Many people find it incredibly difficult to relax. The idea of doing nothing for a short period of time has become so alien in our modern fast-moving, always-connected culture, that many people can’t bring themselves to do it. However, it’s not possible to constantly work and be active without resting. If you do it for long enough, your body will eventually force you to stop through illness.
For many, relaxation means sinking into the sofa to watch some TV, while others relax by going running. Neither of these is truly an effective way to relax though. Watching TV or reading a book is mentally or emotionally stimulating, and while exercise can be a form of meditation for some people, it’s still physically taxing. The best kinds of activities for relaxation are those that are both physically relaxing and mentally calming, where you are fully absorbed in the present moment.
When to relax
It’s important to wind down in the evening before going to sleep, especially for those with insomnia. Try to take at least half an hour to engage in one of these activities before you go to bed.
If you don’t already, try to take a proper break for lunch. You’ll digest your food much better and be able to come back to your work refreshed.
Take mini-breaks throughout the day. If you’re a computer worker, make sure you stop to look away from your screen (ideally into the far distance), maybe get up and go for a quick walk or stretch for a few minutes every half hour or so.
How to relax
- Turn off all your devices (or at least put them on airplane mode or equivalent). Especially in the evening, you want to avoid the stimulating blue light of screens and turning off your wifi at night can help too.
- Reduce the chances you’ll be distracted by other people. Let them know you’re not going to be available for however long you’re planning to relax, or do relaxing activities together.
- Be fully present for whatever you’re doing. If your mind wanders, try to notice and bring it back to what you’re doing. If you find this to be difficult, try activities that are new to you, or those that are more complex or demanding from the list first. As your focus improves, you can gradually move to the simpler activities without being so easily distracted.
- Try the following activities:
1. Sit with a cup of tea
Preferably chamomile. Don’t do anything else, just sit and relax. Feel the warm cup on your hands, smell the aroma of the tea, drink slowly and concentrate on the taste and sensations in your body. Once you’re a tea drinking master, try doing this with your meals too.
2. Have a bath
Sink into a warm bath. If you like you could dim the lights, put on some music, and drop in some lavender essential oil. If you have aching muscles try adding dead sea salts.
Lie on a picnic mat and have a look up at the stars. Look for shooting stars and see if you can recognise any constellations. Remember how small you and your problems are in the grand scheme of the universe.
4. Watch some comedy
Preferably live. Joy has an expansive quality which opens up the body and slows down your qi – perfect for relaxation. Your cheeks and sides may ache afterwards, but you’ll feel great.
5. Walk in nature / go forest-bathing
This one’s more of a daytime activity. Take it slow, breathe in the smells, listen to the sounds of nature – just don’t get lost.
6. Light a fire
There’s something addictive and primal about sitting around watching a fire. For best results share with friends and a guitar.
Go slowly and gently, breathe into the stretches and don’t force anything. Work your way around the body opening the joints and relaxing the muscles as you go.
In its simplest form, this is just a combination of stretching, breathing and mindfulness. Remember you’re relaxing so choose a gentle style.
Similar to yoga but with slightly different mechanics. Here movements are usually repeated in a slow, flowing manner. Again, combine movement, breath and mindfulness. Find out more about qigong here.
10. Tai Chi
More complex than qigong, as there are more postures and movements to work through, so can be useful for those who are easily distracted. Tai chi is basically qigong applied to combat, but for relaxation you just want to focus on smooth flowing movements and connecting the body together to move as one unit.
Seated meditation is actually a fairly advanced practice, as it requires a certain degree of mental stillness and physical relaxation. For many the activity of the mind will slow with practice but if you can’t settle your mind at all, you might want to start some of the other more engaging practices, like mindful eating or qigong.
12. Breathing exercises
This is my favourite breathing exercise for beginners. Breathe deeply into the abdomen, starting with a count of 5 on the in breath and 5 on the out breath. Gradually make each breath longer so you’re counting to 6 then 7, all the way to maybe 15 or 20 with each in and out breath. As soon as it starts to become uncomfortable, reduce the count a little and stay there for a few breaths. Then try to increase the length of the breath again. This becomes a bit of a game, keeps the mind interested and gradually improves your lung capacity. Don’t hold your breath, but breathe smoothly and evenly into the belly throughout, and stay relaxed.
13. Body scan
Lie comfortably and work your way from head to toe, relaxing the muscles of each body part in turn. Focus on unexpected areas like the eyes, ears, pelvis, fingers. Feel free to wiggle the area around a little if that helps to free it up and relax it. You might find you fall asleep before you get half way through the body.
14. Listen to relaxing music
Whatever that is for you. Turn the volume up, get comfortable, close your eyes and lose yourself in the music.
15. Stroke a pet
If you don’t have one, borrow someone else’s. Spend at least 10 minutes just stroking, petting and getting to know your furry friend.
16. Write a journal
Try not to do any planning or writing to do lists, as that’s not usually too relaxing. Gratitude logs or reflections on the day tend to work best for relaxation.
17. Colouring in
Adult colouring became a bit of a craze recently, but don’t let that stop you. Ideally sit on the floor while you’re doing it. An excellent alternative to evening telly-watching.
18. Get artistic
Try your hand at drawing, painting, sculpting or carving – whatever takes your fancy. It doesn’t necessarily have to be good, but you’ll get better with practice and hands-on creativity can be both rewarding and relaxing.
19. Get a massage
It’s great to get a professional to do it, but why not swap with a partner or friend and alternate. It might be fun (and especially for some heavy-handed husbands might be necessary) to go on some courses together to improve your technique.
20. Have some acupuncture
You don’t want to DIY this one, but having needles stuck in you can be surprisingly relaxing. We’ve had many people fall asleep during treatment, some after just a minute or two. Contact us if you’re in the Malvern area and would like to book an appointment.