The mind and body are very interconnected. You may have noticed some of the uncomfortable aspects of this when after a stressful day you find that your shoulders are tight or your stomach is churning. All of that emotional tension, stress and energy has to go somewhere, and so when we’re unable to process it sufficiently on a mental and emotional level it tends to travel into our physiology.1 Fortunately, this interconnectedness goes both ways: Just as our emotional state can affect our physical well-being, so too can our physical experiences influence our emotional well-being!
Take a moment to think about activities and experiences that you find enjoyment in. Some examples might be: exercising; taking a nap; taking a shower or bath; eating tasty food; watching the sun set; listening to music. You’ll notice that between these few examples we’ve touched on all 5 senses–touch (including movement), taste, smell, sight, and hearing. The greater the number of senses an experience taps in to, the more potentially powerful it can be.
Learning how to purposefully incorporate these kinds of positive activities into your life as a way of relieving emotional and physical stress can be very beneficial. The audio file below focuses on one particular method of learning to relax your body as a way of learning to also relax your mind and spirit. This particular method teaches a form of progressive muscle relaxation that uses the contract/release method. Essentially, it guides the listener in tightening and then relaxing muscles in their body. Tensing muscles and then relaxing them is one way of helping the body to know which muscles it is trying to focus on relaxing. The “progressive” nature refers to tensing and relaxing muscles in a particular order, or progression, as you move through your various muscle groups. This recording directs you to tense and relax your muscles moving down the back of your body from your head to your feet and then up the front of your body and down your arms.
Remember that the point of this exercise is to help you relax, so try not to worry about whether you are tensing and relaxing exactly the right area of your body. Typically when you’re starting out learning something like this you’ll find there are a number of muscles that are difficult for you to isolate–that’s okay! The experience does feel more natural with practice, and what can help that is to focus more on the overall experience of becoming more relaxed than focusing on trying to get a specific muscle just right. Also, if you find that trying this muscle relaxation exercise is actually making you more stressed then I definitely recommend that you don’t force things.2 And of course the usual medical caveats apply.3
This particular audio file was recorded by David McQuillan who teaches relaxation techniques in New Zealand.4 I chose this recording because David’s tone of voice feels calming and down to earth. He does have an accent, which I find pleasant, but which can take a little getting used to. It takes about 14 minutes for him to talk you through all of the muscle groups.
Once you’ve practiced these progressive muscle relaxation techniques with the audio file several times, you can start experimenting with tensing and relaxing muscles as you go throughout your day. You may notice that there are certain muscle groups you tend to carry tension and stress in, and thus those may be areas where you can receive the most benefit from focusing on.
- This is one of the reasons learning to take better emotional care of oneself is so important–it really does impact your overall health! ↩
- Folks with certain personality mixes and/or certain struggles may find trying to learn muscle relaxation to be stressful for various reasons. A common one is feeling pressure to do the exercise “right” which then ends up increasing the tension they are feeling. If you experience this then this particular method of relaxation may not yet be a good fit for you. It may or may not be that in the future as you grow and heal that something like this could later be more beneficial. ↩
- Medical caveats: If it physically hurts then stop immediately; if you have a medical condition that you think this might affect or conflict with consult your doctor first; etc. ↩
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation Using the Contract/Release Method, by David McQuillan, from The Internet Archive ↩
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