Because modern life often means we regularly suffer with stress, worry or fatigue, many of us have unwittingly trained our muscles to stay in a perpetual state of contraction…. or in other words, our muscles cannot relax.
Muscles that are continuously stimulated are bad news for health and wellbeing.
It isn’t just vigorous sports and exercise that keep muscles contracted, the TV programmes we may watch of an evening can fire them up, as can painful emotions stored within them. Anything that excites the mind will stimulate the muscles. Our muscles have become so tense that even in sleep they do not completely relax.
Even now, you will be holding tension somewhere in your body without realising. If you take your awareness to your face you may notice that your forehead, jaw or eyes are not relaxed, your shoulders may be hunched or your wrists extended back; all creating pressure in the muscles and joints. We could go through the entire body, but I think it’s safe to say that you will be, unknowingly, holding tension somewhere.
When muscles are constantly contracted they are fuelling the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). Not only is this depleting the body of vital energy, but it is also prematurely ageing, it can raise blood pressure and lower the immune system.
By training the muscles to soften, through relaxation, it switches on the parasympathetic nervous system. This in turn slows down breathing, lowers the blood pressure and initiates deeps relaxation of body and mind.
In yoga, it is well known that the relaxation at the end of a class is the most beneficial part of the practice. Not only is it time for the body to rest but it’s the time benefits of the practise are fully integrated. Full body relaxation has many incredible benefits. Here are a sample:
- Reduces fatigue
- Lowers blood pressure
- Boosts immune system
- Induces restful sleep
- Allows for muscle regeneration
- Switches on parasympathetic nervous system
- Promotes mind stillness
- Aides in general well-being.
There is an incredible relaxation technique that can relax muscles in minutes and which helps bring calm into the life. Not only does the following exercise promote relaxation but it also aids in stilling the mind.
- To fully relax you need to be lying on the floor or bed, with your whole body weight supported (for anyone suffering back problems: a bolster or cushion under knees is helpful).
- The best way to get a muscle to relax is to tense it first for five to ten seconds. Start at the feet and work up through limbs, torso and face, tensing and relaxing each body part in turn (great one to do if you can’t sleep)
- Once each muscle group has been tensed and relaxed, stay for a while in this deep state of stillness.
- If time is short, you could do the lower part of body first, then upper half, finishing on the face.
Relaxation can be done anytime, but the best time is after exercise when the muscles have been stretched and strengthened and the mind is quieter, or just before bed.
If you suffer chronic fatigue, performing full-body muscle resting will serve in being revitalizing. When practised in darkness the above technique also helps with melatonin release (see here more the incredible benefits) and is a great aid to sleep.