Relaxation is often the beginning of healing. While it won’t solve all our problems, its benefits extend beyond its ability to relieve tension. When faced with numerous responsibilities and tasks or the demands of an illness, relaxation techniques may not be a priority in your life.

According to researchers at the NIH and the Mayo Clinic, some of the health benefits of relaxation include: lowering blood pressure and fatigue, improving digestion, reducing the activity of stress hormones, reducing muscle tension, chronic pain, anger and frustration, improving concentration, mood and sleep quality.

Having a choice in how you feel

Learning to relax at will give you a sense of confidence in your ability to focus your mind and more familiarity with your thoughts and feelings. Additionally you become aware of having more choice in how you react and how you feel. When you learn what relaxation feels like, you are better able to recognize the contrasting feelings of tension, allowing you to more accurately identify what makes you tense. This practice can be the beginning of your ability to deal with stress more effectively, by supplementing it with other positive coping methods, such as thinking positively, finding humor, managing time, exercising, getting enough sleep and reaching out to family and friends for support.

Deep relaxation followed by specific imagery/visualization

When our mind entertains an image, it communicates to the body through sensations. Much of the time we may not be aware of this ongoing internal dialogue – which is sometimes healthy and other times harmful. If we remember an argument we had with a close friend recently, our body reacts today as though we are still arguing. If we close our eyes and notice – the breathing might have become more rapid or shallow, the muscles may have tightened, heart may be beating faster and we may feel anxious. Similarly if we think back to the last time we felt close to a friend or loved one, or imagine a peaceful scene, maybe in nature or a temple or church. Notice the body, it may begin to relax, your breathing may have become deeper and more regular, your heart rate may have slowed and you feel good.

If we start with the body as the centre of meditation, rather than the mind, we can engage both though the mind-body connection. The link between the body and the emotions is now scientifically established, and the exchange and union between the body and mind that takes place in a Yogi’s meditations is particularly effective for relaxation. Using breath control and simple arm movements to direct energy-flow can create perfect balance in the body and rid it of samskaras, the energetic residue of emotional scars. Samskaras can make us lethargic, depressed, stressed and anxious. The benefits of distributing breath and energy evenly are felt at every level: the body’s organs are balanced, emotional transformation occurs, self-awareness, vitality, clarity, and a sense of calm, balance and harmony are increased and the digestive, cardiovascular and nervous systems are all positively affected.

Deep relaxation evokes a state of mind in which specific imagery techniques are most effective. You may form mental images to take a visual journey to a peaceful, calming place or situation. To relax using visualization, try to incorporate as many senses as you can, including smell, sight, sound and touch. If you imagine relaxing at the ocean, for instance, think about the smell of salt water, the sound of crashing waves and the warmth of the sun on your body.

Relaxation techniques are the first step in learning to use your images, thoughts, and feelings skillfully. The ability to quiet your mind and concentrate your attention will enable you to make the best use of visualization practices.

As you learn relaxation techniques, you will find yourself becoming more aware of muscle tension and other physical sensations of stress. Once you know what the stress response feels like, you can make a conscious effort to practice a relaxation technique the moment you start to feel stress symptoms. This can prevent stress from spiraling out of control. Remember that relaxation techniques are skills – as with any skill, your ability to relax improves with practice.

The Longer the leap by Danna Faulds

I’am not here to muddle through,

one tedious chore at a time.

My destiny isn’t boring or

humdrum but vibrantly alive –

each breath a chance to draw

the mystery inside of me and

let life work its magic.

All it takes is the choice to

open my heart and give myself

fully into life. Obstacles,

impossible odds, fear, and

hesitation are all here to

awaken my determination,

to stimulate the knowing that

my soul isn’t here to be

a spectator. This day was made

for jumping into with both feet,

the longer the leap, the more

satisfied my smile will be tonight

when I give myself to sleep.