Friday, May 21, 2010

Challenges in Relaxation

Relaxation is not something that comes easy to me. For much of my life I've been an anxious person, always worrying about what I'm going to do next. "If I don't worry about it, it's not going to get done," I might think. I have learned to become less anxious over time but there is always room to grow. One domain that this is particularly true is in the realm of relaxation.

I don't particularly enjoy relaxing. On my days off I want to be out and about, not lounging around  For instance, when I go on vacation I've never really been one to enjoy laying out by a pool. I feel lazy and like I'm wasting time. And wasting time is one of the worst things a person can do. After all, we only have one life to live!

I realize that this is embedded in my culture and upbringing that success = productivity. "Be active. Go, go go!" And I genuinely enjoy this lifestyle, most of the time. I like being busy. I don't want to sit around the house on my days off, and I doubt that's going to change any time soon.

On the other hand without relaxation, stress and anxiety build. The sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive leading to more stress. And we all know that too much stress is counterproductive to success and contributes to a variety of health conditions including: heart disease, stroke, depression, anxiety, digestive problems, sleep disturbance, and concentration/memory difficulties. Stress is inevitable but how we cope with it is not. A simple way to relieve stress and anxiety relates to the most basic human function: breathing.

Yesterday I was speaking with my supervisor and we arrived at the topic of deep breathing. He expressed to me the importance of breathing, particularly in relation to treating clients with anxiety, and how to properly deep breathe. The major guidline that a person needs to know is that the breath should be visible from the stomach, not from the chest. Try taking a deep breath. Did your chest rise? If so you are actually causing more stress in your sympathetic nervous system. Tension is sustained, not relieved.

My supervisor also emphasized the fact that I would not be able to properly teach breathing or mindfulness to my clients unless I had a proficient understanding of it myself. He suggested that in order to begin to understand deep breathing it's necessary to practice it every day for at least 2 weeks. Ideally you'd practice 2x/day for 15 minutes, but I have committed to practicing 1x/day for 10 minutes.

I am still learning about the benefits that breathing can bring. Many people brush these benefits off, as I have many times in the past. I have to admit I don't particularly like the feeling of breathing through my stomach, it makes me feel weird and like I have a protruding pregnant belly...but I'm getting used to it.

I have had a decent amount of experience with taking slow breaths from my years of yoga practice, so in this way the concept of deep breathing makes sense. When I focus on breathing I aim for at least 5 counts for an inhale and 5 counts for an exhale. I also have learned to notice when I am starting to feel anxious or frustrated, and I focus on taking deep breaths in order to calm my body and mind. But in terms of relaxing, breathing deeply and meditating for 10 minutes STRAIGHT, that is not something I'm particularly good at. For example every time I'm in yoga and we are supposed to lay down and clear our minds, mine goes CHITTER CHATTER! 

So here begins my experiment with deep breathing and relaxing every day for 10 minutes. It still feels like a waste of time sometimes (afterall, I could use the time to exercise instead), but I'm keeping an open mind.

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. You're a lot like me, feeling like you're not being successful if you're not productive/busy. It's hard to get past that. I've been trying to train myself to relax more as well! Breathing is definitely one of the main things that has to be done. I never believed it actually worked until I started trying it. I still from time to time forget to breathe, but once I remember, it's like I instantly feel better. It's kind of crazy how something so simple can have such a major affect!