Relaxation and Meditation - The Ultimate Lifestyle Change
By Ric Chamberlin, LMT

In today's stress filled world most of us are aware of the benefits of learning to relax for improved health
and well-being. We also have heard of the benefits of meditating to help us achieve relaxation,
awareness, and insight.
Although relaxation and meditation both have more than one meaning, for the purpose of this article we
will use these definitions found on Wikipedia:

Relaxation  -  "A human condition of flowing vital energy bringing about a state of improved health
and well being."

Meditation  -  "...a mental discipline by which one attempts to get beyond the reflexive, 'thinking' mind
into a deeper state of relaxation or awareness."

Most techniques that facilitate relaxation require some form of 'mental discipline' therefore the
achievement of relaxation involves some sort of meditative act.
What many may not know is just why relaxation is so important.

We've Got Some Nerve
All activities of our body are controlled by our nervous system. Made up of many different parts there
are two we want to look out here.
The
Sympathetic Nervous System expends energy during stressful situations. The Para-Sympathetic
Nervous System
conserves energy, reversing or balancing the actions of the Sympathetic.
To use a simple car metaphor the Sympathetic is the accelerator, the Para-Sympathetic is the brake.
During times of stress there is increased demand. The Sympathetic Nervous System steps up it's activity
increasing respiration, heart rate, and cardiac output. Organs produce more energy and our mental
activity increases.
This rapid response is one of the miracles of our body. The problem is that once we end up in the
heightened state it is often hard to get out of it. Staying in this state puts undue stress on our body,
particularly our organs and glands.
A link has been found between over activity of the sympathetic nervous system and many diseases or
imbalances in the body. Likewise facilitating the relaxation response in the body can prevent or reverse
the effects of excess stress.

What Can Happen During Stress?
A stress filled event can cause headaches, backaches, muscle tension, shallow breathing, stomach
problems. Our mood can change to anger, worry, or despair. Our ability to concentrate can be impaired.
Even sleeping and eating can be effected.

While we marvel at our body's wonderful ability to deal with life's changes, we need to learn to recognize
when stress is taking hold and not let our response to it get out of control.

Awareness is the Key!
During stress our mental activity is increased. Many of us operate mostly in our head, seeing ourselves
as separate from our body. By bringing awareness back to our whole self, learning to recognize the
signs of stress, we allow our body to do what it is always capable of doing, return us to balance.

Meditation and Relaxation Practices to the Rescue
There are countless practices that allow our bodies to enter or maintain a relaxed state. We will look at a
few of the simplest and most powerful techniques.

Find Your Breath
The simplest and most powerful healing practice of all is to simply breath slowly and fully. Most relaxation
and meditation practices incorporate this kind of breathing to enhance the effects. Yet breathing is a
powerful healing method all by itself

    Breathe in slowly and deeply. Allow the air to fill the lower lungs first which causes the abdomen to
    expand. Another way to think about is to visualize breathing all the way down into the abdomen.
    Don't rush the breath. Breathe slowly and naturally. When the lungs feel full yet still comfortable stop
    inhaling, hold your breath for a second, then exhale as slowly and naturally as you inhaled.

The benefits of breath work are further explored in the Healing Connection article Catching Your Breath
- Self Healing, Simple & Profound.

Progressive Relaxation
This practice has been around for decades in many different forms. Here we will bring our focus to one
part of the body, tensing it as we inhale slowly and deeply. On exhalation we let go of the tension and
allow it to relax.

  • Find a comfortable position, sitting or lying.
  • Start with a few slow, deep breaths.
  • Bring focus to your right leg, ankle, and foot. Inhale and tense the leg. When you are ready to
    exhale let the tension go. Allow it to  relax.
  • Repeat with left leg, ankle, foot.
  • Focus on both thighs and your pelvis. Inhale while tightening buttocks, pelvis and thighs. Exhale and
    relax.
  • Focus on your abdomen tightening it, pulling it inward. Exhale and let it relax.
  • Focus on right arm, wrist, hand. Inhale, tighten whole arm making a fist. Exhale and relax.
  • Repeat with left arm.
  • Focus on shoulder blades. Inhale while squeezing together. Exhale and relax.
  • Inhale and shrug shoulders to ears tightly. Exhale and relax. Repeat this again.
  • Inhale and tighten facial muscles. Exhale and relax.
  • Roll head gently in circles.
  • Focus on your whole body and allow the sense of relaxation to deepen while breathing slow and
    deep.
  • For any areas that don't feel as relaxed as you would like repeat the exercise for that area.

As an option you can affirm the relaxation by thinking, as you exhale, "my leg is relaxed", or something
similar.
You can also alter this by making it more involved, doing the foot by itself, then the ankle, then the leg,
etc. Likewise you can make it shorter by combining parts, say the right and left legs, at the same time.
The important thing is to stop and focus with the intent to relax.

Meditation On Nature
In this meditation you will use your mind to place yourself in nature. A real place you have visited. A
place of beauty and peace that you love. It doesn't have to be something grand like the mountains. It
could be your backyard.

    Find a comfortable place to sit or lay.
    Begin breathing slowly and deeply for a minute or more. Allow your body to move into a deep,
    relaxed state.

    As you continue to breathe slowly, think about a place in nature that you love.
    Experience yourself being in this place as fully as you can right now. Look around you and see all
    that there is to see.

    What do you see here? What kind of plant life, trees, animals, birds?
    What colors do you see?
    What sounds do you hear? Birds? Insects?
    Do you feel wind or a gentle breeze?
    What does the sky look like? Are there clouds?
    Is there water? Does it make sound?
    What do you smell?

    Feel your body making solid contact with the earth which holds you and supports you.
    Feel the air surrounding your body.
    Feel the temperature of the air.
    Feel the sun above you bathing you in a warm, golden light.
    Recognize your oneness with the earth, sky, air, and the other elements. Express your own
    gratitude for the energy they bring you. Allow yourself to be present in this place taking a break from
    the stress of your day, experiencing the peace and calm of nature. Recognize your oneness with all
    of life.

    Continue breathing, visualizing the breath as a golden light that enters your body and fills every cell.
    When you are ready to end the meditation, slowly return yourself to your body and open your
    eyes. Experience yourself as fully present.

It can be helpful throughout the day, when stress increases, to return your thoughts to an image of the
place in your meditation. This can allow you to quickly return to the state of relaxation, peace, and
wholeness.

Walk in Nature
Rather than visiting nature in your mind, take yourself to some place outdoors that you enjoy. Again it
can be anywhere.

    Just walk. Not the quick point A to point B - I'm on a mission walk that we often do, but a slow,
    purposeful walk. Notice your surroundings. The sights, sounds, smells, just as in the previous
    meditation.
    The key is to let go of excessive thinking or any agenda. Just be present with your surroundings
    without judgement.

The beauty of this practice is that it can be a hike of several hours or a brief walk of a minute or less.
The important thing is to let go of your thoughts and of stressful distractions and focus on your
surroundings, whether you find yourself by a mountain lake or in the middle of the city.

Try a Smile
Smiling helps reduce stress and induce relaxation. It improves the immune function. It releases
endorphins, the feel-good, hormones. It can even lower blood pressure and improve your mood.

    Close your eyes and focus on your body. Allow it to relax. For any areas that are particularly tense
    you can focus on them and gently give them permission to let go.
    Now focus on the corners of your mouth and allow a subtle Mona Lisa like smile. The physical size of
    the smile is not important, the energy behind it is.
    Stay with this for one minute then return to normal and notice.
    What has changed in your body, in your mood, in your relationship to your surroundings?

The power of smiling on our wellness is further explored in the Healing Connection article Smiling For
Health & Well-Being.


These are called Practices For a Reason
As with anything the more you do these practices the easier they become. When they become more a
part of your life it becomes easier to move into a relaxed, present state of wholeness with just a few
seconds effort.

Start small. Don't worry that you aren't doing enough. Focus on the fact the no mater how small the
effort you are doing something to improve your wellness.


As always

Be gentle with yourself


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Ric Chamberlin
Registered Practitioner - Society of Ortho-Bionomy International ®
Licensed Massage Therapist - State of Nebraska
The Healing Connection
900 S 74th Plaza, Suite 116, Omaha, NE  68114
402 850 0752
Art by Jacqueline Bequette - ŠThe Healing Connection