What is Conscious Relaxation?
Well to be perfectly frank & honest, I think I just made it up. Some people might call it Mindfulness, or Disconnection – but no matter what name you use, it is something we all should be doing as part of our regular Self-Care routine to promote better general health. It is very beneficial to both your Mental Health AND your Physical Health … and if you want to talk in medical terminology, you could describe it as calming your Sympathetic Nervous System and nurturing your Parasympathetic Nervous System.
I hear your question – why is there more than one nervous system, and what is the difference between the two?
Have we all heard of the ‘Fight or Flight’ response? … what about the ‘Rest & Digest’ response?? … well they are the catch phrases used to describe the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems respectively.
The Sympathetic Nervous System controls your readiness for immediate action – hence the ‘fight or flight’ response. It speeds your heart rate and fires up your adrenalin to prepare your muscles to act quickly and strongly … fight off an enemy or aggressive action – or mobilise your body to evacuate the immediate area as quickly as possible.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System supports all the functional systems that heal, repair and regenerate your body at cellular level. It draws attention to the Viscera (all your internal organs) and induces a feeling of deep calm and sometimes drowsiness – hence the ‘rest & digest’ response.
And now I hear your next question – how does nurturing the Parasympathetic Nervous System help me feel better?
Think of it in the same context as a rope under tension – the tension in the rope helps it perform the function it was put there to do (tie down a load, restrain a wild animal, that sort of thing). Even a length of strong rope will deteriorate if it is kept on constant tension – the fibres weaken over time and eventually the rope breaks preventing it from fulfilling its function.
Progressing further with that analogy …. We are all familiar with the concept that a certain level of stress is helpful for healthy functioning of our body & mind – but if we substitute our stress for the tension in the rope (understanding that stress is driven by our Sympathetic Nervous System), and the activities of our daily life for the function of the rope, the correlation becomes much clearer. Some stress is good for us – but too much stress is harmful to us … and we all know how it feels to be over stressed don’t we?
The logical progression with this thought is to reduce the stress in our life to a manageable level that is not harmful to the rest of our body … Otherwise recognised as calming your Sympathetic Nervous System and nurturing your Parasympathetic Nervous System.
This of course leads to the next question on most people’s minds – How do I create Conscious Relaxation?
Well, that will very likely be an individual thing and a little different for everyone. What I like to suggest is to find an activity that helps and allows you to consciously disconnect from the world around you, and focus on the ‘Now’ … something that allows you to totally immerse your consciousness in the activity you are doing, and not worry about work, or what to cook for dinner, or what anyone else is doing right now – this is your permission to focus on you and what you are doing for that exact period of time.
For some people it might be meditation, or yoga, or just lying on lush grass under a tree … for others it might be getting creative and making something … and for some it might even be a bush walk, or a casual run. Understand that what works for your bestie might not provide the same state of mind for you … whatever it takes for you to disconnect and just ‘Be’ is going to be the best thing for you – and your health.
I always subscribe to the mantra that you cannot provide for anyone else if you don’t look after yourself first … getting into the habit of Conscious Relaxation will give your Sympathetic Nervous System a rest, which will help you consciously release tension in your muscles, which will allow your Parasympathetic Nervous System to repair & restore your body, so that you can handle the next challenge life throws at you.