Meditation and mindfulness practice benefit greatly from a state of calmness. Therefore, relaxation techniques are somewhat of a pre-requisite to deeper practices. This post will introduce as many calming relaxation techniques as I can find, and give you some practical steps to take in order to integrate these into your lives. Some will be useful anywhere you are, at any time of the day, while others will require some quiet space to practice.
Autogenic just means generated from within. This technique was developed by Johannes Heinrich Schultz around the early 1930s and involves visualizing heat and heaviness in an attempt to relax yourself completely. It also involves canceling out the states of heat and heaviness. Cancelling should be learned first because autogenic effects are generated from within and cause physical states to occur that need to be undone when you come out of the exercise. I’ll paraphrase the exercise that can be found in greater detail at autoaura.com
Before these steps, learn this:
Tell yourself to tense your arms, then move your arms vigorously. Tell yourself to breathe deeply, then do it. Lastly, tell yourself to open your eyes, then do so. This will bring you out of the autogenic relaxed state.
Steps to use this calming technique:
- Sit or lie down comfortably become aware of your body.
- Tell yourself that your right arm is heavy, then feel it get heavy, repeat with the left arm, right leg, left leg, shoulders, and neck. Do this until you feel very heavy. About 6 times each. Get the heaviness down before moving on to step 3.
- Tell yourself that each part you made heavy is also very warm. Focus on one part at a time. Do this until you actually feel warm. Get the warmth down before moving on to step 4.
- Tell yourself that your hearbeat is warm and regular, and do it until you feel it.
- Tell yourself that your solar plexus is warm, and repeat a few times until you feel it.
- Tell yourself that your forehead is cool, and do so until you feel it.
- Tell yourself that you are at peace, and feel it.
- Stay relaxed for a while.
- Use the canceling procedure on every part that you relaxed. Feel it come alive before moving on to the next part. This is important as you can really lose awareness of your body as you go deep into this. It works, but make sure you cancel after doing it. It’s very important to cancel.
Deep Breathing Relaxation Technique
We often breathe very shallowly, and don’t use the full capacity of our lungs. When we get stressed, this gets even worse as we might tend to hold our breath, especially during the fight or flight response, which many of us live in a chronic state of, without even being aware of it. Therefore, it’s good to remind ourselves to breathe, and so so deeply. These relaxation techniques work wonders.
Steps to this calming technique:
- Lie down, or sit comfortably and keep your posture as straight as you can.
- Put one hand on your chest and the other hand on your abdomen.
- Inhale slowly through your nose, or through your mouth, slowly (this is important).
- As you inhale, push your abdomen out, feel it expand.
- Slowly exhale (about 2 times the length of the inhale) while lightly pushing on your abdomen.
- Rest and repeat as often as necessary.
Progressive Relaxation Technique
- Lie down or sit up straight in a chair.
- Become aware of your breathing.
- Slowly inhale through your nose, hold for a few seconds, then exhale slowly out of your mouth.
- Repeat that a few times.
- Tense your feet and hold for a count of ten.
- Release the tension and feel them relax.
- Move up to your calves and repeat.
- Repeat this for every muscle that you are aware of. Continue to move up the body and you’ll son discover areas of tension that you didn’t even know were tense.
- Slowly inhale, hold for a few seconds, then exhale. Imagine all the tension and stress flowing out of your body.
- Sit or lie there and feel relaxed and calm. Make a mental note of how it feels. This will allow you to return to this feeling again as you practice more.
- Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work the first few times. Practice makes perfect here, and the effects are cumulative.
Over time, this method will become easier and faster, and you’ll be able to enter a relaxed state at will, or with minimal effort. You’ll begin noticing cumulative positive effects to your mind and body.
Movement Based Relaxation Techniques
These types of relaxation techniques seem counter-intuitive, but often work wonders after they are performed. These methods include walking, running, weight lifting, Tai’Chi, yoga, sports, qigong, aerobics, martial arts, swimming, etc… Basically anything that gets you moving and your heart rate up. The relaxation often comes afterward.
These types of relaxation techniques include:
- Massage – Check here for tons of information relating to massage. There are also many different types of electronic massage products such as these.
- Acupuncture – manipulating tiny needles at crucial meridian points on your body.
- Acupressure – similar to acupuncture except that instead of needles, pressure is used instead.
- Reflexology – applying pressure to the hands, feet, and ears with specific techniques using thumbs, fingers, and hands.
Valerian grows in much of the world, and has been used medicinally for thousands of years. The FDA considers it relatively safe, and is wildly available as tinctures, and teas. Short term use is preferable, and adverse side effects are minimal.
Valerian tea is considered to be a remedy for sleep disorders and anxiety. It has also been used to treat depression, headaches, trembling, and irregular heartbeat. While it hasn’t been given the blessing from the FDA for such uses, there are many anecdotal accounts of vanishing symptoms.
There are some side effects including headaches, dizziness, upset stomach, and mild lethargy. It’s considered generally safe for short periods of time.
Kava is a pepper, and is indigenous to the South Pacific. It has been considered a mild sedative and ceremonial drink. Kava is used in teas, powders, capsules, and topical solutions.
Kava produces mild to moderate sedation. It can be used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and menopausal symptoms. In addition to ingestion, Kava can be applied topically, as a numbing agent.
The FDA has warned that drinking or eating Kava can cause liver damage, including hepatitis and liver failure. It is generally recommended to use Kava with caution, or avoid it all-together. It can also cause drowsiness, so it would be best to not drive or operate heavy machinery after taking it.
Chamomile has been used for millennia, and is often used for insomnia, anxiety, and other conditions like indigestion. It is also used topically and orally to relieve mouth sores.
Teas, capsules, tablets, and extracts are made from the flowering tops of the chamomile plants.
Many studies have been done on the efficacy of chamomile in treating various conditions in humans. There are some studies that point to possible benefits for topical uses, as well as a few ongiong studies on chamomile’s efficacy in treating anxiety.
While chamomile is generally considered safe, some have allergic reactions to chamomile including rashes, shortness of breath, sore throats, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis. The more severe reactions seem to occur in those allergic to marigolds, ragweed, chrysanthemums, and daisies.
Everyday Relaxation Techniques
Then there are the more basic tried and true methods such as:
- Listening to Music – Classical, New Age, Trance, and Chillout seem to work well for many people.
- Watching the Ocean
- Watching a Lava Lamp
- Sitting in the Sun
- Listening to Nature Sounds
- Watching TV
- Taking a Hot/Warm Bath
- Last but not least, getting a good night’s sleep.
These are by no means all of the best relaxation calming techniques. These should, however, help get you to a place where you can further explore mindfulness. Feel free to share this article and help as many people as we can.