The Big View of Relaxation That Few See

When most people think of relaxation, they are underwhelmed. They “know” that it is something they “need” but it sounds like knowing that broccoli is good for you and that you need to add it to your diet. Most people are not impressed. Sadly, they are not motivated to explore the true realm of relaxation.

Relaxation is more than something that is good for our body.  Relaxation is the doorway to most of  those experiences we consider as making a life worth living. That’s the big view. Relaxation reduces our built-in negativity bias, that is seeing the threats and risks of life around every corner even if there are no threats or risks there. Our long ago ancestors needed this to survive, but we carry too much of this. Relaxation brings ups the powers within us to see with a positivity bias—seeing good, potential, and creativity around most corners. This is not a false vision. Positive stuff is out there and stress has been blinding us.

Think of the time you were last on vacation or at least had the opportunity to take a good break from your normal life. It took a few days to tune down the previous work-a-day focus. By the third day, something was happening to you. You probably found yourself not only more energized, but also curious, more observant, clear-headed, open to helping others, thinking of possibilities, savoring, appreciating, and day-dreaming. You were becoming, without effort, the product of the forces of relaxation and that was changing your mind, heart, and body.

Relaxation pushes us into the positive realm. The positive realm is powerful. It opens us to new ideas, new relationships, and renewed self-promises to follow our dreams. Sounds corny but it is how we are hardwired. Bring down stress enough and by default, we go to the positive realm. No choice, really, that is how we are built.

To get really crazy, at the far end of the positive realm lies deep experiences of flow and mystical experience. Flow is feeling so connected to what you are doing that you feel bonded to it in some mysterious way. Time stops and the center of your focus enlivens.  Mystical experience, properly defined, comes in a few different flavors. The most commonly experienced form is feeling part of something much bigger than one’s self and that some how the world is alive. The old mystics (and the new ones) get to these places by turning down stress and turning up openness, curiosity, and generosity—all bi-products of relaxation. You can’t get to these places with a furrowed brow and an anxious mind.

If we stop defining relaxation as something that is good for us like broccoli and flossing and instead learn to jump into the river of relaxation, we will discover a whole, broad, positive world.

$20 Biofeedback? Yes.

Legit biofeedback can be at your fingertips for $20. A well calibrated digital thermometer can reflect the state of your body and your mind via thermal biofeedback. This has frequently been used and studied using equipment that does the same thing but costing hundreds of dollars.

When we are stressed blood is drawn away from our fingers and toes and moved into our major muscles and organs. Also, our blood vessels are restricted so the body can jack up our blood pressure.

Cold hands=stressed. Our hands don’t have to be ice cold, although they could be, but below the temp they would be if we were really relaxed. A really relaxed temp is in the mid-90s. Moving away from that, we move into lesser and lesser states of relaxation and into greater states of stress response (our vessels grow smaller and smaller because our body says it wants to push up our blood pressure). Hand temperature is very responsive to the ups and downs of our personal levels of stress. Of course we don’t need a thermometer to tell us when we are experiencing high levels of stress, we know it when we feel it. Fine. What is surprising however, how often we have “holding stress” that is, we are partly stressed but we have no idea that our bodies are in that condition. If we can bring down useless “holding stress”, an habitual keeping our bodies in a state of readiness, usually waiting for something that never comes or rarely appears, we can do wonders for our bodies and minds. Holding the lead to this digital thermometer for 60 seconds will tell us if we are holding stress.

We don’t have to be hooked to this $20 device all day long. With regular practice we can get a sense of the temp of our hands and if it is proportional to the situation we are in (Are we too stressed for the occasion?). We can learn from thermal biofeedback what it takes to bring our bodies into a calmer state. We might relax, as we know how to relax and bring our hand temp to the low 90s. To get really relaxed we can press on and seek to hit 95 degrees. Now the real challenge begins, can we hit yet higher temperatures of 96 or 97? To get there we have to learn how to talk to ourselves and how to visualize (more about these topics in later blog posts).

Whatever temp we work at, we can bring that experience into our daily lives (on the fly) by remembering what our body felt like when we hit  95, 96, 97 degrees. Bringing that body memory more and more fully into mind and body will increase our temperature, driving down our stress level at the moment.

So heat your way to deep relaxation.

See our bookstore to order the digital thermometer from Amazon and you may wish to get the book, Finding the Calm Within which is all about thermal biofeedback. To find both of these items, select “Stress Management” when arriving at the bookstore.

Get On The Fly

The biggest thing that stops people from trying relaxation techniques is: “Hey, I don’t have 30 minutes to meditate.”  So let’s break that down: the only way to relax is through meditation, most people assume. But that assumption is false.

On-the-fly relaxation techniques are numerous, and in most ways, more effective than one or two meditation sessions per day. These regular world techniques are totally portable, invisible to others, and simple to work in.

Deep Breathing – Four or five cycles of breathing in, down to the belly and out really takes the edge off.

Sensory Mindfulness – Tune gently away from your thoughts and feelings and listen to the sounds around you for a few seconds. Next touch any surface in front of you (e.g. a keyboard, your sleeve, a coffee mug, a pen) and just note the feeling on your finger tips. Repeat for 30 seconds or up to a few minutes. Hey, don’t tell anyone, but you have just preformed a meditation practice.

Calming Imagery – Bring to your mind’s eye your last vacation (if it was a good time), or a favorite pet, or anything else that strikes you as calming (you also can do this with your eyes open). Hold onto the image or make it more vivid for a minute or two. Feel the greater calm.

No cross-legged position required for any of these. No seclusion necessary. Invisible to everyone else but you know what really is going on. You are de-stressing, when you need it, within your regular life, all on the fly.

The Big 4 Stress Types

There are a few other sources of stress but here are the biggies:

Threat – “Am I going to lose my job.” “God, I think he wants a divorce.” “What am I going to do?”

Anything that pokes at something near and dear to us (consciously or unconsciously) and shows the possibility of losing that precious thing, is a threat. Threat is not just a gun in the ribs, it can be the loss of anything we value.

Thwart – “Get moving!” “I hate post office lines; look at that dope slowing everything down.”  “I told you a hundred times, do it this way!” “They will never listen to me so I’m just going to keep my mouth shut.”

We know what needs to be done and damn it! the world is not playing along. What idiots. I demand that things be done my way. What? You don’t always get your own way (in traffic, in lines, at work, in life)? Hello, stress.

Inner Conflict – “I know I need to get started on that project but…” “This just isn’t right but I have no choice but to do it anyway.” “Which way do I go, this way or that? They both feel the right way.”

Here we are split between two compelling options (or more). Both have their possibilities but we just can’t get off the dime and therefore we live with the stress of being inactive/divided.

Change – “I just: moved, lost my job, retired, won the lottery, got sick, ran off with a starlet, bought a house, had a baby, got a promotion.”

Shocking but true, good events and bad events stress us by causing our mind, body, and soul to swing into action to figure out what all this new stuff is and how to live with it. Win the lottery? Then you are stressed.  Break your leg and your nose? Then you are stressed. Can’t win when things change.

Homework: See if your top three stressors fit into these categories. Note: Some stressors are so good at stressing, you can have two, three, or four of the major types of stresses cooking away in your life at one time because of one problem. You get a promotion (change), you want the money that comes with the promotion but not the work (inner conflict), you are afraid that some of your co-workers will turn their competitive attention upon you (threat), and you feel that you can’t really make the changes you want and therefore will feel like a puppet (thwart).  Ouch!