How To: RELAX!

Is your to-do list a mile long?  Do you feel like for every one thing you cross off it, you get at least two more?  Are you finding it harder and harder to keep up with the juggling act of keeping all the balls in the air when it comes to your responsibilities?

This week on my Instagram video series and Facebook posts, I asked if you were constantly STRESSED OUT.  I certainly was!  It turns out that working full-time, running my own business, working out and training, and being a wife and mother ALL AT THE SAME time without adequate down-time was NOT a good idea.  I found myself dealing with mental fogginess, fatigue, unexpected and unwanted weight gain and, quite frankly, shitty sleep (pardon my French).

It was the last one that broke the camel’s back, actually.  You mess with my sleep; you are asking for trouble.  I’m not willing to put up with poor-quality ANYTHING for any length of time, so I did what I always do: I called in the experts.  Oh sure, I’ll check out what “Dr. Google” has to say, but I’m not going to waste much time on figuring things out for myself when there are certified, trained and experienced professionals out there who are PAID to leverage their expertise on my behalf.

It might have been my type A, do-everything approach that caused me issues in the first place, but in true type A fashion, in the span of a week I saw: my GP; not one but TWO naturopathic doctors (gotta love a third opinion, right?); my psychologist; a registered massage therapist AND an acupuncturist.  Go big or go home.

They all, in their own way and own terminology, came to the same conclusion: I was doing too much and needed to slow down.  My favourite?  My acupuncturist’s verdict: “You do not have enough ‘yin'” (where ‘yin’ is the quiet, restful, darkness and calm “negative” or absence of doing that is the necessary counterpart to ‘yang,’ the action-oriented, aggressive – the two balancing life forces of the entire universe in traditional Chinese belief systems).

Whether you believe in it or not*, my naturopath trotted out the “tired” phrase “adrenal fatigue” (ba-doom-ching!  Lame pun totally intended!).  I don’t really care what the answer is to the question, “*Is adrenal fatigue real?”  The symptoms were (and are) real for me.  It’s not even that I think my adrenal glands are fatigued or worn out, rather that I am experiencing the effects of chronically elevated cortisol and possibly other stress-related hormones due to the untenable pace of my life, which probably better describes what people are calling “adrenal fatigue” anyway.

I know I *can* do everything, and so I did, without ever questioning whether I *should* or *needed to* (the answer to those last two is a resounding “NO,” in case you’re wondering the same thing about yourself).  Like me, I know you can (and often do) do everything, but guess what?  You don’t *have* to!

The good news for me and for you?  There ARE lots of ways to SLOW DOWN and embrace your yin!  And since you’ve stuck with me through a long-winded introduction (thank you!), here are the goods:

Breathe.  Deeply.

We all breathe.  All day long, in fact.  Buuuuut… it’s often shallow, tense breathing that does little to dispel tension.  Slow down.  Close your eyes.  Inhale deeply, all the way to the bottom of your lungs (it might be the first time you’ve found them since you were an infant).  Hold for a count of at least four.

Hold that breath for a moment and feel the sensation of your entire abdomen being lifted and filled. You can even think of an emotion you want to release and expel for the exhale.

Exhale forcefully, using the muscles of the diaphragm to fully expel all of the air and thinking about also expelling any negative thoughts, feelings or emotions.

Repeat for 5-10 breaths, one to three times daily or more as needed!

Be in nature

Notice that this is not “do” in nature. Going for a run or a walk or other workout outside is lovely, but that is multi-tasking!  Multi-tasking is part of the problem! Just simply BE.

Sit still.  Breathe.  Listen.  Look.  Soak up the sunlight or moonlight. What do you hear? What do you see?

Take your shoes off.  Wiggle your toes in the dirt or grass.  Get grounded and connect to the earth.

Where is your favourite place to BE outside?  Mine is my own backyard.

Gentle activity

Gentle yoga (not power yoga!), leisure walking/strolling, peaceful swimming or tai chi all come to mind.

This is not competitive or intense.  The whole point is to reduce stress on the body, not add to it.

For many of us, it can be hard to slow down. We’re so used to rushing to squeeze everything into our days that it can feel counterproductive to slow down. But without this balancing, we cannot benefit from the more intense, challenging workouts.  For every up there is a down, for every high there is a low.

Meditate

Sounds very “zen” doesn’t it?  If you’re not sure “how,” get a CD (people still buy physical CDs, right?) or download a meditation app and listen along.  Lie or sit still and comfortably.

Repeat a few key words or phrases to yourself, or simply think of nothing at all (if you can). If thoughts come to mind, release them without judgement.

Be still. Be at peace. Relax.

Explore tension

I call this “The Opposites Game.”  Sometimes, we don’t really know how to experience something until we experience its opposite. Something along the lines of “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone,” or “you can’t know true happiness until you’ve known true sadness.”  That kind of deep stuff.

So, for relaxation, we need to experience tension. Lie down in a comfortable position. Start at your toes and work your way up, one body part at a time.  Clench those toes as tightly as you can and then release them. Imagine they are softening and melting into a puddle of goo, or a soft warm marshmallow – whatever imagery creates maximum relaxation for you. Then move to the next body part. Keep going all the way up to your face!

Have a fit (and relaxed) day!

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