Relaxation and meditation are becoming increasingly valued as tools for stress management and for reducing the physical and mental effects of stress. Relaxation therapy consists mainly of simple breathing exercises and muscle relaxation techniques. Meditation is included in the practice of many religions as a means of achieving deep relaxation, inner harmony and focusing the mind. Both can be practiced at home.
Many people use a tape, of which there are two main types, for relaxation. The first plays soothing sounds such as spring rain, a waterfall or waves. You then just lie or sit back comfortably and listen to your chosen sound, and let it take over from your usual busy stream of thoughts, helping you relax your muscles until you experience true tranquility.
The other sort of tape is the "guided relaxation" kind often included in a Quit Smoking Program, or which a doctor may advise you to listen to help you overcome insomnia, for example, or deal with severe stress reactions, phobias or panic attacks. You will be told to relax each muscle group in turn, until you are relaxed all over. Normally beginning with the muscles of the feet and calves, and working up the body to include the facial muscles, scalp and tongue, the pleasant and soothing voice makes it easy to relax.
Slow, regular breathing is central to successful relaxation. A common rhythm is 7-1, 7-1, involving inhaling to a count of seven, holding for a count of one, exhaling for a count of seven and pausing for a count of one before recommencing the cycle. When the breath and body are in quiet harmony and repetition of positive thoughts or intentions is most effective. You could start off saying slowly and repetitively, in harmony with your breathing: "I enjoy a smoke-free healthy life" if, for instance, you were quitting smoking. Visualizing your goal is another powerful tool; in this instance, picturing yourself inhaling fresh air, far from the fumes of cigarettes.
Tension headaches, facial pain, and sinusitis, neck and shoulder pain, even pain down the arm and into the fingers, can arise from tension in the shoulder girdle, upper back and neck. Regular relaxation properly carried out can have a real impact on the physical level, and for general effects of wear and tear it will appear to work wonders.
Like relaxation, meditation can be approached in several ways. Some authorities advocate sitting comfortably in some quiet spot at the same time twice daily for, say, 20 to 30 minutes. Here, the person relaxes their muscle groups in turn, as described above in the relaxation section. It is necessary to breathe calmly and regularly (either slowly in and slowly out without pausing, or breathing in for a certain count and holding the breath, then exhaling again to a certain count and pausing before breathing in again.) The third element (besides patterned breathing and physical relaxation) is observation, which may come as a surprise to the many people who believe that, to meditate successfully, you have to empty your mind entirely of thought. Observation actually helps the mind to relax and enter the state of tranquility with which so much yoga and relaxation/meditation is concerned. There are several different brainwave types functional in an active brain, but during meditation the brain produces high-intensity alpha brainwaves, the ones associated with deep relaxation and mental alertness. When the brain is in an alpha state the body gradually relaxes as the parasympathetic division of the nervous system takes over, reversing the body's fight-or-flight response. Practiced regularly, meditation can induce the experience of bliss, or, at the very least, provide a healthful physical, mental and spiritual rest from daily activities and stresses.
- Reduced blood pressure
- Better-balanced digestion and respiration processes
- Improved sleep patterns
- Relief from anxiety and depression