Is it hard for you to relax? I know… for me too… and for millions of people suffering from all manners of stress and tension.
It is really difficult, it seems, to walk around with my body in a relaxed state, muscles lean and smooth, stomach not sucked in.
Most days, when I take the time to check (and now I know to check often – say, every 10 minutes? ha!), I find my body in the following state:
- shoulders almost reaching my ears
- shoulder blades almost touching
- my stomach, or what you would call my solar plexus area, crunched up and tense
- my face slightly contorted and bent out of shape with tension (my mouth making strange grimaces, one cheek up, the other down – and don’t even get me started on the eyebrows!)
So maybe I’m exaggerating. But only a little.
What I am describing here is the day-to-day state of a sensitive person. You know who you are… one of those people who goes through life like a turtle without a shell: everything is bright, loud and intrusive; sensations seem to be 100 times stronger for you than for others; feelings are 1,000 times more intense. No wonder there is moodiness… we are trying to cope!
When I was in my twenties and early thirties, I struggled with a few health scares. Of course… my body was on the brink of giving up more than a few times.
Luckily for me, it didn’t.
In time I also learned to relax.
Not just a little (shoulders down, mouth corners up), but a deep, deep kind of relaxation.
Meditation doesn’t really work that well for me – not the classic “stay put in one place for x minutes and shoo away your thoughts” kind. I need to give my busy mind something to do. And I also need to find a way to keep my body comfortable and soothed.
So this is what I do:
Step 1 of the Deep Relaxation Exercise
I find a place where I will not be disturbed for… whatever amount of time I have available.
It could be the toilet.
It could be the car.
It could be the kitchen or the bedroom.
The place doesn’t matter.
The amount of time doesn’t really matter either.
It is enough to start this process – it will spill over and take a life of its own.
You can go fast or slow or however you feel it in the moment.
So sometimes it will be faster than others.
In time, you will know how much you need.
And, in time, you will be able to do this in line at the grocery store – or pretty much anywhere that doesn’t involve physical exercise.
Step 2 of the Deep Relaxation Exercise
Focus on the following body parts, one at a time, with the intention of relaxing each of them deeply.
1. your cheeks
There is an incredible amount of tension that gets stored in your face. The muscles in your cheeks, in particular, work really hard because they form your facial expressions.
You may not realize this, but you are “making faces” even when you are not talking to someone.
Your inner dialogue, your imagination and your inner life elicit responses from you – which, in turn, draw facial expressions.
If you feel scared, your eyebrows will go up, your mouth will pucker and your cheeks will tense.
Stress is nothing if not fear.
So it is important to relax the muscles in your cheeks.
A funny thing will happen, as you will discover: it will feel like you have literally pushed a button! Your face will actually bring your whole body with it, in ways that you can’t really even control! Try it!
2. your chest
You think your shoulder blades store tension? Check in with your chest!
When people have anxiety, they don’t hunch over – they have difficulty breathing. There is a reason for that.
Strong fear passes through your lungs and the very air that you breathe.
You can, if you want, tell your lungs to relax – but I am not sure you will be able to tell the difference… not within a minute anyway. But you can focus on the area of your chest and “tell” it to relax.
If it helps, you can imagine (or actually do) touching the skin gently and rubbing in a soft, circular motion.
You can also imagine sending energy, warmth, a color… whatever inspires you in the moment.
3. your solar plexus
Oh, this one… this one is really tough – especially if the stress is high.
You might even get drawn into trying to make sense of what’s there, because you might get some messages from your inner self, when you focus there…
I am not making this up, scientists have discovered that we have brain cells in the solar plexus.
As it turns out, the “gut feeling” is more than a superstition.
If you are trying to relax, I don’t encourage you to give in to the fear, stress and anxiety and start a dialogue. On the contrary… just gently say (out loud or in your mind), the way you would to a tormented child, “Shhhh… let’s relax for a minute… don’t think about anything… just relax…
Do your best to soothe the area.
Do not go for perfection! Easy does it. Small steps. Don’t obsess, push and prod – this goes against what you are trying to do here.
4. the back of your knees
If you like massages, you know how insanely relaxing it is for someone to massage the back of your knees.
You can imagine relaxing the area or, if you can (and feel like it), put your hands there and give yourself a gentle massage.
5. your toes
Your feet support your whole body.
Don’t you have the feeling that everything just “drains out of you” sometimes? Well, it actually does…
Also, your feet (see reflexology) have nerve endings for EVERYTHING in your body. Everything.
So when you are tense, your feet literally receive the message.
I like to focus on my toes for relaxation because, just like with the cheeks, they seem to
“bring along” the feet and the legs… and, in fact, the whole body.
It is a nice way to wrap up and come full circle.
So… that’s it!
That’s my quick exercise for stress-relief and deep relaxation.
I do it almost every night before I fall asleep – and I end up actually sleeping before I finish.
Sometimes, when I am out and about and remember to check in with my shoulders (to see if they are touching my ears with stress…), I focus on my face and tell my cheeks to relax.
I can relax other body parts too – like my back, when I am driving, or my arms or my hands.
Other times I really need a big break so I find a quiet place and just go for it.
It works really, really well.
For me, it is better than meditation because it gives my mind something to do and focus on.
It doesn’t always work 100%… when I am too stressed, obsessing over something or unwilling to let go of being mad or sad or whatever, my body can’t fight me.
But it is worth trying.
And, most of the time, it works incredibly well.
I am happy to say, I haven’t had a health scare in a very long time.
TO RECAP, THIS IS MY DEEP RELAXATION PROCESS FOR STRESS RELIEF:
Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed – for as long as you wish. Or… do this in your mind, wherever you are. The main thing is to DECIDE that you will take a few minutes (or seconds, if that’s all you have) to relax.
Focus on the following body parts, with the intention to relax them as much as you can:
- your cheeks
- your chest
- your stomach / solar plexus
- the back of your knees
- your toes
Don’t go for perfection, go for “the best I can do right now”.
I hope you will give it a try – and let me know how it goes.
Have a relaxed day,