Relaxation is something we all need and enjoy in one form or another, be it reading a book, listening to music, walking in nature, or doing nothing at all. Yet many people don’t take time to relax on a regular basis.
Life can seem really hectic and stressful, and there is a feeling of “who has time to relax?” Knowing just how important it is, though, may change how you choose to prioritise your time. Here’s a run down of the top eight reasons to make mindful relaxation a regular part of your life:
1) Relieve Stress
Ask just about anyone, and they will admit to having a certain amount of stress in their lives. And for many, stress becomes quite a bane. Stress can cause all kinds of physical problems, too, from skin conditions to irritable bowel syndrome. It is even recognised as a trigger for depression and other serious mental conditions. All told, reducing your stress can improve both your physical and mental well-being
2) Restore and Strengthen Your Immune System
Relaxation gives your immune system a break from stress hormones which compromise it, such as cortisol. More than that, though, meditation actually increases your body’s defence systems. Studies show that T cells and antibodies, both important elements of your immune system, improve with mental and physical relaxation.
3) Provide Some Relief From Chronic Pain
While relaxing both body and mind isn’t a magic wand to remove all pain, there are plenty of studes which show that meditation and relaxation help you manage pain better. In particular, taking charge by actively seeking to reduce your pain is an important first step. Relaxing your muscles can help reduce the sensation of pain, while mental relaxation leads to less stress. Stress can also lead to anxiety and depression, all of which worsen the perception of pain. Altogether, mindful relaxation is a win-win on the pain front.
4) Improve Sleep
Relaxation has also proved to improve sleep, both in quantity and quality. Of course, some people use relaxation and meditation practices specifically for sleep. However, it’s striking that studies aimed at quite different goals also show improvements in sleep – both how long people sleep and how well they feel they sleep.
This is a benefit that accrues over time. While relaxation can help in a specific instance, regular relaxation practice will affect the amount you sleep and how rested you feel long term, too.
5) Help to Lower Blood Pressure
It’s well-known that high blood pressure is an indicator of cardiovascular risk – the likelihood of suffering a heart attack. Mindful relaxation reduces your blood pressure, not only in the moment, but throughout your day.
6) Help to Widen and Relax Respiratory Passages
When you relax, your breathing slows and becomes deeper. Relaxation can also help release tightness in your chest muscles. Both of these help you breathe better, which helps in a wide range of situations. For example, it helps with anxiety and asthma attacks, and improves blood oxygenation, which helps nourish all the cells in your body and especially in your extremities.
7) Calm the Automatic Flight-or-Fight Response
While it’s very important to respond quickly to emergencies, in our modern life this response gets triggered by far too many situations. Be it the tension of watching an exciting program on TV, or the hustle and bustle of city life, lots of everyday occurrences can cause this response. And when we are in the flight-or-fight mode, other less urgent survival processes take second place. So, when your fight-or-flight response is triggered too much, it makes it harder for you to digest your food well, or to conceive a baby (and it influences male fertility, as well as that of the woman), amongst many other less immediate survival concerns.
8) Unlock Emotional Blockages
Many people recognise that their emotions have a negative effect on their well-being. Be it anger that comes out inappropriately, causing trouble with friends or colleagues, or loneliness that sees you snacking by yourself, emotional blockages can cause a lot of damage. As for how relaxation can help, there is evidence that relaxing your muscles also helps the mind to release its tensions. This is partly a complementary response – release of one kind triggers release of another kind.
There is also the well-documented fact that we can actually store memories in our bodies. We talk about muscle memory with things like learning to ride a bike, or how to write with a pen. Yet, it goes far beyond this. Many people have had the experience of releasing a muscle through massage or a yoga class, and suddenly having a strong memory of an emotional experience rise up in them. Our anxieties and experiences are stored in our bodies, and so releasing the tension from muscles through mindful relaxation can also loosen up these muscle memories, allowing them to become unblocked.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that mindfully relaxing on a regular basis is good for both your physical and mental well-being. While you’ll get some of the benefits from things such as taking a walk or lying quietly listening to music, the more mindfully you relax, the better. That might mean focusing on your breathing while you think about releasing the tension throughout your body, or it could be attending a hypno relaxation class or session, or listening to a guided relaxation.
A final thought, relaxing doesn’t need to take long. You can devote just five minutes at a time to relaxing, either by yourself or using a guided hypno relaxation recording like this one.