There is a range of relaxation traditions, each offering practices and trainings to help our bodymind with learning to relax. Some emerged in the context of 20th century ‘western’ medicine and psychology; with a longstanding track-record of evidence-based research on how they work, and how effectively. Other traditions emerged in the context of ‘eastern’ bodymind sciences, and have been included in evidence-based research regarding their effects more recently. And some newer traditions combine ‘eastern’ and ‘western’ knowledge. Although there is scientific evidence on the positive effects of relaxation trainings, only you can find out what works for you. In other words, it is through your own explorations, efforts and experiential learning that you will find exercises and trainings that suit you.
Consciously learning, or re-learning relaxation is experiential, that is, learning by doing through regular practice. Just like learning to play an instrument or a foreign language, learning to relax effectively takes time, is sometimes exciting and sometimes dull, sometimes clearly effective and at times plateauing. It is a journey rather than a quick fix.
And it always involves awareness and reflection. In other words, relaxation exercises include mindfulness, and relaxation training is also mindfulness training.
Active relaxation is an umbrella term for traditions and practices that combine awareness and specific gentle movements to increase bodymind ease and harmonise the nervous system. Anybody can practise them; you do not have to be physically fit, healthy, or 'normal' to benefit from active relaxation.
Active relaxation includes tai chi/qigong and yoga, as well as modern somatic techniques such as Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais and many more. They gently ease the stress from unhelpful postures and movement patterns and harmonise the nervous system and mind through movement with awareness.
Active relaxation also includes short, gentle movement routines to prepare for quiet, 'deep relaxation,' as well as for 'quick refreshment.'
Breath relaxation is an umbrella term for a wide range of methods and traditions that focus on the relationship between breathing and bodymind wellbeing. They include postures and movements, awareness, using the imagination, as well as exercises that modify breathing temporarily. Some breath relaxation exercises can be quickly learned and used; others will flourish with regular practice.
Most relaxation exercises include a meditative and mindful dimension. In turn, many meditation practices support bodymind relaxation. Meditations that specifically emphasise relaxation include certain types of body scan meditation, somatic awareness meditation, many breath relaxation exercises, and the use of imagination.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation offers a particularly accessible way to profound bodymind relaxation through cultivating a domino effect of relaxation – from muscles to soft tissue, the autonomic nervous system, limbic system and mind. Systematic training supports embodied learning around holding and release.
Progressive muscle relaxation was developed and continues to evolve in the context of western medicine and neurophysiological models. The initial steps of this pathway to deep relaxation can be learned quickly, and positive effects tend to be prompt. More comprehensive benefits flourish with regular practice over time.
Autogenic training offers an unusually comprehensive and creative pathway to profound bodymind relaxation by combining relaxed awareness with intentional mental activity. During the foundation training, there is an emphasis on crucial dimensions of ‘relaxation mode’ in the body. Intermediate and upper-level training refines these steps and includes the subtle body and psyche more explicitly.
Autogenic training was developed in the context of western medicine and psychoanalysis. The foundation phase of autogenic training requires some weeks of daily practice, and it can take a little while for positive effects to become apparent.
Yoga nidra is sometimes called the meditative heart of yoga. The term ‘yoga nidra’ is translated as sleep yoga or dream yoga. The origins of yoga nidra can be traced back to ancient eastern traditions of yoga and tantra, which comprise a vast array of techniques to thoroughly integrate and harmonise the bodymind – far beyond temporary, superficial relaxation.
Some yoga nidra exercises have proven helpful for sleep and refreshing the mind. Others go much further, inviting you to journeys into the nature of mind similar to advanced autogenic training or Buddhist meditation. This pathway to profound bodymind relaxation can be more effective when combined with appropriate movement relaxations.
With mental illnesses, alcoholism and drug use, generally active relaxation is recommended. All other relaxation pathways can be suitable or unsuitable, depending on the specific condition and its severity. Please consult your GP and specialist(s) and also get in touch with me to talk about your situation before booking a course.
Progressive muscle relaxation is not recommended for people with aortic aneurysm, epilepsy or myositis. Both autogenic training and yoga nidra are not recommended for people with brain trauma or presenile dementia.