The Art of Relaxation

“A year from now you may wish you would have started today.” ~ Karen Lamb



My aunt went in for her yearly eye exam and the doctor said, “Well, it looks like you have a little pressure behind your eyes. Do you have high blood pressure?” She does. “How are your stress levels?” High and regular.

He said, “Well, if this continues, it will most likely lead to other problems, including glaucoma and loss of vision.” Naturally, she was worried and all she could think was, “Oh my god, I’m going blind.” I reminded her that what he said would be true for anyone. If you ignore the body’s dis-ease, it will persist, aggravate, and spread.

So I asked her what she was planning to do to relieve her daily stress. She said, “Well, I’m going to relax.” Okay, but how? She went silent. I had a gut feeling that she thought relaxation was passive, like lying down in front of the TV for hours, sleeping in, and generally doing less to irritate the issue at hand. That is not relaxation. That is disengagement. We disengage when we’re overwhelmed. It’s one way we cope. And there’s nothing wrong with any of those activities alone. But when used as a form of daily therapy, disengaging has a powerfully negative effect on the body-mind and can ultimately confuse our ability to listen and support our needs. The comforts of a sitcom to relieve daily stress are misplaced. The tension taming is temporary and as soon as the credits roll, you’re right where you left off—frustrated, exhausted, and stressed.

So then how do we effectively work with stress? Well, there’s no limit to what form it can take—yoga therapy, laughter therapy, nutritional therapy, talk therapy, hydrotherapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, facials sports, watching movies, breathing, meditation, drawing, purging your closet, cleaning your kitchen, cooking, singing, dancing, writing, reading, praying, walking, hiking, biking, swimming, traveling, smiling, bathing, creating your own gratitude project, inventing a new art, working with children, helping at the homeless shelter, volunteering at a senior citizen center,  brushing your hair—the list is immeasurable. The common denominator here is action. You need energy to relax. This fuel burns up the sludge of stress. And now you’re engaging it directly. You’re conscious of where you are and are taking the steps to locate your core tension, unravel, slow down, and release. This is the secret of wellbeing. If you can learn to read your body and are willing to experiment with lifestyle, therapy, practice, and ritual, then congratulations. You’ve just met the inner physician.

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