Part 6 Practical Wellness: Relaxation
“Time is always short, from birth to death.
Because we do not know how to stop.”
What is relaxation all about?
Think me time, think of sinking into a hot bath with bubbles up to your ears, think easy like Sunday morning, think meditating, think golf, think fishing, think walking in the woods or on the beach. Relaxation is the time and space you allow yourself to come back into your natural state of health, harmony and wellbeing.
Why is relaxation so important?
You might be wondering why relaxation is such an important area of wellness. From the Practical Wellness perspective relaxation is about your ability to really relax, switch off and come back into balance by taking time out for yourself to truly slow down the mind and body so it can rest, recover, replenish and rebalance itself.
The mind, like the body, is not designed to be on the go 24/7 yet with busy lives, stress, always on connectivity, digital entertainment and smartphones your mind may not be getting the downtime it needs. Just like resting your legs after a long run or a football match your mind will operate and feel a lot better after you have given it a chance to recover from the exertion.
The mind can keep running at high speed much longer than your legs might be able to but that does not mean it doesn’t tire. Mental Fatigue is a condition characterised by excessive mental tiredness and below are some of the common symptoms associated with it that can lead to more serious problems:
- Reduced productivity
- Difficulty concentrating
- Brain fog
- Poor sleep
- Loss of enthusiasm
- Impaired physical function
Relaxation – a counter to stress
As you will learn in the Practical Wellness Stress section the key to ensuring stress is good for you is to give yourself adequate rest and recover after a stressful period so ignore this section at your peril. Even moderate levels of stress keep the mind alert and running at a faster rate than normal. This can be great in the short term for a boost in performance or to keep you working to a deadline, however, in the longer term it will have the opposite effect keeping your magnificent mind running below par.
Remember wellness is all about balance so if you think you don’t need rest or that if you snooze you lose then you may not be valuing your r&r highly enough. On the flip side, if you are more sluggish by nature and already relax very well and have no problem switching off then perhaps learning more about good stress and how you can stretch yourself too so you keep growing and improving.
Quality of relaxation
Something else to be aware of when it comes to relaxation is quality. You may be well able to switch off temporarily from whatever is going on in your life by watching TV or scrolling through social media on your phone etc. but this continuous stimulation keeps the brain in an overly alert state. Distraction does not mean relaxation.
Distraction does not mean relaxation.
Changing mental gears
What we are trying to achieve with mental relaxation is slowing down the mind but what does that mean. Your brain is always working, even when you are asleep so we are not trying to stop thoughts or shut down the mind. If you succeeded in that you will be dead so instead think of mental relaxation as how you change mental gears.
A car will have several gears, one gear is great for cruising at high speeds, another gear is great to get you moving and other gears are good for hills or overtaking depending on the speed you are going. If you want to stay healthy and operate from high levels of wellbeing then you need to be able to change mental gears depending on the situation at hand.
Brain waves and mental gears
Changing mental gears is about changing the brain frequency that you are operating from. The main categories of brain wave frequencies are:
- Beta Waves – Fast brainwaves associated with the normal waking state, conscious thought and logical thinking. A good ‘mental gear’ for conscious focus, problem solving and for a lot of work- based tasks that do not require much creativity. Too much of this gear is related to stress, anxiety and inability to relax.
- Alpha Waves – The mental gear that bridges the gap between conscious think and your subconscious mind. Associated with relaxation, creativity and many positive emotions but long term stress can block alpha causing anxiety and insomnia. Light meditation and relaxation techniques help the brain move from beta to alpha.
- Theta Waves – This gear is associated with deeper states of relaxation, daydreaming and sleep. Benefits include helping intuition, creativity and it plays an important role in restoration of the mind and body that cannot be achieved when more alert.
- Delta Waves – The slowest of the brain waves. Commonly found in babies and young children when awake but much less common in adults when awake. Delta waves are only produced during deep sleep or during deep meditation. They have a very healing effect on the body and revitalising the mind.
- Gamma Waves – The mental gear of peak performance and the ‘flow state’. Although these are the fastest brain frequencies they are associated with feelings of oneness, happiness and compassion and are involved in higher processing of information and cognitive function. Athletes and musicians are probably operating from the Gamma range when they are ‘in the zone’.
The always on, overstimulated brain can get stuck in one gear, beta brainwaves. You want to have the flexibility and range to move from one mental gear to another at will. Otherwise you may find yourself lying in bed wide awake but physically exhausted, home with the kids but still thinking about work or underperforming at work or elsewhere due to mental fatigue.
You want to have the flexibility and range to move from one mental gear to another at will.
In essence the art of relaxation, especially mental relaxation, is a critical component of your overall wellness maintenance and your ability to use your brain correctly.
Meditation for relaxation
Meditation is a classic example of a technique that can really promote deep levels of relaxation that can have a profoundly positive effect on mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. If you have already learned to meditate that is fantastic as it is an excellent discipline for looking after your overall wellbeing. The next step is to build a daily practice into your day if you haven’t achieved that yet.
If you don’t know how to meditate and you are open to learning how to meditate we highly recommend you seek out a local (or online) meditation class, program or instructor to help you get the hang of it. Meditating is simple but not easy and having the support on an experienced guide can go a long way to help you over the initial challenges and resistance.
There are many, many forms of meditation so don’t be put off by any particular form or discipline of meditation that you don’t like. It is a practice of training the mind and in the same way you can build physical fitness through many, many types of exercise there are many ways to build your mental fitness.
If you are not interested in meditation don’t worry. There is more than one way to skin a banana and you absolutely do not need to meditate to relax deeply. It is just a reliable way of doing so to get the results we are looking for.
Finding your reliable way to slow down your mind
Instead of just thinking about having to meditate to relax it is important that you find your own reliable way to switch off, tune out and relax deeply. The main thing to remember is that the more you change mental gears the more flexible your mind will become and the easier it will be to balance itself and operate at its best.
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