The Fine Art of Relaxation

What does it mean to be relaxed? How can we define relaxation? It can be a somewhat elusive notion.

A quick google of the definition provides the following:

‘the state of being free from tension and anxiety.’

There’s that word again – tension. And anxiety too! So to be relaxed is to be in a state that is free from tension and anxiety.

So how could we practice relaxation?

What might this relaxation practice look like?

It seem we’d have to be practicing how to be free from tension or anxiety. That means we’d have to know how to reduce tension and calm anxiety.

Most advice around how to relax is quite vague. Many practices are suggested without any clear description of how EXACTLY these practices help you to achieve relaxation. That is not to say that they don’t, suggestions such as Tai Chi, Chi Gung, Yoga, Massage, Meditation, etc are all perfectly valid but the HOW is never really explained in any real way. The question remains as to what are the mechanisms that lead to the relaxation. These mechanisms seem to be poorly understood, or at least poorly explained.

From a Somatic perspective to ‘relax’ is to relax YOUR MUSCLES. If your muscles are relaxed you will feel relaxed. If your muscles are tense you will feel tense and perhaps anxious. This is the giant elephant in the room.

It is impossible to feel relaxed when your muscles are held tight and tense. Conversely it is impossible to feel stressed/anxious when your muscles are relaxed.

So, If we had a means of relaxing our muscles quickly and easily we could use that to ‘relax’.

This is where a Somatic Movement practice comes in. A clear, concise way to literally relax and lengthen our muscles swiftly, with the added bonus of improved sensory awareness and motor control.

Somatic Movements are full body pandiculations. First, you deliberately TENSE your muscles. They’re already tight anyway, we may aswell tighten them on purpose. This reestablishes the neural connection between your brain and your muscles. This action in and of itself puts the muscles back under your voluntary control. Then you SLOWLY AND DELIBERATELY RELEASE THAT TENSION until your muscles are back at rest, relaxed. You have just used your brain to very deliberately ‘relax’ your muscles. If the untightening phase of the movement is not smooth. You simply repeat it and focus on taking out the bumps. Usually 3-4 repeats will provide an immediately perceptible difference to your sense of relaxation, softness, comfort and control. And the more skilled you become at doing this, the easier it becomes. It is a learning process. You can learn how to relax.

Once you have actually relaxed your muscles by pandiculating, doing things like getting a massage or meditating or tai chi or taking a walk etc. will be even more enjoyable and effective.

You need to BE relaxed in the first place to get the most out of many of the practices touted as good for relaxation.

As Thomas Hanna once said, “It’s hard to meditate with a crick in your neck”.

So if you are looking for a way to “relax” after a hard day at work, a tough training session or a stressful life experience you could Learn Somatics. You’ve nothing to lose, except your tension!

You can try this right now using these short Somatic movement playlists I’ve created for you on YouTube.

This one is for all of the muscles of the back of the body.

And this one for the muscles of the front of the body.

See if you don’t feel more relaxed after practicing them.

Enjoy, and as always thanks for reading.

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

www.learnsomatics.ie

A Tight Belly Means a Tight Body

There is a preoccupation in the modern world with tight toned bellies. In an effort to hold in our bellies we constantly contract the muscles of our stomach and torso, sucking our guts in. As we continue this ritual every day we gradually forget how it feels to let these muscles relax. The feeling of holding our bellies tight becomes ‘normal’.

But what are the implications of habitually tight belly muscles?

  1. Poor posture: a tight belly will draw your ribs down, and your head and shoulders forward, instantly creating that stooped bent over posture so reminiscent of the old and infirm, yay!
  2. Painful Back: this bent over posture then places extra strain on your back as your back muscles must compensate for your tight belly, working even harder than normal to keep you upright. Sweet!
  3. Tight, stiff, sore Shoulders: a tight belly limits your ability to extend your thoracic spine and in turn your ability to raise your arms overhead.
  4. Shallow Breathing: A tight belly will inhibit your ability to breathe deeply. When you cannot relax your belly muscles, your diaphragm cannot contract or relax fully and your ribcage cannot expand fully, this limits the amount of air you are able to inhale. Gasp!
  5. Anxiety: the reduction in your ability to breathe can contribute to low level anxiety as your body responds to this ongoing oxygen deficit. 😦
  6. Chest Breathing: when you can’t breath in to your belly, you have to breath into your chest, chest breathing is inefficient and uses far more energy than belly breathing and can lead to even more tightness in the neck and shoulders.

The above are all characteristics of what Thomas Hanna called Red Light Reflex. or Startle Reflex. An involuntary and automatic reflex that tightens all the muscles of the front of the body.

You can avoid all of the negative consequences of a tight belly by pandiculating the belly muscles and all the muscles of the front of the trunk. The result is more upright posture, freer breathing and broader chest and improved shoulder mobility. Check out the video below to see just how easily this can be achieved using the simple Somatic Movement called Arch & Curl. Give it a try and see if you like how it makes you feel.

By the way, there is nothing wrong with wishing to have a toned belly or a lean body. It’s a perfectly reasonable and admirable goal. But being lean and being tight are two completely different things. You can have a lean body that is relaxed or a portly body that is tight. Or vice versa. In reality leanness and muscular tonus have very little to do with one another. But certainly sucking in your gut all day by constantly contracting your belly muscles is a not a habit we want to form.

As a further irony if your low back muscles are tight, they will push your belly forward as your back arches. Thus creating a belly. In that case relaxing your lower back muscles will allow your belly to recede as if by magic. No diet required!

Everything feels easier when your muscles are relaxed, consider practicing Somatic Movements daily so you can stay relaxed, limber and comfortable all over. If you need help or would like to learn from me, hit me up!

Thanks for reading! 

www.learnsomatics.ie