Health > Keeping Fit > Relaxation
We can all benefit from having some form of relaxation in our daily lives. Getting rid of the mental and physical tensions that build up unconsciously during a busy day is an essential part of keeping fit.
If you are physically and mentally over wrought your body may react by becoming a mass of aches and pains. Knowing how to relax your muscles gives you an improved sense of well being.
BENEFITS OF RELAXATION
General problems arising from tension include those which affect personal relationships. Irritability, nagging and outbursts of temper increase when a person is under pressure. Also, stress is self-perpetuating that is, if you are taking your feelings of tension out on your husband, wife or children, they will take it out on each other. If you can decrease your tension by being more relaxed you marriage and family will benefit.
Because a tense person tends to be a clumsy person, cutting down muscle tension improves performance in activities which require co-ordination. Relaxation also maximizes the effect of exercise; if you relax totally after a jogging or swimming session for example you will become fitter much more quickly.
Another bonus from being properly relaxed is an increase in the tolerance of pain which is linked with an ability to recover more quickly from illness.
TENSION-IS IT NECESSARY ?
To appreciate fully why we need to relax we need to understand how the body copes with stress and tension.
A certain amount of tension, and of its long-term counterpart, stress, are vital to human life. If we did not respond to challenges or threats by tensing ourselves in readiness for action, we would never achieve anything. The way in which the human body prepares for action ha been inherited from the time when man was primarily a hunter and threats were mainly physical. Meeting such threats usually required physical effort. To produce physical effort the body reacts in a number of ways, usually described as the flight or fight response. The hormone adrenalin floods into the bloodstream, speeding up many functions but principally the heartbeat and rate of breathing. Muscular tension also increases in readiness for movement.
This type of arousal is necessary while effort is required, but it is exhausting. A healthy, well-exercised body can tolerate the strain as long as there is time to recuperate. In the flight or fight response the effort of fighting or running away produces the complete exhaustion that automatically induces relaxation.
Today we usually experience arousal differently, for example in the form of a marital disagreement last thing at night. Or it may be spread out over weeks or mental anxiety, the physical symptoms of tension build up into the generalized condition called stress.
As tension cannot be avoided, if this build up is not interrupted with periodic relaxation, there is a danger of emotional and mental breakdown.
TAKING A MORE RELAXED ATTITUDE
You can save yourself a good deal of trouble just by having a constructive mental approach. Try to become aware of how much tension you can tolerate. When you feel yourself approaching the limit, stop what you are doing; you will perform much better when you are calmer.
You should take time off from work, not only by taking annual holidays but by arranging to have uninterrupted evenings and weekends. If you have been especially tense and overworked, choose holidays, which require a minimum of travel. When you have to meet a tight deadline at work, accept that you must work until a certain hour, and stop then. You will probably not achieve anything worthwhile if you go on any longer. Similarly, if you have to work at a weekend get the work done on Saturday and keep Sunday totally free.
Tense muscles are a danger signal to the brain and, conversely, relaxed ones communicate that all is well. There are a whole range of exercises designed to promote muscle relaxation. It is worth finding out which suit you and doing them regularly. But even before that you can relieve muscle tension anywhere in your body by asking yourself which muscles are tense and then relaxing them systematically, working from the head downwards or the feet upwards.
Correct posture when standing or sitting is also basic to relaxation and so is correct breathing. Massage is an especially effective way of inducing relaxation and you can either learn self-massage or get someone to massage you.
MEDITATION AND YOGA
Meditation involves both physical and mental relaxation. It means learning and using a special technique to put yourself in a state of altered consciousness, in which the heart rate, breathing and many other body processes slow down appreciably and the mind obtains release from everyday problems.
The form of meditation most commonly taught is transcendental meditation. You can learn about it by attending an introductory session at a transcendental meditation centre. Although it is not the only form of meditation it is probably the easiest to learn.
Yoga’s way to mental and physical relaxation is by a combination of exercise, breathing and some elements of pure meditation. If you are prepared to devote time to it this can be a successful way to achieve relaxation.