Often times people think of relaxation as something that you do at the end of the day, or in between daily activities. You can, however, begin cultivating a practice of deep relaxation throughout the day as a way to increase your mood, vitality, and overall sense of wellbeing. Here are some simple yet effective ways to practice living in a relaxed state of being.
Known as Pranayama in the Ayurvedic tradition, deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, releases serotonin, and helps a person feel deeply relaxed. Begin by finding a comfortable place to sit, in a position where your spine is straight and your feet are on the floor. Take a deep breath, allowing your belly to expand outward on the inhalation. On the exhalation, allow your belly to retract towards your core, consciously letting go of any tension that you may be holding in your body. Continue breathing this way, taking deep, slow, and natural breaths. Really allow yourself to stretch your lungs by taking deeper breaths than you may be used to. This need not be forced, although a small amount of effort may be necessary at first in order to initiate this style of breathing, particularly if you are used to taking shallow breaths from your upper chest. Practice this breathing exercise multiple times throughout the day. Do not practice while driving or operating any heavy machinery, however, as you may find that you get a little light headed during the practice.
Meditation is an age-old technique for increasing inner peace and relaxing the body. There are numerous styles of meditation, and yet you can keep it simple in order to feel the health benefits of this practice. Start with small meditations of five or ten minutes, incrementally increasing the time that you sit over the course of a few weeks. Consistency is key with meditation, and it does take some time to begin seeing changes in your life. Studies indicate, however, that even one session of meditation begins to initiate healing reactions in the body. Blood pressure decreases, serotonin is released in the brain, immune system functioning increases. There are often meditation groups in most urban areas, which can be helpful for beginner meditators.
Another effective technique for relaxation is visualization. There are hundreds of studies on the efficacy of visualization for creating healing responses in the body and allowing a person to relax. There are thousands of recorded visualizations that can be purchased online. Here is a simple one to help you get started. Begin by finding a comfortable place to either sit or lie down in a peaceful and quiet environment. Focus on your breath, practicing the deep belly breathing as instructed in the previous section. After a few minutes of consciously relaxing, think of a peaceful natural environment that you have visited in the past. Imagine yourself in this environment feeling peaceful, happy, and relaxed. See yourself sitting or walking in this natural place, taking deep breaths and feeling at home. Stay in this place for as long as you desire, letting yourself return to the present moment whenever you feel ready. This is a very simple visualization, and yet very effective at triggering relaxed states in the mind.
Another ancient practice, chanting has been shown in scientific studies not only to initiate deep states of relaxation, but also to initiate healing mechanisms in the body. The idea behind chanting is that you are using sound to help relax and calm your body. During chanting a person also practices rhythmic deep breathing that effectively relaxes the body and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. There are many chants that you can use. A popular chant is the sanskrit word “Om,” which roughly translates as the sound of all that is. Practice chanting for ten to twenty minutes a day, being sure to do so in an environment where you can relax and be at peace.
This term may sound foreign to many people, yet the technology behind binaural beats has been around since the turn of 20th century. Developed initially using tuning forks, scientists noticed that a unique phenomenon occurs when different frequencies of sound are played into both the right and left ears simultaneously. The difference between the two frequencies creates what is called a “binaural beat,” effectively entraining brain wave patterns to specific frequencies. This may sound a bit abstract, yet there exists solid scientific evidence to back up this phenomenon. The outcome is that through listening to binaural beats, your brain is more easily able to achieve deep states of relaxation. Be sure to listen to the beats when you are able to relax, and it is best to listen with stereo headphones.