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How to do deep relaxation

Relaxing the mind is a big goal of Buddhist practice, but to do that you need to relax your body as well. Sister Chan Khong teaches us a three-step practice to access a deep restfulness that rivals sleep. Illustrations by Carole Hénaff.

How to do deep relaxation

Having a spiritual practice doesn’t mean we only take care of our mind. Body and mind are two faces of one reality and they support each other. Because of the way we live and consume, stress accumulates in our body and erodes our sense of well-being. By taking care of our body and incorporating moments of deep relaxation into daily life, we reduce stress, anxiety, and irritation, and help balance body and mind.

Sometimes our body needs to rest, but our mind still wants to do many things. Though we think we can overcome the needs of the body with our mind, this is not something we can continue doing forever. From time to time we need to stop, bring our awareness back to our body, and relax. Otherwise, tension builds up and we can lose our temper very easily and be unkind. When we’re disturbed by a strong emotion or we feel we’re burning out—that it’s all too much and we’re going to crack—that’s the perfect moment for deep relaxation.

We use our mindfulness like a ray of light, bringing relaxation to each part.

The practice of deep relaxation is based on a teaching called Mindfulness of the Body in the Body (Kayagata-sati Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 119), in which the Buddha advises us to visit every part of our body so we know what is going on in our body. In the same way that we practice being aware of every state of our mind—accepting, understanding, then releasing each state that arises—we practice this way with our body, visiting every part with awareness, acceptance, care, and without judgment.

A full session of deep relaxation can last from twenty minutes to an hour. We use our mindfulness like a ray of light to scan our body, bringing awareness and relaxation to each part.

How to do deep relaxation

1. Awareness of Breath and Earth

Lie down on your back with your arms at your sides. If you prefer, you can sit in a chair. Make yourself comfortable, close your eyes, and relax. Begin to follow your breathing and just be with your in-breath and out-breath. Feel the earth beneath you, supporting you. Bring your awareness to your abdomen rising and falling. If you feel agitated or dispersed, put your hand on your abdomen and feel it rise and fall as the air goes in and out. Say quietly to yourself, “Breathing in, I am with my in-breath. Breathing out, I am with my out-breath.”

How to do deep relaxation

2. Body Scan and Gratitude

Continue to follow your breathing as you bring awareness and relaxation to each part of your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. You can begin with the hair on your head, your scalp, brain, forehead, and so on. For each body part, say something like this quietly to yourself: “Breathing in, I am aware of my eyes. Breathing out, I release the tension in all the tiny muscles around my eyes.”

As you bring your attention to each body part in turn, contemplate your gratitude. For example, we often forget our heart, yet it beats night and day. Now we have a chance to pay attention to our heart and show our appreciation to our heart. Say silently to yourself, “Breathing in, I bring my attention to my heart. Breathing out, I am aware of my heart.”

How to do deep relaxation

3. Let Go into Deep Relaxation

Bring your awareness back to your abdomen rising and falling. You might enjoy some minutes of quiet or gentle music. If during the session you feel yourself falling asleep, don’t resist. The sleep experienced during deep relaxation is brief but it’s free from agitation and is nourishing and healing. Once the session is over, move your arms and legs, then open your eyes. Sit up gently. Do some stretching. Slowly stand up. Take a moment to breathe and be aware of the sensations in your body.

When you’re having an intense day at work, school, or with family activities, and you don’t have time for a full deep relaxation session, divide your day into segments and relax between each segment or activity. I myself take several short deep relaxation breaks every day. We think we can’t take a moment to rest, but just a few minutes of deep relaxation can renew us and bring peace and vitality back to body and mind.

Find a place to lie down where you won’t be disturbed. If there’s not enough space, pull a chair near the wall, close your eyes, and stretch out your legs. Relax your body and follow your breathing. Bring your attention to just a few of your body parts instead of doing the whole sequence. The shoulders are often a good place to bring our attention: “Breathing in, I’m aware of my shoulders. Breathing out, I relax my shoulders and release the tension.” After relaxing like this for a few minutes, you will come to your next activity refreshed and with more physical energy and mental clarity.

Deep relaxation can also help if you have trouble sleeping. Lie down on your bed and become aware of your breathing. Place your hand on your abdomen, feel it rise and fall with your in-breath and out-breath. You might say quietly to yourself, “Breathing in, I’m aware of the muscles in my face. Breathing out, I release the muscles in my face,” or simply, “Breathing in, I smile. Breathing out, I release.” A gentle smile will relax the muscles in your face and help calm your nervous system. This is loving-kindness directed to yourself. Even if you don’t sleep, resting in this way can be almost as good as sleeping.

A Step-by-Step Plan to Relax Your Body

How to do deep relaxation

How to do deep relaxation

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

How to do deep relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is an anxiety-reduction technique first introduced by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the 1930s.   The technique involves alternating tension and relaxation in all of the body’s major muscle groups.

If you suffer from social anxiety disorder (SAD), your muscles are probably tense quite often. By practicing PMR, you will learn how a relaxed muscle feels different from a tense muscle.  

Progressive muscle relaxation is generally used along with other cognitive behavioral therapy techniques such as systematic desensitization. However, practicing the technique alone will give you a greater sense of control over your body’s anxiety response.  

If you practice this technique correctly, you may even end up falling asleep. If so, congratulate yourself on obtaining such a deep level of relaxation, and for the work that you did up to that point.

For those who suffer from medical conditions, be sure to consult with your doctor prior to beginning any type of relaxation training exercise.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Steps

Find a quiet place free from distractions. Lie on the floor or recline in a chair, loosen any tight clothing, and remove glasses or contacts. Rest your hands in your lap or on the arms of the chair. Take a few slow even breaths. If you have not already, spend a few minutes practicing diaphragmatic breathing.

Now, focus your attention on the following areas, being careful to leave the rest of your body relaxed.

  1. Forehead: Squeeze the muscles in your forehead, holding for 15 seconds. Feel the muscles becoming tighter and tenser. Then, slowly release the tension in your forehead while counting for 30 seconds. Notice the difference in how your muscles feel as you relax. Continue to release the tension until your forehead feels completely relaxed. Breathe slowly and evenly.
  2. Jaw: Tense the muscles in your jaw, holding for 15 seconds. Then release the tension slowly while counting for 30 seconds. Notice the feeling of relaxation and continue to breathe slowly and evenly.
  3. Neck and shoulders: Increase tension in your neck and shoulders by raising your shoulders up toward your ears and hold for 15 seconds. Slowly release the tension as you count for 30 seconds. Notice the tension melting away.
  4. Arms and hands: Slowly draw both hands into fists. Pull your fists into your chest and hold for 15 seconds, squeezing as tight as you can. Then slowly release while you count for 30 seconds. Notice the feeling of relaxation.
  5. Buttocks: Slowly increase tension in your buttocks over 15 seconds. Then, slowly release the tension over 30 seconds. Notice the tension melting away. Continue to breathe slowly and evenly.
  6. Legs: Slowly increase the tension in your quadriceps and calves over 15 seconds. Squeeze the muscles as hard as you can. Then gently release the tension over 30 seconds. Notice the tension melting away and the feeling of relaxation that is left.
  7. Feet: Slowly increase the tension in your feet and toes. Tighten the muscles as much as you can. Then slowly release the tension while you count for 30 seconds. Notice all the tension melting away. Continue breathing slowly and evenly.

Enjoy the feeling of relaxation sweeping through your body. Continue to breathe slowly and evenly.

Voice Recording

In addition to following these instructions, you may consider using a voice recording such as the free MP3 audio file offered by McMaster University with directions on practicing progressive muscle relaxation. The use of an audio recording allows you to fully relax and concentrate on the technique.

Efficacy of PMR for Anxiety

A systematic review conducted in 2008 and published in the journal BMC Psychiatry showed the efficacy of relaxation training, including PMR, in the treatment of anxiety.   Therefore, if you are looking for evidence-based options to help treat your social anxiety, PMR may be a good choice.

A Word From Verywell

Relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation can be helpful for mild to moderate social anxiety, or when practiced alongside traditional treatment such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or medication.   However, if you find yourself living with severe untreated social anxiety, it is important to consult with a doctor or other mental health professional to obtain suitable treatment.

Proper relaxation is vital for your long-term health and happiness. People who feel stressed, unhappy or overworked will inevitably suffer health problems. Psychological pressures can cause weaknesses in our immune system, bringing about a tendency to catch colds and viruses. How you feel can even play a part with chronic complaints such as arthritis, rheumatism, digestive and back problems. Often, if you feel low, your body also feels weakened and this can bring about even more pain, discomfort and suffering.

There are lots of people who, for the whole day, the deepest breath they take is the huge sigh of relief, when it ends. That’s okay for some people, but is it good enough for you? Wouldn’t it be nice to get a little bit more relaxation into your life? What if, at the end of your day, you could feel a smile developing from deep within, bringing feelings of contentment and accomplishment as you mentally review your day? How good would that feel?

What happens to the body when you relax?

When you relax your body responds in a number of ways, such as:

  • Your breathing becomes deeper and slower.
  • Your heart rate decreases and slows down.
  • The blood flow to the extremities increases.
  • Your hormones become more balanced.
  • Your overall metabolism is slowed down.

These elements of relaxation are beneficial for both your physical health and your mental well-being. But what’s the best way to experience deep relaxation? Well, in my opinion there’s no better way of achieving deep relaxation than with self-hypnosis.

Self-Hypnosis for deep relaxation

I’ve lost count of the number of people who have told me just how much easier their life is once they know how to properly relax. Self hypnosis involves teaching you how to reach a natural state of heightened awareness, where your mind becomes open to your own beneficial suggestions and changes. Our vast range of guided self-hypnosis recordings will take you on a journey of deep ‘creative’ relaxation. They can help you to set goals and personal enhancement targets. They can help improve your life by using your own resources to make positive and lasting changes. But most of all, they help you to experience deep relaxation.

Hypnosis is not a loss of control. Hypnosis is a totally safe and natural state of mind which enables you to reach built in information, attitudes and feelings you have towards life so that you can either strengthen or change them, according to your needs. Once you can relax comfortably, you can increase your self confidence, concentrate more easily, improve your memory, get a good night’s sleep, change your eating habits, overcome a fear, be free of a habit and be generally happier with yourself.

Let me tell you about my experience of relaxation. Firstly, I make sure I am feeling as comfortable and safe as possible; undisturbed and in a quiet room, away from any noises or other people. Then, I take a number of deep breathes, deeper than I have all day, to really reach the bottom of my tummy. I feel my lungs soak up the air and as I release the breath, I just let go. Then, I take myself into self hypnosis (which can be learned from using one of our self hypnosis CDs or downloads) and enjoy and review anything which may have happened throughout the day.

I may go through conversations I had with people and thank myself for doing the best I did with the information I had at the time. I may send messages of love to people I know; and, check out how I really feel deep down inside, releasing any unwanted feelings. I may answer any questions which may arise. This may sound different, but it has taken me years to develop my own self-hypnosis techniques and to finely tune them to suit me. Using my skills and experience of relaxation, the CD and MP3 recordings help you to do this so much quicker. You have the benefit of my experience all in one recording, so you can learn it for yourself, very quickly.

Take time to follow the instructions and develop your own way of reaching a satisfying state of self-hypnosis that suits you. Once you develop your own skills, you will be surprised at just what you can achieve.

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There it is again. That familiar feeling.

Maybe it was triggered by a smell, a look, a sound, a certain phrase, a tone of voice, or the way someone treated you. It rushes through your body. Catching you off gaurd. Immediately putting you on high alert. The words you’ve been told so many times by well-meaning people may come to mind:

“Relax. Just breathe.”

“It’s just your mind playing tricks on you. Remember it’s not real.”

You may know that, but it feels real!

You can’t just turn off the way your body’s reacting as if flipping a switch on a light. No matter how many deep breaths you take or how many times you meditated on the fact that “it’s not real.” Trying to relax simply doesn’t work!

Actually… that’s not at all surprising.

The Reason Why Relaxation Techniques Don’t Work

Many therapists have the tendency to introduce relaxation techniques as if they work for everyone. But deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, guided visualization, or body scanning techniques don’t work for everyone.

In particular, they don’t always work well for trauma survivors.

It’s because relaxation techniques are meant to calm us down, and for many trauma survivors that state of being calm can be triggering in and of itself. In fact, it’s often in that very condition of relaxation that they’ll most likely experience a flashback.

Take, for example, if you’ve always experienced your trauma when they you were relaxed and about to fall asleep. Trying to bring yourself into a state of relaxation might have the exact opposite effect intended. The memory of the trauma will be triggered even more, and you may find yourself anything but calm.

So, if you’re a trauma survivor and have tried meditation and breathing techniques to relax you, but it just didn’t work, take heart. It’s not you—it’s the method.

What, then, does work?

Techniques That Work for Trauma Survivors

How to do deep relaxation

It’s grounding techniques that work, not relaxation techniques. Although we may think they’re the same—and some techniques do overlap—grounding has a distinctly different goal than relaxation.

As mentioned, relaxation techniques are meant to calm us down. Grounding techniques, on the other hand, help us to be more present and feel safe, not necessarily more relaxed. In fact, some grounding techniques may have the complete opposite effect.

For instance, squeezing an ice cube, splashing cold water on your face, holding a cold pack in your hands, or biting into a lemon are things that are definitely not relaxing. What they do, though, is bring us to the present when we’re feeling anxious, overwhelmed or disconnected—in effect, snapping us out of our flashback.

Of course, not every grounding technique works for all trauma survivors. Facets of trauma vary according to the individual and, therefore, a set of techniques that fits everybody does not exist.

Grounding Techniques – An Individualized Approach

How to do deep relaxation

There are a variety of different grounding techniques—physical, mental, and emotional—that can help a trauma survivor to become aware of some aspect of themselves or their surroundings. However, what may ground one person and make them feel safe, may trigger another.

For example, some may not feel safe with any of the physical grounding techniques but are more secure with mental ones. While yet another person does not find safety with mental techniques but responds much better to emotional ones.

That is why the goal is not to make them all work. The goal is to identify those that make you —individually—feel safe.

It will take some time, but it’s well worth the time and effort.

Even if other techniques haven’t helped you before, once you discover and assemble your personalized set of grounding techniques, you’ve acquired a set of tools that are invaluable. One that helps you feel confident that you can counteract the triggers that can show up at any moment.

What are some of these grounding techniques? – I will discuss that in the article “Grounding Techniques: Individualized Coping Skills That Really Work.”

Everything you need to know before throwing caution (and your gag reflex) to the wind.

DEAR DR. JENN,

I enjoy giving my boyfriend head. And not to brag, but I think I’m pretty decent at it. Recently though, he has hinted that he wants me to try deep-throating. In the porn I’ve watched it looks pretty intense — and I’m worried about my gag reflex. Any tips for how to deep throat for a first-timer? — The Shallow

DEAR SHALLOW,

I respect your willingness to swallow your pride, so to speak, and come at this with an open mind (and gullet). As you seem to already know, the gag reflex tends to be the biggest inhibitor of the deep throat technique.

Also known as the pharyngeal reflex or laryngeal spasm, the gag reflex is the contraction of the back of the throat that occurs when triggered by an object touching the roof of the mouth, back of the tongue, tonsil area, or the back of the throat. It is meant to prevent things from going down your throat that aren’t supposed to be there, and to stop you from choking. The unfortunate truth is that our throats are not designed to swallow dicks! That said, some people have it easier than others in this category. Studies show that 37% of people do not have a gag reflex. On the other end of the spectrum, 10 to 15% of people have a hypersensitive gag reflex (HGR). Regardless of where you fall, you can learn how to deep throat if you care to. Consider these tips and then dive right in.

Desensitization

There are throat training exercises you can do to help desensitize your gag reflex. Keep in mind, this training must take place over time in order to be effective. Pick a phallic-shaped object, starting with something small like a toothbrush or your finger, and slowly move the object toward the back of your throat. When you feel yourself starting to gag, stop and try to relax while taking deep breaths in order to suppress your gag reflex. Try to hold it there for 10 Mississippis.

The more you practice this, the sooner you will see improvements. Once you are able to hold it there for the full 10 seconds, experiment with moving the object in and out slowly. This may stimulate your gag reflex even more. Make sure to keep breathing. Once you have conquered this with a small object, work your way up to a dildo. Hot tip: Do not practice this with a banana. It could break off into your throat and cause you to choke, which would be a very embarrassing way to go.

Positioning

Positions that create a straight line from the mouth to the throat, allowing the penis to go there, are ideal. There are a few positions that are particularly good for this type of sword swallowing endeavor.

  • Your partner lies on his back with you on your side which allows you to be in control regarding how far you can take him into your throat.
  • Some deep throaters swear by 69.
  • On your knees. Some say this allows your throat to open up more than if you are laying on your back.
  • Lie on your back, no pillows beneath your head, and elevate your legs. Lifting your legs can alter your spine’s alignment so that your throat and mouth are in a straight line.
  • Try lying on your back with your head hanging off the bed. Please note this position requires enormous trust and communication with your partner beforehand because you are in a submissive position and not in control of what is happening to you.

Whatever position you try, one of the most important things is that you are able to feel comfortable, safe, and relaxed with your partner. Feeling pressured or scared, besides creating a very negative experience for you, will lead to you tensing up the muscles in your jaw and your throat, which makes it less likely that you will get the results you were hoping for. Coming up with a signal that lets your partner know to stop is of the utmost importance, as is open communication any time sexual experimentation is going down.

Breathing

When it comes to deep throating, creating optimal breathing opportunities and using breath to help you to relax are important ingredients for success. Stuffed up with a head cold? Wait until your sinuses are cleared out, then try.

Try experimenting with your breathing. Inhale as you slide him out, using that moment to take a breath. Try the reverse as well, inhale as he is going in and exhale as he is going out. Many experts recommend sticking your tongue out or flattening it in order to allow the penis to slide further down the throat. Keep in mind that this leaves your soft palate exposed and available to poking and prodding which is likely to trigger that gag reflex.

Lubrication

Go in hydrated like you are about to run a marathon. Dehydration is your enemy. You need saliva to do a good job. Putting some lube on your lips or on him can allow your mouth to go up and down smoothly which helps the whole process. If you are able to bring his penis into your mouth far enough, the back of your throat will begin to lubricate with a thick saliva.

Quick tips:

There are many different tricks that are recommended to enhance your deep throat technique. They range from old wives’ tales to more scientifically-based recommendations.

  • Humming: This can be effective because you are essentially lifting up your soft palate, which is where your gag sensitivity lies.
  • Accupressure: Squeezing your thumb in your left fist or pinching the fleshy skin between your thumb and index finger, known as the Hegu point, are both said to reduce gag feelings.
  • Use your tongue to block the back of your throat. This creates a pillow-like cushion for him to thrust into (and protects your gag zone).
  • Fake it by wrapping your hands around his girth, in front of your lips, so your hand feels like an extended mouth.

In order to feel safe and have a great experience, talk it out first. And make an ejaculation plan in advance. Are you comfortable swallowing? How do you want to be warned that he is about to cum — and where do you want it to go? Most importantly, like any sex act, this should be about wanting it. You should never feel pressured or coerced. With that? You’re far from the shallow now.

In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.