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You might have had a conversation in which someone told you to: “Take it easy”, or to “Take a chill pill”. After such an exchange, you may have felt a rush of anger and irritation pass through your body. No wonder, these phrases carry a negative connotation, but, the message itself is actually well-intentioned.
More specifically, several studies suggest that relaxation is extremely good for you. It releases anxiety, helps you cope with stress, and assists with other ailments. That’s because easing your mind and body help you feel better.
So, the next time someone tells you to relax, instead of getting upset, take it as an invitation to enjoy some ‘me’ time and focus on self-care. To help you in the process, below is a dynamic list of activities which will help you rejuvenate.
And when you happen to hear another, ’just relax’, not only will you be able to handle it better, but you will also know what to do.
This article contains:
The Meaning & Definition Of Relaxation
The Psychology Dictionary describes relaxation as a “state of being relaxed”. It’s a process by which we experience a “refreshment of mind and body”, a “reduction in intensity of tension or vigor”, and is used to describe a process in which our “musculature return[s] to an inactive state after contraction”. (Nugent, 2013)
In layman terms, it means that relaxation helps rid the mind and body of tension, which can be accumulated over several days, weeks, months, and even years.
Today, stress can be found in all aspects of life, including: professional, personal, financial, environmental, and more. With the constant pace of change, it becomes difficult to adjust to this wave of stressors, which are always changing and transforming.
In fact, in a study done by Henry and Cassel (1969), in which the pair carried out an analysis of 18 epidemiological findings from around the world, it was concluded that “where the population did not show a rise in blood pressures with age, the culture had remained stable; traditional forms were honored and group members were secure in their roles and had adapted to them from an early age.” (Patel, 1977)
As our modern world has gone through drastic changes, in lieu of industrialization, urbanization, migration, as well as other social and cultural shifts, individuals are required to adopt more behavioral changes in a much shorter time. As one philosopher, Hippocrates rightly observed about 25 centuries ago,
“… those things which one has been accustomed to for a long time, although worse than the things which one is not accustomed to, usually give less disturbance. “(Patel 2, 1977)
This means that, without the ability to relax, individuals will continue to be negatively influenced by this fast-paced world, and find themselves with increasing levels of stress and tension, which are known to lead to a number of illnesses.
There are the four common factors that generate stress:
1) Environmental Factors
This includes things such as: excess noise, uncomfortable living spaces, pollution, natural disasters, and even bad weather.
2) Social Factors
This includes: deadlines on projects (whether at work or in school), financial difficulties, interpersonal relations, family or friendship troubles, and others.
3) Physiological Factors
This includes: issues with health that stem from poor nutrition or misuse of drugs/alcohol, poor sleep, muscle tension, headaches, accidents, and other illnesses.
This includes: how we perceive events, the expectations we have towards certain situations or outcomes, the desire for perfection, being too self-critical or pessimistic, and the tendency to make assumptions.
It is no wonder, then, that “according to the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard University, 60 to 90% of all medical office visits in the United States are for stress-related disorders.” (University of Maryland Medical Center, 2017)
Prolonged exposure to such stress and tension can wreak havoc on the immune system, making the individual more susceptible to colds, illnesses, and other health issues. This is where the use and implementation of relaxation techniques can really help the individual cope with stress and create long-lasting health.
It can be accomplished with various relaxation techniques (RT) that calm the mind by concentrating it on actions such as: breathing, repeating a word or mantra, meditating, doing yoga, and listening to music.
Some researchers suggest that the benefits are reaped “as a result of a repetitive mental focus and reduced/monotonous sensory input. In a similar vein, RT may serve a cerebral energy conservation/restoration function by allowing the cortex to go offline from its normal activating, energy-demanding role of processing complex, stressful stimuli.” (Jacobs & Friedman, 2004)
Now that the benefits are clear, let’s look at the tools that can help you relax.
Motivational Quotes To Help You Relax
Words, sounds, and images can help expand our perception, and give us something positive to focus on.
In times of stress, we can lose our center as our attention gets pulled in different directions. Our mind tries to put out fires, or prevent ones from starting, and ends up constantly jumping from one situation to another. This desire to control things, and need to predict outcomes, can leave us feeling helpless and overwhelmed.
To re-center and elevate from such taxing feelings, take a moment to read inspirational messages, or even repeat some mantras. If you’re wondering, what are mantras, they are;
“repetitive sounds used to penetrate the depths of the unconscious mind and adjust the vibration of all aspects of your being. Mantras are vibrated through chanting aloud, mental practice, or by listening to them.” (Singh, 2015)
There are several ways in which these empowering and uplifting words work:
1. They stimulate the endocrine system
When your tongue touches the palate of your mouth it stimulates the hypothalamus, thalamus, and the pituitary. When the hypothalamus is engaged, it stimulates action in the pituitary gland, which is responsible for the endocrine system. The sound vibrations from the mantra releases hormones that balance and heal the body.
2. They help focus your attention
When repeating the same words, the mind is occupied with one task and is less likely to wander. This strengthens our ability to stay focused, as the mind becomes anchored to one specific activity.
3. They provide an effective way to release emotions
Emotions that are suppressed or rejected create tension in the subconscious mind. This leads to physical pains and aches. Through chanting and the repetition of words or sounds, the individual can release these pent-up emotions.
4. They help create awareness
Each sound has its own unique vibration. Therefore, each word or phrase that one chants will have a different effect on the body. The best metaphor for this is music. Each genre, and every lyric elicits a different emotion in the listener.
5. They align your awareness with the self and the expansive world
It is often said that the one you are looking for is you. What does that mean – it means that no one can sustainably make you happy, healthy, wealthy, or anything else, without some action and investment on your part. To receive love from others, one must be able to create and give love to others. Otherwise, it is difficult to ask for something in the long-term, which one is unable to give in return.
6. They help change your vibrations
As mentioned earlier, each word and sound has its own unique vibration. By repeating or chanting the word several times, one can physically align the self with that specific vibration, and thus embody the quality and the energy of that word.
(Singh 2, 2015)
Here is a list of quotes to ignite your inspiration and help you get started:
- “Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.” – Hermann Hesse
- “Nothing external to you has any power over you.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
- “If you look into your own heart, and you find nothing wrong there, what is there to worry about? What is there to fear?” – Confucius
- “The most intense conflicts, if overcome, leave behind a sense of security and calm that is not easily disturbed. It is just these intense conflicts and their conflagration which are needed to produce valuable and lasting results.” – Carl Jung
- “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” – William James
- “Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.” – William S. Burroughs
- “The only pressure I’m under is the pressure I’ve put on myself.” – Mark Messier
- “Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it.” – Ray Bradbury
- “Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart…. live in the question.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
If these quotes seem too long for repeating, there are also bite-sized words or mantras to choose from:
- I deserve to live with ease.
- Peace is within my reach.
- Stress is not my friend.
- Breathe and breathe again.
- Smiling brings me joy.
- In every moment, peace is a choice.
- Let it be.
- Be here now.
- Don’t worry, be happy.
- I will stay calm and carry on.
The best time to use these is when you start noticing signs of stress. When this happens, take a moment to check your thoughts. What inner dialogue do you notice? If there are any negative words, replace them with the positive affirmations listed above. Repeat these as necessary, or until you start to feel calmer.
For those wishing an even shorter mantra, try repeating the word ‘OM’, which represents the primordial sound that is associated with the creation of the universe.
The “chanting [of] OM mantra results in stabilization of brain, removal of worldly thoughts and increase of energy.” By focusing on this vibration, “one can enter deeper and deeper into the own natural state, which is also an energy medicine for [the] human being under stress.” (Gurjar, Ladhake, and Thakare, 2009)
The bottom line is, to lower stress, we need to slow down our mental activity. “Chanting provides a means of achieving this through a simple focused activity that slows respiration, improves concentration, and induces calm (Bernardi, et al., 2001). This 5000-year-old practice seeks to provide health and wellness in the lives of the chanter by reducing mental and physical stress.” (Stevens, 2014)
Now that the health benefits associated with the repetition of quotes, mantras, and other chants are clear, it is simply a matter of choosing and practicing the phrases that align best with you.
If the above-mentioned suggestions didn’t peak your interest, there are many more to choose from. There are plenty of words and images to browse through on Pinterest, some specifically designed for entrepreneurs, and even a few in traditional yoga languages (with translation).
Breathing Techniques & Other Relaxation Exercises
As one enlightened yogi, Sri Swami Satchidananda said:
“Truth is One, Paths are Many.” (LOTUS, 2017)
When it comes to relaxation, all science points to the same thing – a calm mind will cultivate a healthy and happy body. This calm can be achieved by various means. What works for one won’t work for another, due to personal preferences and habits.
If the above quotes and mantras are not your cup of tea, then don’t worry, there are plenty of other activities to browse through. Below you can find three.
The most mobile, silent and effective technique for relaxation is deep breathing. Engaging in abdominal breathing for 20 to 30 minutes a day can help reduce stress and anxiety.
How does it work?
“Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Breathing techniques help you feel connected to your body—it brings your awareness away from the worries in your head and quiets your mind.” (AIS, 2012)
Not only is deep breathing easy to learn, but it becomes automatic with practice.
Here’s are the steps for Deep Breathing:
- Sit in a comfortable position, or lie down.
- Put one hand on the abdomen, right under the rib cage.
- As you start inhaling air, your stomach should rise and expand outward.
- Exhale slowly and completely through the mouth, and notice the stomach empty.
- Repeat several times until you feel calmer. (Mental Health Wellness Week, 2017)
When breathing fast, a person activates their sympathetic nervous system, which is involved in the ‘fight or flight’ response, and thus signifies stress for the body. When breathing slow and deep, the parasympathetic system becomes active and calms the person down. (NPR, 2010)
With increased calm, breathing slows down, so the body consumes less oxygen and produces less carbon dioxide. Moving away from stress and the ‘fight or flight’ response, helps the body to invest the saved energy towards digestion, self-healing, and regeneration. (Spire, 2015)
Other breathing techniques to try include:
- Take a slow breath through the nose, filling lower and then the upper lungs.
- Hold the breath for a count of three.
- Exhale slowly through pursed lips, and feel the muscles in the face, jaw, shoulders, and stomach relax.
This breath should be practiced ten times a day and is helpful for moments of transition. Such as between projects, as it helps the body let go of stored tension.
- Sit comfortably.
- Take a long, deep breath and exhale slowly.
- Close the eyelids.
- Take 10 natural breaths, and countdown with each exhale starting at 10.
- As you continue breathing comfortably, notice any tensions. Imagine those tensions melting away.
- As your countdown reaches one, open the eyes.
This breathing takes about 90 seconds to complete. Within this time, the individual can notice the worrying thoughts, and begin to control and release them.
For those suffering from anxiety, and in need of immediate relief, here is a technique for you:
The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
- Place the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth (behind the front teeth).
- Breathe in for a count of four, through the nose.
- Hold the breath for a count of seven.
- Release the breath with a whooping sound for a count of 8.
- Without a pause, repeat steps 1-4 for another three or four times.
- Then resume normal breathing.
In moments of panic or shock, breathing becomes shallow, which results in a build-up of carbon dioxide, producing inflammation and acidification in the body. By slowing down the breath, holding it in, and then exhaling for a longer time, the individual can get rid of as much carbon dioxide as possible, and return the body to its equilibrium. (Gifford, 2014)
Breathing can also be incorporated into some movement with the practice of yoga.
Studies have found that yoga is “as effective as relaxation in reducing stress, anxiety and improving health status on seven domains …[and] was more effective than relaxation in improving mental health.” (Smith, Hancock, Blake-Mortimer & Eckert, 2006)
And while any type of physical movement and exercise is good for calming the mind and body, recent studies show that “yoga interventions appeared to be equal or superior to exercise in nearly every outcome measured except those involving physical fitness.” (Ross & Thomas, 2010)
There are many freely available yoga classes online. These are just a few:
1. Do Yoga With Me
This site offers a wide option of yoga styles and levels, such as Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin, Kundalini, and Ashtanga.
2. Be More Yogic
The list on this platform is not as extensive but does feature a wide variety of locations and teachers, so it is easy to find the ones you like the most, and turn them into weekly habits.
Rather than look for teachers and yoga classes on Youtube, head on to this site, which does it for you. Here you can sift through videos by level, style, and even topics, such as: detox or knee pain.
If signing up for a yoga platform is not your thing, the Greatist complied a wide variety of yoga videos for: beginners, runners, soon to be mothers, and anyone else curious to tap into the healing practice of yoga.
With so many options to choose from, finding the right yoga video for you has never been easier, or more convenient.
Tapping Relaxation Technique
Another way to release old and stagnant emotions or beliefs is by tapping through them. This technique is known as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). It utilizes pressure points used in acupuncture for over 5,000 years.
“Recent research has shown that EFT significantly increases positive emotions, such as hope and enjoyment, and decreases negative emotional states, including anxiety. EFT is particularly effective for treating stress and anxiety because it specifically targets your amygdala and hippocampus, which are the parts of your brain that help you decide whether or not something is a threat.” (Mercola, 2015)
The video below will introduce you to this process.
Relaxation & Meditation
The most scientifically and time-tested method to build concentration abilities, and one-minded focus is with meditation.
Meditation has a rather straight-forward approach.
“The technique of meditation is to keep the mind fully occupied on one thing. When the mind is fully occupied on one thing, it is kept away from many things, and it becomes quiet. Then, you find a kind of calmness, and in that stillness even that one thing will slip away after some time.“ (Yogaville, 2017)
Those wishing to try out Mindfulness Meditation can follow these steps:
- Sit comfortably on the floor with legs crossed, or on a chair with a straight back.
- Focus on your breathing, such as the rising and falling of the belly, or the flow of air in and out of your nose.
- Once you’ve managed to concentrate on your breathing, expand your awareness to the other sounds and sensations around you.
- If thoughts enter your mind, let them go and re-focus on the breath.
- As soon as this is mastered, begin to expand your awareness once again. (HelpGuide, 2017)
Another meditation to try is known as the Body Scan:
- Lie on the back with eyes closed, and legs/arms uncrossed to each side.
- Begin by focusing on the breathing and start to feel relaxed.
- Start by sensing the toes, and imagine the breaths flowing to them.
- After a few breaths, move your focus to other parts of the body. (Start from the feet and work your way up to your shoulders and face.)
- Once the scan is complete, take note of the sensations in your body.
- When the process is done, open your eyes and stretch as necessary. (HelpGuide 2, 2017)
Practicing mindfulness meditation for 10-20 minutes a day can help create calm and ease, and yield many benefits by reducing pain, insomnia, anxiety, depression, anger, and more.
And while it is possible to feel “a sense of peace and quiet…after eliciting the relaxation response, long-term psychological and physiological changes may take several weeks or months.” (Benson, 1993)
To make time for meditation while on-the-go, you can download one or a few of the meditation apps available for mobile phones. The Independent has identified a list of the 10 best meditation apps.
Times Relaxing Music on Youtube
If you are extremely busy and don’t have any spare time for breathing, yoga, or mindfulness meditation, don’t worry, you can still tap into calm and peace with the help of music.
This area of science is known as ‘psychoacoustics’ and analyzes “the perception of hearing and sensations produced by sound.” (Clarke, 2017)
Several studies have demonstrated the benefits of music on the body. That’s because “listening to and playing music increase the body’s production of the antibody immunoglobulin A and natural killer cells — the cells that attack invading viruses and boost the immune system’s effectiveness. Music also reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol.” (Novotney, 2013)
While the idea of music is similar to that of mantras, in that it produces an energy or a vibration that one becomes consumed in, the truth is, not all music will elicit a calming effect.
“Results indicate listening to self-select or classical music, after exposure to a stressor, significantly reduces negative emotional states and physiological arousal compared to listening to heavy metal music or sitting in silence.” (Labbe, Schmidt, Babin, & Pharr, 2007)
As the music enters our ears and activates our brain, it helps stimulate reward pathways that are linked to positive emotions. This creates a mood that “feels right to the person.” (Salamon, Kim, Beaulieu, & Stefano, 2002)
If you’re looking for some specific recommendations, research shows that “Native American, Celtic, Indian stringed-instruments, drums, and flutes are very effective at relaxing the mind even when played moderately loud. Sounds of rain, thunder, and nature sounds may also be relaxing particularly when mixed with other music, such as light jazz, classical (the “largo” movement), and easy listening music.” (University of Nevada, 2017)
If you’re ready to tune into calming music and to tune out the world, start by diving into these tracks, which are available both on your computer and smartphone:
The top 10 songs, scientifically proven to help you feel good, are:
- Weightless by Marconi Union
- Electra by Airstream
- Mellomaniac (Chill Out Mix) by DJ Shah
- Watermark by Enya
- Strawberry Swing by Coldplay
- Please Don’t Go by Barcelona
- Pure Shores by All Saints
- Someone Like You by Adele
- Canzonetta Sull’aria by Mozart
- We Can Fly by Rue du Soleil (Cafe Del Mar) (Curtin, 2017)
There is a 10-hour version of the track Weightless available here.
Those who prefer listening to sounds of nature can find a number of ambient melodies that include titles such as: Tropical Rain, Jungle River, Bird Song, Crickets, Birds, and so much more, which are available for free on YogaYak.
For individuals who prefer the more mystical sounds, there is a one hour Deep Shamanic Mediation track, which will put you into a state of deep relaxation.
Of course, there is also a more mainstream playlist of feel-good songs available. This one was created by a music therapist and includes tracks by Calvin Harris, Pharrell Williams, Aloe Blacc, Avicii, One Direction, and others. The best part? These songs have clean lyrics and can be enjoyed in all kinds of company.
On a Smartphone:
To enjoy these on-the-go options, you will need an account with Spotify:
Relaxing Games & Music For Kids
The benefits of relaxation can be enjoyed by adults and kids alike. The relaxation techniques recommended for kids are quite similar to those recommended to adults and include things such as:
- Deep Breathing
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Listening to Music
- Toe Tensing (Roper, 2017)
There are many tools to inspire and relax kids, here are just a few:
This app features guided meditation for kids, helping them focus their attention and calmly get ready for whatever life has in store.
These activities help create an atmosphere in which kids can focus on matters at hand, and forget the demands of the outside world.
1. Feeling Box
Gather a variety of materials and tools, such as smooth stones, feathers, furs, etc., and place them inside a box. Have the kids place their hand in the box and feel the materials.
2. Visual Center
Sit in a dimly-lit area and bring out various glow-in-the-dark items, such as stickers, glow sticks, toys, are more. With some music, start playing and having fun!
3. Role Play
With the use of toys, puppets, or with the game of charades, give the child an opportunity to explore a situation by placing them self into the role of another. This can be helpful for handling very stressful situations.
Calmyleon: Adults and kids alike can use this tool to listen to relaxing sounds, and can adjust the track to their own liking. Here individuals can adjust between white noise (that masks the undesired sound in the environment), and black noise (which produces more dynamic sounds).
Here are playlists that can be enjoyed on Spotify:
A Take Home Message
Knowing how to calm the mind and body has never been more essential. Yet, it has never been as challenging.
Our time constrained and on-the-go lifestyle makes it difficult to spare even a few minutes to clear the mind of thoughts and keep the body still. And when the time is made for relaxation techniques, the benefits will not be long-lasting, because feeling relaxed is not the same as being physically relaxed.
And those who do make time for relaxation, need to be prepared to invest a significant amount of time and energy to reap long-term benefits. That’s because “experts caution that intensive training, followed by regular use of the techniques, may be required before many medical benefits appear. Most training programs last several weeks. And, according to Dr. Lehrer, relaxation may be better when it is taught in person rather than learned from a tape.” (Goleman, 1986)
However, something is always better than nothing. And as we know, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’. There has never been a better time to adopt these techniques that calm the mind and body.
So, let’s be more proactive and make the initiative to relax before we’re told to.
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