Wouldn’t it be blissful to be able to remain more calm and relaxed even under the most stressful situations? What would it feel like to be able to regain our balance even when we’re caught off-guard? The following relaxation techniques are designed specifically to help you accomplish these goals.
The benefits of relaxation techniques on our physical being are fairly well known, for example: lower blood pressure, greater blood flow to the muscles, fewer tension headaches, less nausea and more restful sleep. The mental benefits include an ability to concentrate better, think more clearly, and reduce depression, anxiety, and emotional “see-sawing”.
Relaxation techniques are frequently used to help reduce the effects of logical stressors: worries about money, relationships, loved ones, career, world affairs, etc. However, what might be termed “illogical” stressors: panic and anxiety attacks out of the blue and seemingly irrational phobias, can also be “dialed down” by using the following five relaxation exercises.
Before you begin, choose a comfortable, relaxing place where you will not be disturbed. Using the same location, even the same chair or sofa, each time you do the exercises, will help you to accomplish your goals faster. Some quantum physicists and spiritual practitioners believe that everything, even inanimate objects, hold energy. Following this premise, if you continue to practice relaxing or meditating in the same chair, the chair will “build”, or increasingly hold, more and more calming energy.
Practice these relaxation exercises first when you are not in the middle of a stress-induced migraine or panic attack. Each of these relaxation techniques is very different, and if you take the time to learn them all, you’ll be able to choose the one that is most effective for each situation. The more often you practice them, the more effectively they will work when you do need them. Make sure you are in a room where you can close the door, turn off the phone ringer and remain undisturbed.
Once you have your favorite relaxation methods memorized and can do them without referring to notes, you will want to set an anchor to fire when you are feeling stressed. Setting an anchor teaches your body to quickly release stressful or negative feelings and recreate feelings of relaxation, peace and serenity.
The first relaxation exercise actively engages your physical body; the last four exercises use guided imagery and are just as effective.
1. Muscle Relaxation
Each deep breath goes in through the nose and out through the mouth. Be sure to relax your breathing and let it fall into a natural pattern, breathing easily and normally in between each of the deep breaths.
Begin by closing your eyes and taking a deep breath in through your nose, letting your chest and abdomen expand with your breath, and exhale slowly through your mouth.
Be aware of your jaw, and consciously relax your jaw muscles. Swallow hard, once, and relax your tongue.
Put your attention on the top of your head. Imagine you are softening all the muscles across the top of your head, moving down and around your temples, and back around to the base of your skull.
Gently press your chin down towards your chest, and keep applying this gentle pressure as you slowly roll your head to the right, pressing your right ear down towards your shoulder. Continue to roll your head and press the back of your head down towards your back, then roll your head to the left, gently pressing your left ear down to your shoulder. Reverse the roll. When you finish, take another deep breath in through your nose, filling your chest and letting your abdomen expand, and exhale slowly through your mouth.
Raise your shoulders up towards your ears and roll them back and down. Continue rolling them in a circular motion two or three times. Now relax your shoulders, and imagine a heavy, heavy weight is being lifted off your shoulders, and let them drop. Take another deep breath in, and exhale slowly, letting your breathing continue to relax.
Stretch your arms out to your sides about waist high. Lock your elbows, make a fist with each hand and flex and rotate your wrists, first clockwise, then counterclockwise so that your arms are also rotating. Be gentle as you do this, especially if you have arthritis. Only do what is comfortable! Now shake your arms, letting your wrists and hands flop, and let them drop down to your sides. Imagine that your arms are very heavy, so heavy that it’s difficult to lift them.
Now imagine that there are many tiny muscles going all the way down your spine, from the base of your skull to your tailbone. Use your imagination to see them, and inch by inch move down your spine, letting all of these muscles relax. Feel them letting go, and imagine the relief they feel as your back relaxes.
Put your attention on your upper chest. Imagine there is a large circle here, and the diameter reaches from your sternum all the way up to about 1-2″ below your (collarbone). Feel the tension held here, and imagine that from deep inside your body, this circle is beginning to open up, softening and relaxing your chest as it does so. Take another deep breath in and exhale slowly. If you feel tears welling up, that’s perfectly fine. We tend to hold pain in our heart, keeping it in a sort of “lockdown” which creates tension in the body, so let them flow, but continue on to the next step.
Tighten up your abdominal muscles. Hold for five seconds. Repeat once. Take another deep breath in and exhale slowly.
Straighten your legs out in front of you, holding them about 2-3″ off the floor. Tense your thigh muscles and press your toes down toward the floor, then press your heels down to the floor, alternately pressing your toes and heels down a couple of times. Completely relax your legs, letting your feet touch the floor. Repeat. Take another deep breath in and exhale slowly.
2. Muscle Imagery Relaxation
Be sure to relax your breathing and let it fall into a natural pattern, breathing easily and normally in between each of the deep breaths. Take a deep breath with each wave that comes in, breathing through your nose and exhale out through the mouth as the wave recedes, and breathe normally in between each wave.
Imagine that you are standing at the edge of a magnificent ocean. Here, in this beautiful place, the weather is perfect, and the temperature is just right. You are all alone, and no one can disturb you. You can even imagine that you can hear the cry of seagulls, and the crash of waves as the breakers roll in towards the shore, that you can feel the wet sand beneath your feet and the warm water as it laps over them. (If you have a fear of large bodies of water, you can make this a lake or large pond with gently lapping waves. Whatever image you choose, make sure that there is moving water and make the scenery as beautiful and perfect as you can.)
As the first wave rolls in towards you, take a deep breath in through your nose with the motion of the wave, imagining that you are pulling the water up through your feet and ankles, and up into your calves. Exhale through your mouth as the wave rolls back out again and feel all of your foot and ankle muscles relax with the pull of the water.
As the next wave rolls in, inhale and pull the water up through your calves and knees. Exhale as the water recedes and feel it pull all of the tension out of your calf and knee muscles.
Another wave comes in, and this time you pull the water up, up through your thighs and hips with your breath. Feel a strong downward pull as the water moves back out, pulling every bit of tension and stress from your thighs and hips.
Take a moment to relax. Put your awareness in your hips and thighs, and feel how relaxed these muscles are now. You are beginning to feel a part of the ocean, a part of the sky, a part of the sand. Feel the rhythmic pound of the great breakers far out to sea, and let your breathing relax even more.
As the next wave comes in, use your breath and pull the water all the way up your legs, up through your abdomen to your ribcage. Notice the cleansing power of the salt water, and as you release your breath, the water takes with it every feeling, every fear, every emotion that you do not want, back out into the sea to be purified and used again as clean, beautiful ch’i (energy).
Another wave rolls in, and this time as you inhale, pull the water all the way up into your shoulders, your arms and chest. Feel the tension drain from your shoulders as the water recedes, exhaling slowly.
As the last wave moves in, use your breath to pull the water all the way up through your neck to the top of your head. As you exhale, every negative thought, every worry or concern, flows back down out through your body and into the ocean. Notice how relieved you feel. Feel the peace and tranquility all around you, and realize that with every breath, you have been cleansed of any energy you do not want, any energy you have taken on from other people. Stay here for a moment and enjoy the feeling of serenity that is now yours to keep for as long as you like.
3. Breathing Your Spirit Into Your Body
This exercise requires an open mind (aka a flexible belief system), and should be done barefoot or wearing only cotton socks, standing up, with your eyes open. One of the reasons we have panic or anxiety attacks is because our spirit is a part of us, but it is not fully occupying our physical body.
This can be experienced as feelings of being “beside yourself” as if you are watching yourself go through the motions; of being out of control of our own behavior, or of feeling too vulnerable, or too easily influenced or controlled by others.
Stand in a relaxed position with your eyes open. Look at a blank wall or carpet, and let your eyes go into soft focus, not looking at anything in particular.
Take a few moments to become very aware of your being. Not just your physical body, but YOU; every part of you that thinks and feels and exists. Start at the top of your head, and using your imagination, notice how “full” you feel inside your body.
Move very slowly down your neck, your shoulders and your upper chest. Does your upper chest feel full? Can you feel your own presence there as fully as you do in your head?
Move your awareness down through your torso, through your abdomen, hips and buttocks. Can you feel your presence here as strongly as you do in your chest? In your head?
Continue moving down your thighs and calves and into your feet. How strong is your presence here? Can you sense the presence of your spirit, or does it feel a bit empty? Can you feel a slight tingling on the soles of your feet as the ch’i flows in through the chakras?
Ideally, we want to feel the presence of our spirit evenly distributed throughout our body and energy field, which extends out beyond the physical form, rather like a cocoon of moving energy. This exercise is extremely relaxing as well as beneficial to all areas of our lives.
Gently feel for the fontanel, or soft spot, at the crown of your head, on top and towards the back of the skull. Once you feel it, let your hand rest at your side. This is your crown chakra, a place where your spirit can move more fully in or out of your body.
Using your intent (that’s literally all it takes), imagine that you are connecting with your own spirit. You might imagine a gold cord connecting your spirit to your physical body. This gold cord runs straight down from your crown through the center of your torso and on down into the earth.
Imagine that you are holding this gold cord in either hand. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale slowly, gently pull on the cord, pulling your spirit slowly and easily down into your body.
Notice how far down your spirit is willing to move. Don’t try to force it; only go as far as it will with each breath.
Take as many of the “pulling breaths” as you need, stopping after each pull to assess how “full” you feel.
When you reach the base of your torso, focus on pulling your spirit equally down into both legs and feet. When you are finished, the lower half of your body should feel heavier and denser.
If you’re not fond of the gold cord imagery, you can simply use your breath to “push” your spirit down into your body, following the same steps.
4. Emotional Calming
Water is an excellent metaphor for, and the metaphysical element of, the emotional body. Using images of water to calm your emotions is arguably the most effective way of achieving quick results and is an excellent relaxation technique.
Begin by noticing how you are feeling right now, in this moment. Are you upset, perhaps from an argument, or from something someone else said or did? Are you calm, worried, or excited? Now, close your eyes.
Imagine that you are standing comfortably in a large body of warm water, such as a beautiful mountain lake. The water reaches to just below your navel.
At first, just observe the state of the water. Is it rough and choppy? Does it have small ripples, or gentle waves? Note that whatever it is doing, the water is a reflection of your present emotional state.
Using your spirit hands, your imaginary hands, with slow, even movements, begin smoothing out the surface of the water, moving from your body outward in every direction. Be sure to smooth it out behind you as well. Take your time, keeping your movements slow and rhythmical.
Notice that even though your hands cannot reach all the way to the far edges of the lake, the water continues to smooth itself out all the way to the shore.
Keep smoothing out the water, until it is as calm and clear as glass. Take your time.
When the water is still, just stand there for a while. Notice the reflection of the clouds, mountains, or trees in the lake, and enjoy how perfectly still and peaceful it is.
When you are ready, open your eyes. Notice how much calmer you feel.
5. Shower of Light
This is a wonderful relaxation exercise and works amazingly well.
Sit or stand with your back straight. Do not lock or tighten the muscles along your spine; you want to allow the energy to flow easily through your body.
Imagine there is a vertical pole about 1″ or 2″ in diameter, running parallel to your spine in the center of your body. This pole extends out the base of your torso down into the Earth and up through the crown of your head all the way to the heavens.
Now begin calling light to you. Light will come to you easily and automatically, as soon as you think of it, whether or not you can feel or see it. It requires no effort on your part; in fact, the more you relax and allow it to come to you, the better. However, it is usually more fun and feels better when you visualize the light in your mind’s eye.
Ask for your being to be filled with light. Visualize light coming to you through the crown of your head, flowing down the vertical pole, filling it with light.
Once the pole is filled with light, imagine the light spreading out in every direction, filling your body; your head and neck, your arms and hands, your legs and feet. You may even feel a tingling sensation, or goose bumps on your skin as you fill with light.
Allow the light to continue to fill your body. Now let it extend beyond your physical body into the space around you as far as you are comfortable. You may want to stop when it reaches a couple of feet beyond your body, or let it fill the entire room.
Take your time. Continue doing this as long as you like. When you are ready to stop, focus your awareness on the area around your physical heart and let the stream of light begin to slow down.
When the stream of light has slowed take a few deep breaths, and as you exhale on the last deep breath, open your eyes.
If you do this often, you will become familiar enough with the process that it will be unnecessary to close your eyes or visualize when you call light to yourself.
6. Setting and Firing Anchors
Once you have memorized and practiced your favorite relaxation techniques, you can train your body to remember what it feels like to be calm and relaxed, and to recreate these positive feelings under stressful situations. This is a very well-known technique among therapists.
Setting Your Anchor
First, choose one unique anchor for each exercise. Start with your favorite exercise to practice on.
At the end of the exercise, while you are feeling the most calm, relaxed and stress-free, stay seated in your chair with your eyes closed.
Really let yourself feel the peace and serenity, and imagine it flowing through your body in your bloodstream, coating your nerves, bathing your organs and muscles with these wonderful feelings.
Press your right thumb and index finger together firmly, but don’t squeeze too hard.
Holding these fingers together, take three long, slow, deep comfortable breaths.
Each time you inhale, repeat to yourself (silently if you like), “These wonderful feelings are Mine.”
With each exhale, repeat to yourself, “I feel wonderful”. Don’t think about your feelings; be your feelings. You are literally “anchoring” these positive feelings into your body-mind memory, and it’s more effective to do so from a feeling-state.
Relax your fingers, relax your breathing, and open your eyes.
Do this every time you end your relaxation exercise, at least four or five times before you use it out of necessity. Get it firmly into your body-mind memory before you need to use it.
Firing Your Anchor
When you are feeling anxious, upset, or stressed, stop. Just stop whatever you are doing (unless you’re on the freeway, that is). Take a moment to breathe, focusing on your breath.
Press your right thumb and finger together firmly, and take three long, slow, deep comfortable breaths.
Focus on your breathing, and on the inhale, say, “These wonderful feelings are Mine.” With each exhale, repeat to yourself, “I feel wonderful”. Do this three times. You have now fired your anchor.