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  • Alex Stokes

How to Relax

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

By definition, relaxation is something that you cannot make happen. We live in a culture that encourages the idea of control. If we are aware of something, we often feel we need to direct or manage the outcome, which requires consistent engagement and action. It mandates that we always be on guard to push or influence things in the way that we think they should go. This approach makes relaxation impossible, and it is a main reason stress is such a prominent condition in our society.

The common counterbalance to the controlling mindset is to be unaware, numb, or unconscious of what is happening so that we do not have to deal with it. This can be seen in excessive use of painkillers, addictions to drugs and alcohol, or more generally the choice to ignore or suppress that which bothers us. Some common expressions that articulate this approach are burying your head in the sand, ignorance is bliss, kicking the can down the road, and sweeping dirt under the rug. This too makes relaxation impossible.

Relaxation is the perfect middle ground between these two extremes. It is aware, alive and engaged while also being accepting and allowing. Relaxation can be described as being generally okay with what is present for you. You cannot be relaxed and avoid being aware of something at the same time. You cannot be relaxed if you feel the need to change what you are experiencing. These tendencies are clear signs that our ability to be relaxed and at peace has been disturbed.

With this understanding, it is no surprise that stress is so common and relaxation is so hard to come by. We each undoubtedly have a great many things that are difficult for us to be both aware of and okay with. Fortunately, there are a number of techniques which we can practice that will promote relaxation in our minds, bodies, and lives.

It can be helpful to start by allowing yourself to become aware of where you already feel relaxed – that which you are aware of and feel perfectly fine about. This will help to give you a taste of what you are looking for.

Then you can gradually expand your awareness to notice things that mildly bother you. Allow yourself to become aware of them and allow yourself to feel your reaction. There’s no need to change anything – just accept and allow. Accept that which bothers you exactly as it is, and allow yourself to feel the way you feel about it. This begins to cultivate acceptance and understanding.

Gradually with time, by being aware and allowing, a subtle thing begins to happen: you begin to cultivate a new relationship with that which bothers you. This new approach – being aware without trying to change – leads to a new result. Your willingness to release and let go of your old relationship (what was creating the tension) will support you in this process.

As you develop a softer and more gentle approach, you allow relaxation to occur. You allow all the knots that were tied up inside you to untangle. You create the possibility to unspool the places that are wound up. You may begin to find yourself feeling more open and free, and you get to enjoy how good that feels. Your comfort zone and your relaxation have just increased.

By continuing this practice with more things, you will find your overall sense of relaxation, ease and comfort increasing. It can be helpful to start with relatively low-hanging fruit – things that are not too disturbing to you – to gradually and comfortably expand your comfort zone without overwhelming your system. Eventually, you will find a pace that works best for you.

This basic approach to relaxation can be done with anything you find internally or externally. Ultimately, you might want to develop a deep feeling of relaxation in your physical body. Therefore, always be mindful of the physical sensations that you are feeling in response to whatever is bothering you. You may have thoughts and emotions that accompany this, but the sensations are the anchor to your physical experience so let them be your focus. When the sensations go from being tense and contracted to relaxed and easy, you and your body will both be grateful.

The philosophical approach to relaxation given here is adapted from the Taoist practices of meditation, Chi Kung and Tai Chi. These arts provide sophisticated techniques to help promote deep relaxation in your mind, body and being among other things. If you are interested in a more in depth exploration of these fabulous stress relieving Taoist practices, click here to learn more! See the video below to see how the Taoists use breathing to reduce stress in their bodies.

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