Ways to relax
An Overview of Structured Relaxation Programs
Sometimes just saying "I need to relax more" isn't enough.
Structured programs combining elements of mental and physical
relaxation can offer a way to learn to relax through coaching,
lessons, or individual practice. Ranging from the martial arts
to meditation, structured relaxation programs have been used in
psychotherapy and as adjuvant therapies for many chronic medical
conditions. To help you decide if one of these programs is right
for you, this article provides an overview of some of the most
commonly-practiced disciplines that increase "relaxation
Developed in the early 20th century, this technique is based
upon passive concentration and awareness of body sensations.
Through repetition of so-called autogenic "formulas" one focuses
upon different sensations, such as warmth or heaviness, in
different regions of the body. Autogenic training has been used
by physicians as a part of therapy for many conditions. Popular
in Europe (where it is even covered by some insurance plans),
this method is currently gaining acceptance in the USA. No
particular physical skills or exercises are involved; however,
persons desiring to learn this technique must be prepared to
invest time and patience. Since this technique is slightly more
complex than some relaxation methods, a course is generally the
best way to learn the method.
Biofeedback is one method of learning to achieve relaxation,
control stress responses, or modify the body's reactions through
the use of monitoring equipment that provides information from
the body which would normally not be available. This method is
based upon the principle first advanced in the early 1960s that
the autonomic nervous system (the part we don't consciously use)
is trainable. For example, instruments can be used to measure
heart rate, blood pressure, brain activity, stomach acidity,
muscle tension, or other parameters while persons experiment
with postural changes, breathing techniques, or thinking
patterns. By receiving this feedback, one can learn to identify
the processes that achieve the desired result, such as reduction
in heart rate and blood pressure. Biofeedback is used by many
practitioners for a variety of psychological and physical
conditions. Because the technique involves the use of measuring
devices, it can only be performed by a professional.
Imagery, or Guided Imagery, is the use of pleasant or relaxing
images to calm the mind and body. By controlling breathing and
visualizing a soothing image, a state of deep relaxation can
occur. This method can be learned by anyone and is relatively
easy to begin. Imagery has also been used in addition to
conventional therapy in the treatment of cancer and other
conditions, in which a patient visualizes disease states being
fought by or driven out of the body.
Ranging from practices associated with specific religions or
beliefs to methods focusing purely on physical relaxation,
meditation is one of the most popular techniques to achieve
physical and mental relaxation. There are literally thousands of
different types of meditation, and many can be learned on your
own. The meditative state is one in which there is a deep
centering and focusing upon the core of one's being; there is a
quieting of the mind, emotions, and body. The meditative state
can be achieved through structured (as in a daily practice of a
routine) or unstructured (for example, while being alone
outdoors) activities. While teachers of meditative arts are
readily available, some techniques can be learned though books
or online tutorials.
A form of meditation popularized in the last few decades is TM,
or transcendental meditation. TM has the goal of achieving
transcendental consciousness, or the simplest form of awareness.
It is practiced for 15-20 minutes in the mornings and evenings
and is relatively easy to learn. Numerous classes and teaching
materials are available for beginners.
One variant of a meditation technique has
gained popularity in the US since its description in the 1970s
by Harvard physician Herbert Benson. This technique, known as
the relaxation response, involves the repetition of a
word of phrase while quietly seated, 10-20 minutes per day.
Designed to evoke the opposite body reaction to the stress
response (or "fight or flight" reaction), this method carries no
religious or spiritual overtones. Its value has been documented
in the reduction of blood pressure and other bodily stress
responses. Like other forms of meditation, it can be learned on
one's own, but time and practice are required to elicit the
desired relaxation state.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This method is based upon the idea that mental
relaxation will be a natural outcome of physical relaxation.
Although muscle activity is involved, this technique requires no
special skills or conditioning, and it can be learned by almost
anyone. Progressive muscle relaxation is generally practiced for
10-20 minutes a day. As with the Relaxation Response, practice
and patience are required for maximum benefits.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a method developed in the 1930s
in which muscle groups are tightened and then relaxed in
The martial art Qigong is an ancient Chinese health care system
that combines physical training (such as isometrics, isotonics,
and aerobic conditioning) with Eastern philosophy and relaxation
techniques. There are many different kinds of Qigong, including
medical Qigong. Some forms are practiced while standing,
sitting, or lying down; others involve structured movements or
massage. Over 70 million Chinese practice some form of Qigong
daily. Qigong has been used for centuries in China for the
treatment of a variety of medical conditions. Learning Qigong
involves time, commitment, patience, and determination, and
learning from a master or group is advisable. Since this
technique involves physical exertion, check with your doctor
before beginning, particularly if you have a chronic medical
condition or are over 40 years old.
Like Qigong, Taichi is a Chinese martial art. It has been termed
a kind of "meditation in motion" and is characterized by soft,
flowing movements that stress precision and force. Also known as
Tai Chi Chuan, this methods is thousands of years old. As with
Qigong, training from a master is necessary to learn the art of
Taichi. Again, since motion and force are required, check with
your doctor before beginning training.
There are many forms of yoga, an ancient Indian form of exercise
based upon the premise that the body and breathing are connected
with the mind. There are many different forms of yoga, and the
practice of yoga is thought to be over 5000 year old. One goal
of yoga is to restore balance and harmony to the body and
emotions through numerous postural and breathing exercises.
Yoga, which means "joining" or "union" in Sanskrit, has been
called the "search for the soul" and the "union between the
individual and the divine". Among the benefits of yoga are
increased flexibility and capability for relaxation. No special
level of conditioning is required; yoga can be learned by nearly
anyone. Classes, books, and videos are widely available. Those
with special or chronic physical conditions will want to get
clearance from their doctor before beginning.