Relaxation techniques refer to a wide range of different activities and practices. Some of these techniques have been specifically designed to promote relaxation while others have relaxation as a side-effect. All of these practices have the effect of releasing tension from the body, and this is a desirable outcome because it provides many physical and mental health benefits.
The benefits of using relaxation techniques include:
* Relief of stress
* Sleeping better at night
* Improved concentration
* Increased ability to learn
* Improved memory
* Increased blood flow to major muscles
* Reduced feelings of anxiety
* Increased confidence in the face of challenges
* Reduced feelings of anger and frustration
* Combats hypertension (high blood pressure)
* Slowed the heart rate
* Slowed respiration
* Relieved muscle tension
* Reduced pain intensity
* Reduced hyperactivity in children
* Improved immune system functioning
* Reduced risk of developing heart problems or suffering a stroke
* Looking healthier and fresher
* Improved mental health
* Potentially improved symptoms of a number of different medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, psoriasis, tension headaches, fibromyalgia, panic attacks, and diabetes.
Stress can be defined as the body’s way of dealing with a demand. It involves the release of chemicals as part of the fight or flight response. If people had no stress response it would be difficult for them to survive. These are some of the reasons that dealing with too much stress can be dangerous:
* If people are overwhelmed by stress, they are more likely to turn to substance abuse to escape this discomfort.
* It can make the immune system perform less effectively. This is because chronic stress depletes the immune system of needed chemicals. If people have a poorly performing immune system it means that not only are they more likely to get sick but it will also take them longer to recover from illness.
* People who are dealing with excessive stress will start to suffer mentally. This can lead to depression and other types of mental illness.
* Those who are chronically stressed will usually suffer from digestive problems, which can play a role in conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome
* Struggling with too much stress can make it hard to find happiness and peace. It can also put a strain on relationships.
* Stress increases the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
Those individuals who are recovering from an addiction can gain particular benefit from using relaxation techniques. These are some of the most prominent ways in which these techniques can aid in recovery:
* Anger and resentment can be a real problem for people who are recovering from an addiction. These are dangerous emotions because they can act as relapse triggers. By practicing relaxation techniques the individual can reduce the amount of anger they experience.
* Early recovery is often described as an emotional rollercoaster as people learn to deal with their feelings. The addict is able to escape dealing with their emotions by using alcohol and drugs, but this option is no longer available in recovery. This means that early sobriety can be a particularly stressful time; relaxation techniques can help the individual deal better with this stress.
* Those in early recovery can have problems getting to sleep at night. These techniques will make it easier for them to fall asleep. They can be practiced at night in bed to induce sleepiness.
* When people first become sober they often complain of a type of mental fogginess. They can use relaxation techniques to improve their concentration levels and focus.
These are some of the most commonly practiced relaxation techniques:
* _Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)_ involves first tensing and then relaxing different muscles in the body. The individual focuses on each muscle group in turn until they have completely relaxed the whole body. It can be performed in the sitting position or lying down. It is usually done with the eyes closed. One session of PMR lasts about 30 minutes. To obtain any benefit from the practice, people are expected to practice at least once a day.
* Autogenic training is similar to PMR but it uses visualizations to produce relaxation in the different parts of the body. For example, the practitioner will imagine that a part of their body has become heavy or warm. The individual can also visualize slowing their heart rate and feeling at peace with the world.
* Meditation is the most well known of all the relaxation techniques. For most practitioners the relaxation benefits are a pleasant side-effect of the practice and not the real goal. Meditation can help people develop important insights into their own life, and it can also be a crucial tool for those who are following a spiritual path.
* Guided imagery involves using the imagination to create a sense of peace and relaxation. This could involve imagining such situations as lying on the beach of a tropical island. The individual will try to visualize this scene in as much detail as possible so that they actually feel like they are there.
* Yoga also works as a relaxation technique for many people. This spiritual practice is most well known for its physical poses (_asanas_), but it also involves meditation and other relaxation techniques. Yoga offers a spiritual path and provides many relaxation benefits.
* Tai Chi is sometimes classified as a type of moving meditation. This gentle Chinese martial art can certainly induce health benefits for practitioners.
There are a few things worth considering when beginning any of these relaxation techniques:
* Just practicing relaxations techniques on an irregular basis is unlikely to bring much benefit. It is best to practice every day in order to enjoy the fruits of this activity.
* With all of these techniques it is important to wear comfortable clothing. This means wearing apparel that is not too constricting or that makes people too hot or cold.
* Techniques such as PMR and autogenic training are relatively easy to learn. It is suggested that people seek guidance in the beginning. There is also a great deal of free information available on the Web.
* It is recommended that people who want to learn meditation, Tai-Chi, or yoga start off with a competent teacher.
* Tai-chi and yoga are fairly light forms of exercise, but it is best to get a medical checkup before commencing such activity. This is particularly important for those who have not exercised in a long time or that have any type of medical condition.
* Relaxation music can produce a nice restive atmosphere in the home. Just listening to this type of music may help people relax.