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Simple Relaxation Exercises You Can Use Today

“Relax!” We often hear some variant of this directive, or even chant it to ourselves, but how easy is it to attain the elusive goal encompassed in this simple 5-letter word? To some, the word relaxation conjures up an image of an idyllic vacation. To others, it means recreational activities such as hobbies, or simply the luxury of free time.

Relaxation is defined as the state of being free from tension and anxiety. Thus, we are relaxed whenever our mind and body are in a low state of tension and free of anxiety, regardless of where we might be. It is possible to relax in the middle of a busy day. Conversely, we may not experience relaxation when on vacation or during a long stretch of unscheduled, free time (the pandemic lockdown is an example).

Why is relaxation important? 

An older woman is seen sitting cross legged on her ouch, eyes closed

Relaxation has a myriad of potential health benefits due to the physiological effects of lowering blood pressure, aiding digestion, reducing the activity of stress hormones, and diminishing chronic pain associated with muscular tension.  Relaxation aids concentration, reduces frustration and anger, and improves one’s overall sense of well-being.  The effective use of relaxation exercises and strategies is important for the management of many mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, depression and post-traumatic stress.

Learning How to Relax 

There are numerous empirically-derived relaxation exercises proven to work. Among them are diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, cue-controlled relaxation, and guided imagery. In recent decades, mindfulness and other forms of meditation also have received increased attention for their relaxation benefits.  

The foundation of all relaxation exercises is deep breathing. To begin, sit or lie comfortably. You may rest a hand on your upper abdomen, right below your ribcage, if you wish.  Begin by exhaling slowly through pursed lips, as if blowing on a bubble wand. Then, breathe in slowly, through the nose (or nose and mouth, if needed) noticing the upper belly rise. Notice the slight pause at the top of the breath and once again breathe out slowly through pursed lips. Repeat 4-5 times, maintaining your concentration on the breath. Remember to breathe slowly, to avoid lightheadedness.

Follow the script below for relaxation exercises that use imagery:

An older woman is seen with her hands behind her head, smiling with her eyes closed

  • Begin by assuming a comfortable position and closing your eyes or softening your gaze.
  • Next, bring your attention to your breathing as described above.
  • Now imagine yourself in a beautiful place where you feel very peaceful and secure.
  • Look around, in your mind’s eye, and notice what you see in this special place. Notice the colors and the shapes. Gaze into the distance, to the horizon or to the sky. Notice the light and its reflections.
 You may also find yourself noticing some detail close by, such as a leaf or a rock.
  • Imagine any sounds you might hear in this special place: A bird singing, a gentle breeze moving through the trees, or just quiet.  

  • Imagine the smell or fragrance of this place. Perhaps the air itself smells fresh and clean. Breathe it in. 

  • Notice your body sensing the environment of this peaceful place – air temperature and movement, the warmth of sunlight, the texture of objects you can touch, the feel of the ground beneath your feet.
  • Notice the peaceful feelings which arise within you in response to this calm place.  Allow yourself to soak in these experiences.
  • Stay with this experience as long as you wish. When you are ready to resume your day, stretch gently and open your eyes, feeling refreshed.

An older man in plaid stares off as he holds a book open

Relaxation may occur naturally and effortlessly at times, but it can also require conscious self-monitoring and effort. None of us are guaranteed a low-stress life, but with relaxation exercises and acquired skills, we can continue to enjoy periods of relaxation no matter what life throws our way. 

Learn another healthy habit to incorporate into your day-to-day life by trying out mindfulness meditation.

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