Four Mindfulness Based Stress Relief Techniques
These four techniques all involve mindfulness because I’m firmly convinced stress relief can only be achieved in the present.
Meditation is the first step to take because it’s done in seclusion, away from the distractions of daily life. It involves simply sitting down and maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness. Done in an accepting way, without judgment, we bring our thoughts to the present while letting go of the past and future. When you first try it, meditation will give you some immediate feedback on the state of your mind — and you may not like it at first. You’ll probably experience your mind continually flying off to the past or the future as you struggle to keep it in the present.
Meditation is Not About Stopping Your Thoughts
If our minds are habitually in the past or future we’re missing out on life which only happens in the present. To paraphrase John Lennon: Life is what happens, while you’re making other plans. We need systematic practice at staying in the present, and that’s what meditation offers. Meditation is not about trying to stop our thoughts and worries. It’s about accepting them, giving reverence to them and letting them go. It’s about losing our attachment to them. That’s the beginning of relaxation.
Regular meditation practice will bring increased calm and focus that will, over time, cross over into your everyday life. I meditate for a half-hour or more every day. If you don’t currently meditate try this beginner’s meditation technique.
You can also maintain a moment-by-moment awareness while exercising. Moving outdoors with this kind of mindfulness can be both invigorating and relaxing. Walking, running, biking, swimming, Yoga or T’ai Chi are excellent choices for mindful exercise. Of course we can do these activities for the physical conditioning only, and that’s fine. But I am suggesting we do them as mindfulness exercises and receive even more benefits.
I believe most great athletes like basketball player LeBron James, golfer Rory McIlroy and world class marathon runners are performing at a high level of mindfulness. Watch legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson discuss teaching mindfulness to his teams with Oprah Winfrey
It’s best to choose one exercise you enjoy and do it 3-5 times a week, alone, without headphones while focusing on the breath. My mindful exercise is walking. I started a walking program six months ago and recently walked my first half marathon: 13.1 miles. Here’s my approach to mindful walking while focusing on the breath.
Finally there’s mindfulness outside any formal practice. As a result of meditation and mindful exercise you’ll become more mindful in your everyday life. This is the highest and most difficult level to attain. Instead of running on autopilot, you’ll become more attentive while washing your car, attending a meeting, eating a meal or reading a story to your child.
Mindful living and relaxation results from your formal practice. Relaxation cannot be forced or faked in everyday life. You’re either relaxed or you’re not. You can’t will yourself to be relaxed. That’s why I recommend beginning with meditation and mindful exercise. If you stick with it, mindful living will begin to happen naturally.
Chair massage is also a great way to relax in just 10 or 20 minutes. And even though it’s a passive activity, receiving a chair massage requires mindfulness and letting go. If you spend the entire 20 minutes thinking about other things you won’t receive the full benefit of the massage.
Finally, 20-Minute Vacation can help you provide free massage for your attendees at trade shows and marketing events. Essentially you’re offering free stress relief for your visitors. What a great trade show giveaway! I’ll be writing about the various trade shows and events we’ve served.
If you’re feeling stressed and anxious, I hope you’ll find some good ideas for stress relief here. And if you’re too busy? Try to make some time.
The most important time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.
About the Author
A former corporate exhibit manager and massage therapist, Gary lives in San Francisco with his wife, Marina. He relaxes with long distance walking, T’ai Chi, meditation, cooking and enjoying all that life has to offer. He founded 20-Minute Vacation in 1994. Things he’s most thankful for include “good health, two grown kids who still love me, a wonderful wife and living on a hill in the most beautiful city in the world.”