The Power of Relaxation

September 7, 2016

Article written by Galen Wetzell, DPT

galenWetzell1The new school year. The upcoming Holiday season. The Minnesota Vikings. What do these things all have in common? They all add stress to our lives in varying degrees. We are always encountering stress in our day-to-day lives, and for the most part, people learn ways to effectively deal with stress. However, I am often surprised when I ask patients if stress plays a role in their symptoms and they answer yes. Poorly managed stress has a way of finding a person’s weak spot and bringing it to their attention. Whether it is increased muscle tension in one’s jaw, shoulders, or low back, poorly managed stress will almost always have some sort of physical or bodily manifestation. 

One of the most effective strategies for managing stress is to practice relaxation. In this context, relaxation is more than just lounging on the couch after work and watching TV. Shortly, I will describe for you a few quick and effective ways to practice relaxation, but first, let’s discuss some of the health benefits of relaxation. Research has shown that the benefits of practicing daily relaxation include boosting one’s immune system, lowering risk for heart disease, lowering risk for depression, improving memory, decreasing muscle tension, and improving one’s ability to cope with chronic pain. Some people may argue that the flip-side of these benefits is that unmanaged stress can have the opposite and negative effect on any or all of these areas. For example, if you are a person with chronic pain and don’t learn to manage your stress well, the increased stress can make your pain worse. 

So how does one begin practicing relaxation in this context of health and wellness? The simplest way to get started is to turn your full attention to your breath. Begin by taking several deep breaths in and out, and focus on feeling all aspects of each breath. Notice the difference in the temperature of the air as it passes in and out. Feel the expansion and retraction of your abdomen and chest wall. Repeat. In as few as 3 good breaths, people are often amazed how much more relaxed and more calm their bodies can feel. Of course you can practice this for longer periods of time and for more breaths, but knowing that you can do something positive for yourself in a short period of time wherever you are, is a very powerful realization and skill to have. No equipment to buy. No gym membership needed. Your breath is with you wherever you go. 

There are many other ways to practice relaxation. Believe it or not, a great resource for many guided relaxations is on YouTube. Here are a few to get you started: -8 minutes to calm -Autogenic relaxation -Pain management meditation 

Note: The pain management meditation is often quite helpful for those experiencing chronic or acute pain, but of course, should never be substituted for appropriate medical care. 

So give it a try. Next time you are feeling stressed out or overwhelmed, take a moment, perhaps short or long, and practice engaging in relaxation. Your body and mind will thank you.

8 minutes to calm

Autogenic relaxation

Pain management meditation

Note: The pain management meditation is often quite helpful for those experiencing chronic or acute pain, but of course, should never be substituted for appropriate medical care.

So give it a try. Next time you are feeling stressed out or overwhelmed, take a moment, perhaps short or long, and practice engaging in relaxation. Your body and mind will thank you.