Two weeks ago we talked about the Three Free Therapies of Chinese Medicine. The last of the three, deep relaxation, is just as important as the other two, diet and exercise, but gets so much less emphasis in our society that it deserves special attention.
Deep relaxation can be anything that puts your body into a relaxation state, or, in medical jargon, in a parasympathetic state. Most of us now have heard of the “fight or flight” response, a state of our body that evolved for high threat situations, where heart rate and blood pressure go up and blood moves to the muscles for action, while adrenaline is released. This is part of the body’s sympathetic nervous system response and can be helpful in small amounts. The problem lies in the fact that our society has gotten to be so high-stress and fast-pace. We are continuously bombarded with so much information and are subjected to such high expectations that our bodies are in a perpetual state of “fight or flight.” Being in this state too much is quite draining, even if we don’t think so or notice at the time. In the long run, this can lead to adrenal fatigue.
In that previous post, I was talking about Liver Qi Stagnation and encouraging a smooth flow of Qi energy. If you think of the “fight or flight” response, what do you imagine happens in your body? Muscles tensed for action, nervousness, constriction. This tension and constriction also hinders the smooth flow of Qi. So, to encourage smooth flow, we need to let go and relax.
According to Bob Flaws, L.Ac., studies in China have actually shown that doing just 15 minutes of some sort of deep relaxation per day has significant effects on health, including better sleep, decreased digestive problems, less pain, and many other benefits. Getting some deep relaxation doesn’t have to be anything fancy, it could be spending 15 minutes sitting in a chair with a cup of calming tea, looking out the window, and having relaxing thoughts. That’s the trick, if our mind is racing with worry or our list of a million things to do, it won’t be so relaxing. That’s why many of us need something more, like acupuncture, guided visualizations, and/or meditation.
Simply lying on the treatment table for acupuncture for 30-60 minutes can have an element of deep relaxation. In addition, the acupuncture itself strongly induces us into that state, promoting the the ultra smooth flow of Qi, the release of serotonins and anti-inflammatory agents. It’s like a triple shot mocha of relaxation! (yes, that’s right, coffee has the opposite effect, by the way!). At least lying or sitting listening to a CD of a guided visualization can help guide our minds and bodies toward relaxation rather than worry. There are many available these days, and each individual is unique as to what he or she finds relaxing, a female or male voice, music, a lot of guidance or a little…..find something that works for you. I like one by Gael Chiarella called AM/PM Yoga Meditations, with 8 different 15 minute soothing journeys.
Meditation has been the single most powerful and beneficial tool in my life. For me, the ultimate way to train my mind to let go and relax is through meditation. There are many forms of meditation, from the “quite simple” to that which is hung with all kinds of trappings. However, it all starts with simply taking a comfortable sitting position and watching your breath. A most important aspect is to do the best you can to stay with your breath, but DON’T judge yourself. Everyone, everyone, everyone has lots of thoughts. When you notice you are distracted, just notice that, and go back to the breath. It sounds so simple, and yet is so profound. This is how we can train ourselves to drop more easily into a relaxation state, and you’ll be surprised at all the other benefits you can get as well. I find that this is such an important topic that I will have to continue in another entry so I’ll tell you about those as soon as I can. Until then, be well, let go, breath!