A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO RELAXATION

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1 A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO RELAXATION Happiness cannot be found through great effort and will power. It is already there in relaxation and letting go (James Thurber) 1

2 CONTENT Introduction p.3 Section 1: About relaxation p.3 Section 2: Relaxation CDs and techniques overview p.4 Section 3: Dealing with difficulties p.5 Section 4: Tips to get the most of your relaxation practice p.7 Section 5: Other resources p.8 Appendices Practicing Deep Abdominal Breathing p.9 Breathing exercises p.11 Week planner and record of relaxation practice p.13 2

3 Introduction You may have experienced times in your life when having a long soak in the bath, a walk in the park, listening to music or reading a book somehow was enough to help you switch off and relax. Perhaps your level of stress and anxiety didn t feel so high then. At this point in your life you may be finding relaxing more challenging. What used to help you relax, if anything, is no longer working. Or perhaps you may feel like you never take time to relax and are not quite sure where to start. This guide is to get you started - to help you set up a regular relaxation practice and experience the benefits of practicing some simple relaxation techniques. Section 1- About relaxation What is relaxation? Relaxation is a skill. This means that our ability to relax is not necessarily something that comes naturally to us or that we are just born knowing how to do. Like any other skills, such as riding a bicycle or playing the piano, it is a skill that can be learned and practiced. Everyone has the ability to learn how to relax. The key is to find which technique(s) of relaxation works best for you and to practice relaxation regularly. How can relaxation help me? Relaxation is one of the most effective self-help activities for mental health. It can be a useful addition to any other form of treatment or talking therapy as well as being an effective measure to prevent the development of stress and anxiety. Through practicing regular relaxation you can learn to calm your anxieties, let go of physical tension and help your body and mind recover from everyday stress. How can I learn to relax? It is important to know that everyone can learn to relax. However, there is no one technique that will work for everyone. The key is to try different techniques to find which one works better for you. With this self-help guide we offer you a choice of 5 techniques to get you started. An overview of these techniques is presented in section two. 3

4 Section 2- Relaxation CDs and techniques overview CD - Track 1 Active Muscular Relaxation: The active muscular relaxation technique teaches you how to progressively relax each muscle group in your body by physically tensing and releasing one muscle group at a time. This technique can be useful to help you become aware of the difference in sensations between your body being tense and being relaxed. We indeed often carry tension in our body without being aware of it. By practicing this technique on a regular basis, however, you will gradually learn to become aware of your own physical tension and to release it when it flares up. This practice lasts about 12 minutes. Warning! When practicing active muscular relaxation, do not tense your muscles too hard especially if your body is already feeling very tense. This will avoid tightening up alreadytight muscles and any muscle cramping. CD - Track 2 Visualization This technique asks you to imagine that you are on a peaceful beach and talks you through this relaxing scene. Practicing this visualization technique can have a very calming effect on our mood as it helps us focus our mind on some pleasant and relaxing scene. It is best suited for people who find it easy to visualize. Why not just give it a go and see what happens! This practice lasts 7 minutes. CD Track 3/4 Passive Progressive Relaxation Passive progressive relaxation is the act of relaxing muscles progressively without physically tensing them first. This guided practice will trigger your senses so that you can let go of tension and connect with feelings of relaxation spreading throughout each part of your body. This practice lasts about 16 minutes. CD - Track 5 Guided Meditation on the Breath In this short meditation practice you will be guided to focus your attention on the breath without trying to change it or control it. This technique can be very helpful to help you ground yourself and focus your mind. This practice lasts about 14 minutes. 4

5 Handouts Breathing exercises Practicing breathing exercises can help you calm your nervous system and relax both your body and mind. If practiced regularly, it can also help you regain control of your breathing whenever you feel yourself becoming stressed or anxious. You will find two breathing exercises at the end of this self-help guide: abdominal breathing and alternate nostril breathing. Section 3- Dealing with difficulties I am not sure whether I should lie down or sit down/ My posture doesn t feel comfortable. When practicing relaxation, it doesn t matter whether you are sitting down or lying down. The key is to find a position in which your body can settle without discomfort. Whether you choose to sit down or lie down, it is important to start your relaxation practice by making time to settle into a comfortable position. Check your posture so that your head, neck and spine are aligned and your arms and legs are resting in a position that feels just right for you. If necessary, use cushions to give you extra support. I am not sure if what I am feeling is OK/ I can t feel anything. Everyone will experience relaxation in different ways and your experience of relaxation is also likely to change from day to day. When practicing relaxation, you may experience a variety of sensations such as warmth, coolness, heaviness, lightness, tingling, pulsing etc. or even no sensation at all. There is no right or wrong state of relaxation. Just allow yourself to be with whatever your experience is in that moment. Don t try to force it! Let the relaxation come in its own time and when the feeling comes, enjoy it. I find it hard to concentrate. While practicing relaxation, you may notice your mind being distracted or wandering off over and over again. This is perfectly normal. Our monkey mind has been trained to wander away, jumping from one thought to the next. So please don t give yourself a hard time for it. Rather whenever you notice that your mind has been caught up in its own train of thoughts, into judgments, selfcriticism, evaluation, memories, fantasies or whatever, gently and patiently bring your attention back to the relaxation practice. As you get used to practicing relaxation your ability to concentrate will improve. 5

6 I keep falling asleep. It is not unusual for people to feel nicely drowsy or even fall asleep when practicing relaxation. If your aim for practicing relaxation is to help you fall asleep, then it is absolutely fine. However if your aim is to learn the skill of relaxation, then bear in mind that you will get more out of your practice if you can stay awake. To help you remain alert, you might want to sit down on a hard chair or on a mat on the floor rather than lie down. You might also want to practice at a different time of the day such as in the morning when you feel less tired. Finally if you are still feeling drowsy during your practice, just take a few deep breaths or get up and stretch until you feel ready to resume your practice. WARNING! If you need to be alert after practicing relaxation in order to drive for example, make sure that you feel fully awake before setting off. I can t relax. Remember everyone can learn to relax! Yet the more you try to force it, the less it is likely to happen. Relaxation is about letting go - letting go of expectations about how you should be feeling. It is simply about allowing your experience to be as it is without judging it or yourself. Just go with the flow, give yourself time, and it will happen. 6

7 Section 4 Tips to get the most out of your relaxation practice Make time for yourself to relax each day. Some people prefer to relax at night before bed to help them fall asleep. Others relax first thing in the morning to start the day refreshed and revitalized. You may wish to experiment practicing at different times of the day to find the right time for you. However remember, it is not so much how long you practice for, than how regularly you do it. 10 minutes a day is better than none at all! To help you commit to a daily practice and monitor the effects of relaxation on your well-being you may find it helpful to use our Week Planner and Record of Relaxation Practice provided in the appendix section. Find somewhere quiet. As you become familiar with relaxation, you will learn to relax anywhere. To begin, however, you will benefit from choosing an environment free from distractions. It can be a good idea to let people know of your intention to relax or to unplug/ switch off the phone so that you won t be disturbed during your practice. Make your relaxation space inviting and comfortable. Looking after your relaxation space may not seem like an obvious thing to do. Yet you may be surprised as to how much it can help increase your motivation to relax. You may wish to experiment by keeping your space clean and free from clutter, by softening the light or burning candles, by displaying fresh flowers, burning incense, hanging calming pictures on the wall, etc. Avoid practicing relaxation immediately before or after eating. You may find it difficult to concentrate if you feel hungry or struggle to keep awake if you are digesting. Don t think about it, just do it! Expect some resistance but don t get beaten by it! Habits of the mind are powerful and you will probably find a million reasons for not doing your practice. Remember a 10 minute practice is better than no practice at all! Let go of expectations! Don t worry about your performance or whether you are relaxing successfully. Just have a go and let it happen. Be patient! Like all skills, relaxation takes time to learn. Be assured that with time and practice, relaxation will become easier and more natural to you. It will also make it more accessible to you when you need it for those times of stress or anxiety. So be patient, commit to a daily practice and let it happen! 7

8 Section 5- Other resources Books David M. and al (2008) The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook (A good introduction to different relaxation and stress management techniques) Harvey J.R (1998) Total Relaxation: Healing Practices for Body, Mind & Spirit (Includes a good relaxation CD) Weekes C. (1995) Self Help for your Nerves: Learn to relax and enjoy life again by overcoming stress and fear (Emphasises coping with physical aspects of anxiety and panic. A little old fashioned in style but clear.) Wilson P. (1999) Little book of calm (For suggestions on ways to relax) These books can be borrowed at no cost from CHANGES. For more details please contact us on Websites free download of a guide to relaxation and relaxation audio tracks including breathing exercises, progressive muscular relaxation, guided imagery, visualization and developing personal resources. - Free download of a relaxation guide to get the best out of practicing progressive muscular relaxation; and two very good relaxation practices which can be downloaded from Look for the anxiety section and download the deep relaxation and quick relaxation practices. 8

9 APPENCICES Abdominal Breathing 1. Observing your natural breathing Begin by closing your eyes and relax. As best you can, focus on your breathing without trying to control your breath in any way. Observe and feel your breathing for a minute or so. Now ask yourself: Am I breathing rapidly or slowly? Is my breathing deep or shallow? Am I feeling my breath in the centre of my chest, or down around my abdomen? Most people tend to breathe in a somewhat abnormal way. They tend to hold in their stomach and breathe by using the muscles in the upper chest, neck and shoulders. This way of breathing is not the most effective way to get the needed oxygen to our brain and muscles and is quite different to the way we used to breathe when we were born. Babies instinctively breathe from their stomach, their bellies rising and falling with each breath. But for some reason, most of us stop breathing in this way as we grow up. The good news, however, is that we can relearn how to breathe properly by learning to breath using our abdomen. 2. What is abdominal breathing? Abdominal breathing means breathing fully from your abdomen or from the bottom of your lungs. It is exactly the opposite to the way we breathe when we are feeling anxious or stressed, which is usually shallow and high in the chest. Abdominal breathing is therefore known as a technique for stress reduction and relaxation. It helps to decrease the release of stress hormones and slow down our heart rate when feeling stressed and anxious. When you use abdominal breathing, you are adding oxygen to your blood which causes your body to release endorphins. These are also known as feel good hormones as they give you a feeling of contentment and well-being. 9

10 3. How does it work? Abdominal breathing is a simple process and can be done almost anywhere. 4 SIMPLE STEPS 1. Place your left hand on your chest and right hand on your abdomen slightly above your navel and below your rib cage. 2. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to expand outward. If that is helpful for you, you can imagine your stomach expanding like a balloon as you breathe in. Your left hand on your chest should rise only slightly, while your right hand should rise along with your abdomen. 3. When you have inhaled fully, pause for a moment, and then exhale fully and slowly through your nose, emptying your lungs completely and letting your stomach fall. On each outbreath, you can imagine tension leaving your body or you can tell yourself my whole body is becoming more and more loose and relaxed to help you relax even more deeply. 4. Repeat several times until you feel calm and relaxed. Remember that it is not so much how long you practice but how regularly you do it. With time and regular practice, your body will begin to breathe this way more often. It will become comfortable and familiar, making it more accessible to you when you need it for those times of stress, anxiety and panic. WARNING! Don t strain! Remember to work within your own comfort range. If at any time you feel dizzy or light-headed stop this practice, rest and try again later. 10

11 Alternate Nostril Breathing exercise What is Alternate Nostril Breathing? Alternate nostril breathing is a simple breathing technique where we practice breathing in through one nostril and breathing out through the other nostril. What are its benefits? This breathing technique is a form of deep, methodical breathing which can trigger deep relaxation by increasing our in-take of oxygen and nourishing both our mind and body. It can help calm anxiety and alleviate mental tension. The technique: POSITION: Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight but not stiff to keep your airways well opened. STEP 1: OUT THROUGH THE LEFT Take a breath and breathe out through your left nostril, using your thumb to gently block the right nostril. Breathe normally but exhale slowly and completely. Don t rush it. IN THROUGH THE RIGHT Inhale slowly and deeply through the right nostril, keeping the left nostril closed with your ring finger. Repeat three times - breathing out through your left nostril and breathing in through your right nostril. Remember to breathe deeply, naturally and completely throughout this exercise. 11

12 STEP 2: OUT THROUGH THE RIGHT Breathe out slowly and completely through the right nostril, closing the left nostril with your ring finger. IN THROUGH THE LEFT Breathe in slowly and deeply through the left nostril, closing the right nostril with your thumb. Repeat three times breathing out slowly, gently and naturally through the right nostril and breathing in through your left nostril. STEP 3: Now breathe in and out through both nostrils together. Again breathe deeply, naturally and completely. Repeat about twenty times. WARNING! This technique should not be practiced if you have a cold or a sinus infection that would cause total blockage of one or both nasal passages. Also, remember to work within your own comfort range. If at any time you feel dizzy or light-headed stop this practice, rest and try again later. 12

13 WEEK PLANNER AND RECORD OF RELAXATION PRACTICE In order to help you plan your practice and assess the effects of relaxation on your well-being, you may wish to use the following week planner and record. Rate yourself on this 10-point scale before and after you do your relaxation exercise. 1 Totally relaxed No tension 2 Very relaxed 3 Moderately relaxed 4 Fairly relaxed 5 Slightly relaxed 6 Slightly tense 7 Fairly tense 8 Moderately tense 9 Very tense 10 Extremely tense (the most uncomfortable you could be) Date/Time Before practice After practice Relaxation technique used/comments Monday: Time: Tuesday: Time: Wednesday: Time: Thursday: Time: Friday: Time: Saturday: Time: Sunday: Time: 13

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