The relaxation response is a powerful skill you can use to increase your well being. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the U.S.A recognises the relaxation response as having a wide variety of health benefits including the reduction of pain and restoration of sleep. In addition, research on the relaxation response has shown that this simple technique can: increase energy, decrease fatigue as well as increase arousal from a drowsy state. It can increase motivation, productivity, and improve decision-making ability. The relaxation response lowers stress hormone levels and lowers blood pressure. Their are many research papers available on the NIH site for example a study finding the relaxation response was a viable treatment for irritable bowel syndrome.
There are many was to trigger the relaxation response such as enjoying reflexology or meditation, but you can learn to include this in your daily life in between your appointments.
What is the Relaxation Response? The relaxation response is defined as yourability to make your body release chemicals and brain signals that cause your muscles and organs to slow down and increases blood flow to the brain. IN many ways the result of this response is the opposite to the stress response. The Relaxation Response is unfortunately not achieved by laying on the sofa or sleeping! It is a mentally active process that leaves the body relaxed.
There are many ways of achieving the relaxation response. Some of these techniques are called: ➣ Progressive Muscle Relaxation (tense & relax) ➣ Visual Imagery ➣ Deep Breathing ➣ Meditation ➣ Yoga ➣ Biofeedback
We will look at one technique for simulatingthe relaxation response and the benefits will grow with practise.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (Tense & Relax Technique)
Everyone has a resting level of muscle tension. Some people have a high level of tension at rest, others less. When people are under high stress, their muscles tend to have higher levels of resting tension that can be painful and fatiguing. After you tense and relax muscles, the tension level not only returns to the original level but automatically drops below the original level, producing even greater relaxation to the muscles.
Start the exercise by getting comfortable. You can keep your eyes open or shut. Most people prefer to close their eyes. Try not to fall asleep, I know it is very tempting and sometimes you will drift off but try to stay awake. As you perform this exercise, you will tense different muscle groups, but you need not tense to the point of pain – simple tensing for 2 seconds is generally enough. Focus on how the tension feels. Then, let the tension go. Focus on the sensations of relaxation. During the exercise it can be tempting to hold our breath, but do remember to breathe! If you experience any discomfort during the exercise do not continue to tense those muscles and if you need to change position that is absolutely fine. Please speak to your health care provider if you are concerned about your physical or mental health.
The Tense & Relax Exercise:
Preparation 1) Make yourself as comfortable as possible in a seated position 2) Try and sit up straight with good posture with your hands resting in your lap 3) Remove your glasses if you wear them, some people prefer to remove their contact lenses
1. Relaxation of the feet and calves: Flex your feet (pull toes toward the knees) Contract calf muscles and muscles of lower leg. Feel the tension build and hold the tension Take a deep breath and as you exhale say the word “RELAX” and let the tension go. If the word relax doesn't feel natural to you then try others such as "calm" or " ease".
2. Relaxation of the knees and upper thighs: Straighten your knees and squeeze your legs together. Contract your thigh muscles and all the muscles of your legs. Feel the tension build and hold the tension .Take a deep breath and as you exhale say the word “RELAX” and let the tension go
3. Relaxation of the hips and buttocks, tense and relax the hips and buttocks in the same was as above.
4. Relaxation of the abdomen: Observe your abdomen rising and falling with each breath Inhale and press your navel toward the spine then tense the abdomen. Feel the tension build and hold the tension. Take a deep breath and as you exhale say the word “RELAX” and let the tension go
5. Relaxation of the upper back: Draw the shoulder blades together to the midline of the body and contract the muscles across the upper back. Feel the tension build and hold the tension. Take a deep breath and ss you exhale say the word “RELAX” and let the tension go
6. Relaxation of the Arms and Palms of the Hands: Turn palms face down and make a tight fist in each hand then raise and stretch both arms with fists. Feel the tension build and hold the tension. Take a deep breath and as you exhale say the word “RELAX” and let the tension go
7. Relaxation of the Chin, Neck, and Shoulders: Drop your chin to your chestDraw your shoulders up toward your ears. Feel the tension build and hold the tension. Take a deep breath and asyou exhale say the word “RELAX” and let the tension go
8. Relaxation of the Jaw and Facial muscles: Clench your teeth together and tense the muscles in the back of your jaw. Turn the corners of your mouth into a tight smile and Wrinkle the bridge of your nose and squeeze your eyes shut. Feel the tension build and hold the tension. Take a deep breath and as you exhale say the word “RELAX” and let the tension go
9. Take a deep breath. As you exhale say the word “RELAX” and let the tension go. Finally become aware of your surroundings (location, people, noises) - Move your feet, legs, hands, arms, rotate your head– open your eyes feeling re-energized, refreshed, and relaxed
This is one type of relaxation technique and there are many more to choose from. I believe their is a technique to suit every one so do experiment with techniques to find what suits you best. Do not be put off if your first attempt is not what you expect. It can take some time to feel familiar with a technique and begin to feel the benefits. If you have any questions about the technique please do not hesitate to contact me.