"I'll rest when I'm dead!" Many of us are guilty of adopting this mindset from time to time. Our society perceives go, go go and achieve, achieve, achieve to be the path to a successful life. Quality relaxation is a key component to nurturing our bodies and our minds. For our bodies to fully enjoy the successes of our labor, we must routinely relax.
Our bodies listen to us far better than we listen to them. Pushing our bodies to their limit day after day not only exhausts, but also takes a toll on them. From the moment you wake up to the moment you slip into sleep, your actions and mindset affect your body. Taking time to support your body allows your body to best support you now, and for years to come.
Sympathetic Nervous System | Fight or Flight
The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) automatically activates as a response to stress or a perceived threat. The SNS provides a quick boost of physical and mental clarity to react to potential danger and manage stress. There are physical signs you can notice: An increase in heart rate pumps more blood throughout your muscles, a rapid pace of breath increases the flow of oxygen to your brain, and your body produces a quick shot of glucose to fire up your energy. Activation of the SNS is beneficial in these short bursts as needed.
When we are in go, go, go mode, our sympathetic nervous system is engaged. The physiological and psychological activation is prolonged, heightening our body's stressed-out state. This can lead to a variety of health issues and is linked to underlying mental health complications as well. We might think we are better learning to handle stress while we unknowingly train our bodies to increase stress. The sympathetic nervous system is available in our bodies as a mechanism for survival, not to cope with a busy lifestyle or daily stresses. Those who have a difficult time relaxing or feel like their thoughts are constantly racing may be experiencing a sympathetic overload
Parasympathetic Nervous System | Rest and Digest
After the SNS prepares us to respond to danger, the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) calms our systems back down. The PSNS slows your heart rate, deepens your breath, allows your body to properly digest food, and returns you to neutral. Working together, the SNS and the PSNS balance the cycles of stress in your body.
The PSNS is home to an abundance of physical, mental, and emotional benefits as your body is able to conserve energy within this state. Individuals who embrace time in their parasympathetic nervous system are able to experience higher quality of rest, quieted thoughts, and mental and emotional clarity.
Why do we create stress for ourselves? Why has ”busy” become the societal normal? Our bodies get used to being in the state we put them in. Have you heard someone mention, “I’m stressed out that I’m not stressed out!” when things are actually going as planned? Adopting go, go go can be helpful in getting all of the things accomplished. Yet, it takes away from our ability to relax fully. When we avoid relaxing, we avoid healing and nurturing.
A path to relaxation
Learning to live in less stress is an adjustment. It takes time to break stress-filled and fast-paced patterns and incorporate relaxation practices. When starting out, you may feel antsy, distracted, or even agitated during your relaxation practice. You may fall asleep during a svasana, yoga nidra, or pranayama practice. And, that’s okay. Your body will take the time it needs to adjust. If you’re currently a go, go, go person, your body might confuse relaxation with a chance to finally crash. The more often you practice, the more your body will learn to melt into your new state of relaxation while remaining awake.
Sleep Does Not Equal Relaxation
That’s right, folks. Your need for sleep and your need for relaxation are two separate needs. During sleep, your body is at work repairing and resting you for the next day. During relaxation, you have a chance to consciously remove yourself from your tangled web of thoughts and allow your body to loosen some stress and rigidity.
Having a relaxation practice will guide you toward a higher quality of sleep. Thanks to the time you spend relaxing, your body won’t need to work as hard to repair and rest you during sleep. As you learn to quiet your mind in your relaxation practice, it will become easier to fall asleep. And, you will learn breath techniques that prepare your body for rest.
Real Relaxation Includes:
Removing Distractions | Your phone, TV, background music and other noise, multitasking, waiting for the laundry, pets wanting your attention... whatever items, tasks, or beings that take your focus away from relaxing are distractions. We all have responsibilities. I encourage you to find time for relaxation where your attention can be focused on yourself. That being said, some relaxation is better than no relaxation. Fit your relaxation practice into your life however you can. If that means waking up earlier, fitting it in on your morning commute, or doing some breath work while you're in bed, that's okay. We all start somewhere.
Proper Alignment and Posture | Slouching into your couch will not allow for the kind of deep relaxation yoga can offer. Finding alignment in your body that supports your breath and energy to flow effortlessly, leads toward deeper relaxation. Svasana (shuh-vuh-suh-nuh), or corpse pose, operates as the basic relaxation pose:
Wear comfortable, soft clothing. Lie flat on your back. Place a rolled blanket or long pillow under your knees so they are comfortably elevated. Allow your toes to point outward. Cover yourself in another blanket. Rest your arms on either side of your body with your palms facing either up or down. Gently rock your head side-to-side to find a comfortable neutral. Gently close your eyes. You may use an eye pillow or folded cloth to cover your eyes. Allow yourself to fully feel your breath moving throughout your body.
Quieting the Mind | Understanding that you are more than your thoughts and then separating yourself from those thoughts is necessary to reach deep relaxation. Our thoughts can be distracting and, at times, overbearing. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself when your thoughts seem to keep you from relaxing. The more often you practice relaxation, the easier it will become to distance yourself from your thoughts.
Practice | Try, try again, and keep trying. Just as life ebbs and flows, your practice will ebb and flow. Rather than being discouraged with yourself, offer yourself grace for the times you skip your practice and gratitude for the times you remember. Keep in mind, your relaxation practice won't deepen unless you put in effort. Find a practice that seems comfortable to you and stick with it. You will begin to experience more benefits from your relaxation practice as you progress.
Yoga and Relaxation
Yoga practice can activate the parasympathetic to prepare for relaxation and meditation. While yoga doesn’t require you to abandon the responsibilities that are keeping you busy, yoga does encourage you to examine your attachment to those responsibilities and practice relaxation daily to help your body recover from your stresses.
Adding a relaxation practice to your daily life can change the way stress affects you. Changes will occur both physically and mentally as you grow through your relaxation practice.
Begin and build your own mindful relaxation practice with our support. Check out our Mindfulness Membership to access a multitude of practices.
Thank you for joining me in this overview of relaxation. May your life be full of peace, gratitude, and love for your true nature.
shanti, shanti, shanti | peace, peace, peace
Rachael Schauer, Your guide through growth.