That is a good question, especially if you are a kid. Most of us have never learned why relaxation is important, nor have we learned how to actually do it. It is an easy observation to see we are living in a very stressful society worldwide, and it may be most stressful for our children. Learning to truly relax may be one of the most important solutions for the onslaught of stress in our lives, and that includes people of every age, from grandparents to toddlers.
You’ve noted the italic on the words truly relax. There are many activities that give us a sense of relaxation such as watching television, going to the movies, playing digital games, going to concerts and sports events, and much more. While these activities can give us a sense of relaxation, true relaxation is the art and science of allowing oneself to become still, and access the inner peace that is always available.
“Inner peace is always available?” you may ask. I’ll offer more on that below. As you read on, suspend belief, and just notice your breathing. Notice how the air is coming into your body. Is the air coming in through your nose, how much air is going into you lungs, how does the breath feel, and anything else you may notice? This is your first relaxation tool, and we will call it a “mindful breath”. Experiment to see if you can continue this “mindful breath” by simply noticing your breathing while you read the next two paragraphs.
You’ve Just Learned an Excellent Relaxation Tool!
Back to the article… Inner Peace is always available. Most people would challenge this idea. I could probably take up resistance to the idea myself if it wasn’t for my own personal experience. I am one of the top candidates for someone who should learn to relax. Self-directed and passionate, also sometimes affectionately called type-A personality, I know that if I didn’t begin to learn relaxation tools as a young adult, I would have burst into flames years ago. I’m now learning how to keep the flame balanced and steady within, though I did slightly catch fire earlier today… I’m still learning!
Realizing how important learning to relax has been for my life, it has become my passion and intention to share the latest science on relaxation starting with Pre-K students, and especially students in elementary school years. Stress and trauma eventually come to all of us, and without any relaxation tools to manage these challenging experiences, they may remain stuck in our system for years or even for a lifetime. Yet with simple relaxation tools, even elementary age kids can manage and navigate through the challenges of daily life on earth. These tools will become especially useful to them as they enter middle and high school years, and into adulthood. Yet relaxation is something essential for all of us, and can easily be learned at any age.
Pause article; Evaluate “Mindful Breath”
Thank you kind reader for doing your best with the experiment on using the “mindful breath”, where we simply notice our breathing. If you were able to keep a part of your mind focused on noticing your breath while reading the last two paragraphs, congratulations!! You have just stepped into the wonderful world of truly learning to relax. Take a pause, high-five someone, jump for joy, or do something that would give you a sense of achievement for taking care of yourself. If you completely forgot the “mindful breath” suggestion, just notice that your mind didn’t hang on that idea, and let it go like a cloud floating through the sky.
Simply by noticing our breathing, we activate a different part of the brain and step out of unconscious reactive mode and into conscious creative mode. The “mindful breath” will do this for you in a heartbeat. You can use this at any time during your day when you want to be more focused, more present to the moment, and more creative.SEE VIDEO OF ‘MINDFUL BREATH’ HERE
Also use the “mindful breath” as relaxation tool #1. As soon as you notice a stress or tension entering your awareness, begin noticing your breathing in and out. While keeping part of your mind noticing the breath, see if you can determine where the stress is coming from: is it a thought within, is it a situation outside yourself, is it anything you need to stress about? Just by noticing and being “mindful” of the source of stress, you can often send away the greatest percentage of stress in your daily life.
Most stressful thoughts and feelings, like most worry thoughts, are not even real or worthy of any energy expenditure. It is just that unguided “monkey mind” creating thoughts and related feelings with no particular rhyme or reason. But this time you have interrupted the “monkey mind” by using your breath. Notice the thought or feeling, allow it, ask “is it even true”, determine if you need to do anything about it or just let it go like a cloud floating through the sky.
Let’s say that you’ve determined that you should do something about the situation. This may be the perfect time to switch from the “mindful breath” to relaxation tool #2. But pause for just a moment before we call in for reinforcements. The “mindful breath” may be all that you need, as the slightly stressful feeling or experience may be motivating you to take care of something, and its not a big deal. You’d like to stay focused and create an appropriate response that will easily take care of the situation. Hang in there with the “mindful breath” by just noticing your breathing, as you allow your creativity to respond appropriately and effectively, and it is easily done. You’ve experienced the power of the “mindful breath” in your life.
Calling in Reinforcements: Relaxation Tool #2
Yet if the situation is a bit more than simple, and may require you to shift fully toward the source of stress to create an appropriate response (boss coming toward you with an angry look, teacher calls you up to the front of the room, bill in the mail overcharged your account by $300 dollars, etc.), then it may be time to step up your game and call in the long-awaited relaxation tool #2: a “Bigger Breath”.
The “Bigger Breath” is as easy as it sounds. Simply take a slightly bigger inhale, and a slightly bigger exhale. Continue to focus a part of your mind on this bigger inhale and bigger exhale as you attend to the situation at hand. Taking a bigger breath will not only change the part of your brain that is operating, it will also change your body chemistry by enriching your blood with more oxygen on the inhale, and releasing more carbon dioxide on the exhale. You’ll be gently increasing your physical capacity as well as your mental prowess. Your focus on a “bigger breath” will allow you to respond purposefully instead of reacting with a fight-or-flight episode. Continue this “bigger breath” as you creatively respond to the situation to the best of your ability, and for the benefit of all involved.SEE VIDEO OF ‘A BIGGER BREATH’ HERE
This response is sometimes called “The Relaxation Response”. Allow yourself to respond to the potentially stressful situation with an increase of oxygen into your body, invigorating your brain, which uses more oxygen than any other organ. And the bonus is that your breathing focus is allowing you to be using the most evolved part of your brain, rather than the primitive reptilian part of your brain. If you are able to access the relaxation response, there is a good chance that the situation that was causing the stress was able to resolve effectively for you and for whoever or whatever else was involved.
Humans versus Reptiles
How different would our world be today if all of the adults presently scrambling around on the planet had learned simple relaxation tools that would allow them to step away from knee-jerk, fight-or-flight, reptilian reactions, and instead creatively manage situations with mindful, thoughtful even caring responses?
We all get flustered and sometimes caught off guard, reacting to events unconsciously instead of responding creatively and consciously. Even those of us who have been studying the relaxation response for years find ourselves in such situations more than we’d like to admit. Yet these experiences further our resolve to continue our studies, experiment and test the ideas for ourselves, and share what we have learned.
In this short article, we’ve explored two very simple and effective relaxation tools, a “mindful breath” and also a “bigger breath”. Not only can these two types of conscious breathing be used when stress or challenges appear, they are also very effectively used in what would be called a relaxation practice.
Begin Your Own Relaxation Practice
One simple way to begin a relaxation practice is to find a convenient time when you will not be disturbed, such as just before going to bed. See if you can do this practice at the same time for 7 or more days in a row to really test the experiment.
Sit up straight in a comfortable seat, set the timer for three or five minutes, and simply practice one or both of the breathing techniques you’ve just learned. During these five minutes, contemplate (or even write down) at least three things you are grateful for in your life. It might turn out to be the best three to five minutes of your day. At the very least, it will be a relaxing way to clear and complete the day, ready for a good night of sleep. Other good times to try are immediately upon waking in the morning, before meals, and between transitions in your day.
Having a regular relaxation practice also helps you to get better and better at using the relaxation tools, so that when you need them in a stressful situation, they are right there under your nose, so to speak. You will also begin to notice an underlying calm that you might not often notice, if you can put more than a few days of regular practice together. That is the direction we are headed with our relaxation tools, to the inner calm where peace, creativity, and even joy reside.
You’ve just learned two excellent tools for relaxation that are appropriate for any age. We’ve also noted that while quality relaxation tools are great to have when stress strikes, they are especially effective when used to create a daily personal relaxation practice for yourself, such as just before bed.
There are an infinite number of simple and excellent relaxation tools available, and it is my personal mission to share the very best of what I learned with my beloved human family, and especially young people. If this article seems appropriate, please share it with a young person (or any person) who might be in need of a little bit of love, a little bit of self-care, a little bit of true relaxation.
Here’s an article on 20 scientifically supported ways to relax: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/09/stress-relief-that-works_n_3842511.html