Relaxation is the primary way to calm down the stress response. We needed the stress response when we were evolving to get away from charging tigers etc. But today it lights up even when we are stuck in traffic, juggling emails or when caught in a quarrel with someone or when we are simply worried about something or irritated. While the stress response system has good short term benefits, the long-term costs for physical and mental health are really high.
High ease and low tension in mind and body promotes health, resilience and well-being. Relaxation takes practice – especially in our zoom culture. We can be relaxed without dulling our mind, lowering our guard, or slacking off. The motto of the Police around the Insight Meditation Society of MA (which is on their cars) is Tranquil and alert! We can be relaxed and alert, active and enthusiastic at the same time. This state allows us to soften and relax around threat or pain, and return more rapidly to relaxation after excitement, stress or being upset.
As Alan Watts put it “Life is wiggly,” and the parasympathetic wing of the nervous system helps us ride out the wiggles and bumps of everyday living. For cultivating inner-resources, Neuro-bodhana or knowledge about the brain is helpful. The Parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest and digest” part of our autonomic nervous system balances the sympathetic, the “flight or fight” wing of the nervous system. These two balance each other like the brake and gas pedals of a car. By understanding how this works, we can learn to develop skills that are self-calming, self-soothing and self-regulating. This will enable us to deal with difficult situations with more of a sense of centeredness inside. Becoming more skillful at activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is helpful for replacing stress, anxiety, tension, frustration and anger with relaxation, ease, perspective, and inner peace.
One easy way to activate the parasympathetic nervous systems is thru several long exhalations in a row because it handles exhalation, slows the heart-rate, lowers stress hormones and encourages digestion. If you inhale for 4 and exhale for 8, you will notice a major change right there and then, in your sense of stress. May you relax.
humor: Why did the skeleton go for trick or treat all alone? It had no“body” to go with 🙂