The complex and varied structures of human life include cycles of activity and rest, exertion and relaxation; and we are designed for those cycles, daily, seasonally and throughout our lives. Relaxation is a fundamental aspect of wellbeing and inner freedom. Typical recreational activities that support relaxation include sleeping and snoozing, games and sports, hanging out with loved ones, laughing, dancing and singing, meditation and prayer, sex, outdoor leisure activities, mental ‘distractions’ such as entertainment or surfing the internet, and many more.
These are not always sufficient. Sometimes we do not make enough time for them. Or the ‘stress mode,' which is necessary and useful to deal with challenges short-term (acute stress), is switched on more permanently (chronic stress). And it can feel challenging, even impossible to “just relax,” “don’t worry so much” “just let go” or “just get a good night’s sleep.”
Just as we each have our own experience of feeling relaxed – or not! – different medical systems and relaxation traditions have developed their own language and models about relaxation. What they have in common is an understanding of relaxation as a process, as well as a state. The process of relaxation involves the gentle, complex easing of bodymind stress, and related changes in our physical body, breathing and heartbeat, nervous system, as well as emotional and mental processes. This process can lead to a range of relaxation states, including ‘deep relaxation,’ a state similar to the deep sleep stage of our sleep cycle that allows for thorough bodymind replenishment and psychological processing.
We can learn and re-learn how to relax and dissolve chronic stress. Relaxation practice involves exercises that support ease and replenishment by gently ‘switching off’ bodymind stress. Relaxation exercises can be an enjoyable experience in and of themselves. Regular practice, especially with a particular relaxation training, can support your concentration and sleep, general wellbeing, inner peace, creativity, meditation, as well as gentle psychological processing to release physical and emotional tensions and anxieties.
Relaxation practice can be beneficial on its own, and also in combination with counselling, appropriate exercise, medical care, mindfulness training and meditation. Of course, relaxation practice cannot make up for poor diet, lack of exercise, and so on. It can support your wellbeing though, and sufficiently resource you to move towards a balanced lifestyle.