When people talk about relaxation, it often seems like something we aren’t always able to fit into our busy schedules. That relaxation is something that happens when everything else is done, only then can you sink into the sofa or a nice hot bath and relax. Yet relaxation can be one of the healthiest things to incorporate into your everyday life and by using some simple techniques is something you can actively 'do' rather than something that happens.
Daily stress can take a toll on both physical and mental health. Studies show that various forms of relaxation can help reduce many chronic health concerns as well as restore energy and encourage a more positive sense of self. Some popular relaxation techniques include:
Breathing - Learning to control breathing (through exercises like deep breathing) will help the body take in more oxygen, which helps to relieve anxiety, slow heart rate and stabilise blood pressure.
Meditation - There are several different forms of meditation that involve chanting mantras, performing specific postures and using breathing exercises that encourage positive body awareness and a sense of peace.
Yoga - This popular practice also combines postures with breathing exercises. Not only does yoga help to relax the mind, but it also improves your flexibility, muscle tone and balances the systems within your body.
Progressive muscle relaxation - By tensing and releasing muscle groups gradually, you can become more aware of how your body feels when stressed or relaxed, and develop strategies to more actively handle stress-related tension.
Visualisation - The variations of this technique involve connecting visual images and physical sensations. By imagining a relaxing setting and focusing on its details, it becomes easier to eliminate stressful thoughts and focus on calming the physical body.
Hypnosis - Administered by a licensed therapist, hypnosis helps to tune out distracting brain activity and focus on specific suggestions related to positive thinking. Self-hypnosis can also be used following treatment.
Obviously, some of these methods are more suitable at different times in your day than others. It wouldn't be very productive to start practising yoga positions whilst in the middle of an important meeting! Yet certain breathing exercises can be done surreptitiously with no one else around you knowing. Therefore, it is a good idea to learn several techniques that can be used at different times.
By building a yoga class into your weekly schedule or meditation or progressive muscle relaxation exercise at home, you can start to put together regular preventative measures to stress build up. Breathing exercises or visualisation techniques can help you in moments of stress and anxiety throughout your day and can be your emergency back up.
Hypnosis has the benefit of being able to be used in both situations, as a planned treatment as well as for emergencies. A hypnotherapist will place you in a deep state of relaxation where the mind is guided away from the troubles of everyday life and into a place of tranquillity and peace. During this process, the hypnotherapist may offer therapeutic suggestions to encourage changes in attitude and behaviour, or relief from stress-related symptoms. This relaxation therapy is comfortable, safe and considered to be a highly liberating experience. It can also provide you with methods of self-hypnosis and rapid relaxation triggers that can be used during the day to relieve symptoms of stress, even during that important meeting!
Benefits of relaxation are:
Decreased heart rate and respiration rate
Lowered blood pressure and increased blood flow
Decrease in anxiety, depression and insomnia
A boost in energy and better sleep patterns
A sense of calmness and confidence
Improved coping abilities
Added benefits of using hypnosis for relaxation include:
Helping to restore and strengthen the immune system
Stress relief and the lessening of chronic pain, tension headaches, back pain and migraines
Diminishing any emotional upsets and unlocking emotional blockages that can contribute to stress
Aiding concentration ability and focus
To help you get started, here are some useful breathing exercises to use whenever you need them.
The 7-11 breathing exercise triggers relaxation
7-11 breathing quickly and naturally calms down the body and mind. And it's incredibly simple and easy to remember, with just three steps:
Breathe in for the count of 7
Breathe out for the count of 11 (pause at the end if you need to)
Keep breathing like that for a few minutes
Try it now. First, breathe all the way out, and then count in your mind as you breathe:
By doing this, you're making your out-breath longer than your in-breath. Just like when you sigh with relief at the end of a long day.
A long, slow out-breath activates your parasympathetic nervous system - the part of your nervous system associated with calm and rest. When you breathe like this for several minutes, you'll find yourself feeling much more relaxed, at ease, and ready to deal with whatever life throws at you.
Practice with '3-5 breathing'
Some people initially find it a bit of a stretch to count all the way to 11 on their out-breath. That's fine; it does take practice.
This technique isn't about forcing yourself to breathe as deeply as you can. It's important to be gentle with yourself and make each breath as relaxed, smooth, and silent as possible. So if you're just starting out, you may find it easier to do '3-5 breathing', where you count in for 3 and out for 5.
Ultimately, you can use whatever two numbers work for you, so long as you make your out-breath longer than your in-breath.
Full breathe breathing, (more with your abdomen than your upper chest)
When some people take in a deep breath, they suck in their stomach muscles and artificially puff out their chest. This is the complete opposite of healthy deep breathing!
Upper-chest breathing is an inefficient use of your lungs and linked to the body's 'fight or flight' anxiety response. Breathing shallowly from your upper chest sends a signal to the rest of the body that there may be danger around, which will increase your background levels of stress and anxiety.
To properly benefit from either breathing technique, it's essential to breathe deeply from your abdomen. Abdominal breathing sends a clear message to your mind and body that all is well and it's safe to relax.
Here's how you can check if you're breathing abdominally:
Put one hand on your chest and your other hand on your stomach
Take several slow, deep breaths
Check which hand moves more when you breathe: the hand on your stomach or the hand on your chest
If the hand over your chest moves more, then you need to practice relaxing your chest muscles as you breathe
Gradually allow your abdomen to rise more with each inhale and allow it to contract back towards the spine with each exhale
The more you breathe with your abdomen, the calmer you'll feel and the more you'll use your lungs to their full capacity.