At the end of a long day, you probably want nothing more than to relax. But here’s the thing. Most of what we call “relaxation” isn’t actually all that relaxing. Surfing the web is a leisure time trap. The more you get lost in email, Facebook, and Twitter, the more your brain and nervous system must remain “on.”
The big idea here is that it’s not just work that drains us. It’s also the way we “relax.”What does actual relaxation look like? Consider three key practices of radical relaxation: movement, stillness, and breath.
If you’re like me, you spend 98% of the workday sitting. All of this sitting leaves the body tired and tense. The muscles of the hips lock up, the legs get stiff, and the shoulder and neck muscles strain. If you want to dissolve this tension and relax, sitting is about the last thing you should do. You need to move. As long as you are moving, it doesn’t matter what you do. You might walk, run, ride your bike, dance, or do yoga.
Once you move the body, practice experiencing stillness. To be still is to experience a pause in the constant stream of thoughts. To be still is to give your nervous system a rare chance to let go. There’s no single way to experience stillness. You might find it in a 15-minute meditation practice. You might find it while lying on the ground outside, looking up at the stars. Or literally stopping to smell the flowers.
Move, get still, then breathe. The most powerful way to relax is to bring your attention to the breath. Ask yourself throughout the day: what is the quality of my breath right now? Is it short and constricted? Or is it long, deep, and effortless? Extend each inhale and exhale, inhale deep into your belly, and allow yourself to relax.