Our fast-paced society can cause people to push their minds and bodies to the limit, often at the expense of physical and mental wellbeing. Relaxation techniques are helpful tools for coping with stress and promoting long-term health by slowing down the body and quieting the mind. Such techniques generally entail: refocusing attention (for example, noticing areas of tension), increasing body awareness, and exercises (such as meditation) to connect the body and mind together.
What are the types of relaxation techniques?
There are 3 major types of relaxation techniques:
Autogenic training: This technique uses both visual imagery and body awareness to move a person into a deep state of relaxation. The person imagines a peaceful place and then focuses on different physical sensations, moving from the feet to the head. For example, one might focus on warmth and heaviness in the limbs, easy, natural breathing, or a calm heartbeat.
Breathing: In breathing techniques, you place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a slow, deep breath, sucking in as much air as you can. As you're doing this, your belly should push against your hand. Hold your breath and then slowly exhale.
Progressive muscle relaxation: This technique involves slowly tensing and then releasing each muscle group individually, starting with the muscles in the toes and finishing with those in the head.
Meditation: The two most popular forms of meditation in the U.S. include Transcendental Meditation (students repeat a mantra -- a single word or phrase) and mindfulness meditation (students focus their attention on their thoughts and sensations).
Guided imagery: Once in a relaxed state, the images that come up in your mind can help you uncover important realizations about your emotional, spiritual, and physical health.
How do relaxation techniques work?
When we become stressed, our bodies engage in something called the "fight-or-flight response." The fight-or-flight response refers to changes that occur in the body when it prepares to either fight or run. These changes include increased heart rate, blood pressure, and rate of breathing, and a 300 to 400% increase in the amount of blood being pumped to the muscles. Over time, these reactions raise cholesterol levels, disturb intestinal activities, and depress the immune system. In general, they leave us feeling "stressed out."