A better way to relax

How to relaxHow to relax

Steve Wilks looks at mindfulness meditation as a way to relieve and ease the strains of a busy metropolitan lifestyle, and highlights the overall importance of relaxation.

As a busy man about town with a demanding job and competing claims on my time, relaxation time was often seen as a luxury for me. One day, I realised after a bout of illness that it is an important part of our wellbeing.

For many of us, relaxation means vegging out in front of the TV at the end of a stressful day. However, this does not address the root cause and does little to reduce the damaging effects of stress.

When stress overwhelms your nervous system, your body is flooded with chemicals from the adrenal glands that prepare you for 'fight or flight'. This stress response can be lifesaving in emergency situations. But when it is constantly activated by the stresses of everyday life, it can wear your body down and take a toll on your emotional health.

No one can avoid all stress (indeed, some stress is good for you), but you can counteract detrimental effects by learning how to produce the relaxation response: a state of deep rest that is the polar opposite of the stress response, helping to heal your body. When the relaxation response is activated, your heart rate slows down, your breathing becomes slower and deeper, your blood pressure drops or stabilises, your muscles relax and blood flow to the brain increases. You achieve this by practicing various relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation and yoga. Fitting these activities into your life can help reduce everyday stress, boost your energy and mood and improve your mental and physical health. Simply laying on the couch – while sometimes relaxing – is not going to produce the physical and psychological benefits of the relaxation response. For that, you will need to actively practice a relaxation technique. The one I favour is mindfulness meditation.

Rather than worrying about the future or dwelling on the past, mindfulness meditation switches the focus to what is happening right now, enabling you to be fully engaged in the present moment. Here is a basic exercise I would recommend to start off with:

Sit on a chair or cross-legged on the floor.

Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensation of flowing air.

Once you have narrowed your concentration, begin to widen your focus. Become aware of sensations and thoughts.

Embrace and consider each thought or sensation without judging it good or bad. If your mind starts to race, return your focus to your breathing. Then expand your awareness again.

Take time to try this technique and you may be pleasantly surprised.

For more information on mindfulness, visit wavidi.co/mindfulness

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