Updated: Apr 5, 2020
Ever been told by your therapist, or anyone really, to "just relax"? Ever wish it was actually that easy? Yeah, me too.
What you may not have realized though, is that relaxation is a practice. Just like yoga, baking, pitching, or speaking a non-native language are all practices. You wouldn't expect to immediately know how to speak Cantonese if you'd never practiced it before, would you? Try to consider relaxing in a similar fashion.
Relaxing voluntarily on command takes some repetition and patience. If you've ever tried to meditate, it's similar. In fact, meditation is one way to practice relaxation. Other common ways include traditional yoga, chant, repetitive prayer, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and breathing exercises among others. All of these practices share their ability to illicit a relaxation response. And they all take practice.
What does relaxation actually mean though? Physiologically it means your blood pressure, breathing rate, and heart rate decrease, and you allow your muscles, body, and brain to 'relax' (parasympathetic nervous system). It's essentially the opposite of the 'fight or flight' response (sympathetic nervous system). Relaxation Response is also a term coined by Dr. Herbert Benson from his studies on the benefits of relaxation (he also wrote a book titled "The Relaxation Response").
Studies show that eliciting a relaxation response alters gene expression, in turn positively effecting hypertension, chronic stress, insomnia, diabetes, and others. This is all great news, as practicing the relaxation response is free and easy to do on your own.
This post has a step by step guide to help you get started. Or if you're already familiar with mindfulness meditation, chant, Kundalini Yoga, or a relaxation breathing technique, feel free to get back in practice with those! Regardless of which method you use, the roads all seem to lead to the same horizon - greater wellness through relaxation.