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Active relaxation and staying sane in a crazy world

My idea of active relaxation comes from the fitness industry’s concept of active rest. When you are trying to achieve your fitness goals, your body needs recovery time. Intense exercise tears muscle fibres which require time to heal so that muscles continue to work optimally, healthily and injury free. Without that rest, increased fitness and strength cannot occur. Active rest is best because it keeps the body moving without the intensity of heavy weights, endurance or prolonged impact. The body likes to move, so some light exercise as active rest is far better than no exercise at all. Walking the dog, a gentle cycle ride or swim, relaxing yoga or stretching session would all be examples of active rest. Active rest will aid recovery and make you stronger, faster and fitter as part of your fitness goals.

The Relaxation Response and Active Relaxation

Active relaxation works in the same way. You have goals and deadlines: prospecting calls, book-keeping, meetings, proposals, blog posts, social media, networking, your own well-being and that of your clients etc. as a solopreneur. And as a parent you have goals: kids to get ready for school, after school clubs, help with homework, sleepless nights, early mornings, your own well-being and that of your family etc. These things may give you great pleasure and they can also feel frustrating and stressful as well as drain you of vitality, enthusiasm and calm.

When you choose active relaxation, you are choosing activities that bring your body into the relaxation response so that your body can rest, digest and restore itself. Active relaxation benefits the body, mind and emotions at the same time. In the relaxation response, your body can heal and repair itself, your muscles can relax and release tension, your mind can become calm and creative and emotionally you are more receptive to play, humour, building relationships and a solution-focused, positive outlook on life. Can you see that achieving those goals and deadlines is much easier to do if your body is in the relaxation (rest, digest and restore) response and consistently achieving a state of relaxation?

Some Stress is Good, too Much makes you Cranky

Your body spends a lot of time every day in the stress response. From getting the kids to school on time to the work commute, or meeting deadlines for work and managing conflict over the TV remote control at home. It can all send adrenaline into your system for the majority of the day. And for the most part, that is great. It makes you productive, creative and effective in your personal and professional lives. It is designed to make you active, to step out into the world, be seen, take action and take ownership of your life.

But too much of that makes you cranky. Unrelenting stress without a break, drains your system and resilience. Have you noticed that when you are stressed you are less kind to yourself and others? That negative self-talk and lack of patience with others doesn’t feel good, does it? Its also difficult to find creative solutions to situations when you are stressed too much. And you are simply not operating at your best. When you notice these things happening, it is time for active relaxation.

Active Relaxation

So, what is active relaxation? In short, it is anything that brings you out of the stress response and into the relaxation response. In other words, rather than activities that promote prolonged release of adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormones) you actively and consciously choose activities that shut down the release of these stress hormones. Consequently, you feel calmer, more energised, ready to take on whatever the next challenge is with more resilience, centred, balanced, grounded and in more control. These might include:

• Going for a walk (with or without the dog)
• Reading a book for pleasure
• Cooking with care and eating wholesome food
• Watching one episode of your favourite programme or a great movie
• Activities with friends (a meal, weekend break, spa day, walk, pub/ wine bar/ coffee shop)
• Writing- journaling, reflective, creative, poetic, narrative,
• Painting, drawing etc.
• Massage
• Yoga class or similar (Pilates, Awareness through Movement, Rolfing Movement Integration)
• Dance- partner classes, nightclub, conscious dance like Five Rhythms
• Comedy- a live show or something at home
• Centring
• Mindfulness
• Meditation

What would YOU choose to Actively Relax?

Only choose the ones that are actively relaxing for you. If the idea of a dance class stresses you out, it may not have the desired affect of calming you and feeling more resourced. However, to try some new things might have some surprising and beneficial effects. Some on this list are more dynamic than others. The active bit of active relaxation is more about being engaged with the activity you are doing, rather than how physically active you are.

It also speaks to your conscious choice and awareness throughout the activity. This is why long hours in front of the TV does not appear on the list- after a night on the sofa with the TV or on-line, you can feel more drained and less resourced. So, be careful and honest with the impact these activities have on your vitality, resourcefulness and resilience. Active relaxation, like active rest, is meant to give you more enthusiasm, strength, passion and endurance for your chosen life activities, be it parenting, running your own company, being CEO of a large organisation, writing books, running marathons or walking the dog.

The Cycles of Life

You are not a machine. Humans have rhythms and cycles that have us being more, or less, active, depending on the stage in the cycle we are in. Like years have seasons, humans have seasons too. We are perhaps more active and productive in our youth, having more energy, vitality and vigour. Later, that energy can change to be more reflective, calmer and peaceful. You may be very awake and raring to go first thing in the morning but at night want to turn in early. Or you might be the opposite way around? Alternatively, you might be most productive first thing and late at night and prefer a snooze in the middle of the day. What are your natural rhythms?

Every activity has a Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter

You go through rhythms and cycles in which you are preparing for an activity (Spring), which leads into being involved and engaged in it (Summer), and then to wind down as it approaches the end (Autumn). Active relaxation appears in the Winter phase- when the activity is done, you have stopped and you are in the midst of reflection, celebration, commiseration, learning and integration.

Winter is a little used phase. As a society, we are used to moving from activity to activity without the rest time in between. Valuable insights are lost if we miss out Winter. The gathering of experience, vitality and energy as well as assessing what the next direction will be, the intention, desired goals and resolve are all essential if we are to enter the next phase with any chance of success and enjoying the journey in the process.

Energy and Inspiration

Active relaxation gives you the recharge to have more energy for whatever you love to do in life. It is easy to keep going because that is what it seems everyone else is doing. But, eventually, you will burnout. You will have less energy for what you love. Perhaps you may stop loving the thing you once loved doing.  Not because you are bored of it, or out-grown it, but simply because you are not listening to your body. Your body needs recharging and care. You want to give it time to do that. Otherwise, it gets tired, low in energy, unwell, negative, depressed, uninspired, blah.

Life isn’t meant to feel that way. Sure, there might be brief periods you experience that flatness- because sometimes life is shit and challenging and you have nothing in the tank to push against it. But often, that is avoidable, by consciously choosing active relaxation as part of your day. You cannot carry on regardless. Recharging through active relaxation gives you all the energy you need for an active, vital and passion-filled life.

Over to You

I was inspired to write this blog because I have many clients who struggle with active relaxation. I have struggled with it for years myself and sometimes get the balance wrong. This drive to do more, be more, faster, harder and longer can ruin your enjoyment and passion for your work and life and can damage the relationships with your loved ones……… and even the relationship with yourself. It’s relatively easy to turn around. Explore that list of active relaxation opportunities and find out the ones that work best for you. That will depend on your natural rhythms and cycles as well as your commitments. Let me know how you get on and if you would like some assistance, get in touch.

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