If you are a productive member of society, have a family, exercise regularly, take care of the house and have any sort of hobbies, you probably feel like you’re constantly “on.” When you do have any downtime, chances are you are either buried in an I-pad checking facebook or perhaps watching television and the idiotic shows that are on so you can simply turn your brain off. You are essentially occupying your brain until you are finally ready to sleep.
When you are ready to check out for awhile longer, you schedule a vacation. A vacation where you need to devote planning, money, travel arrangements and the stresses of getting your shit together so you can get out of dodge and relax. But do we ever truly relax on vacation? There’s the pressure to have fun, to relax, to make sure everyone is having “the best time EVA” that follows you around like a shadow. Coupled with sleeping in a different place, different routines and the knowledge that it will take you a day or two (at least) to catch up on laundry, on work e-mail, on obligations that weighs on you, vacations carry their own amount of stress.
Bottom line is, unless you are a lazy bear who checks out of life after work, you probably don’t really relax as much as you should. Relaxation is good for the soul, but only if you do it right. After several weeks of very busy life activities, vacation, labor day, start of school, start of kids activities, shuttling kids to grandparents and babysitters while Holly and I did our own things, we finally had a weekend to unwind and relax.
We are both hard on our bodies, and run our minds ragged, and getting in for massages help to keep both in order. While I’m not sure if the type of massage we usually get has a name, I’d say it’s a combination of deep tissue and trigger point massage techniques intended to focus on specific areas that are problematic to us. This last weekend though, I had a cranial sacral massage prior to my normal massage to further align my mind and body. As part of eating better and larger reduction in alcoholic beverages, I wanted to calm my mind and increase my positive energy a la Eckart Tolle’s “The Power of Now“, a book I can’t recommend enough. This article on the technique sums up how I felt about it:
Most of us have mastered the art of “doing” in our crazy, activity-filled world, but “being” is actually tougher, much more rewarding, and is truly a gift. Lao Tzu, the prolific sixth-century B.C.E. philosopher, said, “The source of all great movement lies in stillness.” I’ve often been awed by what the body can do when we give in to the stillness–when we slow down enough for the body to respond positively to its own healing ability.
Now whether it was simply the environment (quiet, calm) that facilitated the drifting inward, the feeling of energy flowing through my body and the positive thoughts, or the actual technique is another question, but I came out of that session relaxed and energized, as well as motivated to continue to relax the mind and quiet the ongoing internal chatter.
Other cultures have incorporated specific things into their everyday lives to assist in stress reduction, relaxation and higher energy levels. Some of these like meditation and yoga have been embraced by groups and individuals here in the west, but others like siestas have not. While this is mostly a traditional Spanish cultural practice, traditionally employed to allow field workers to get out of the hottest part of the day and nap to maintain energy levels, it is something that’s not a bad practice. From the website SiestaAwareness:
The form of rest recommended for health and productivity benefits is a short 10-20 minute nap, and not the 2 hour long siesta normally associated with Spain, enjoyable as that may be!
Research shows that the majority of people suffer from tiredness twice in every 24 hour period. We are what’s called Bi-phasic; we need two periods of sleep; a long one at night and a shorter one during the day. The early afternoon brings a drop in energy levels, not as severe as night time, but sufficient to make it difficult to concentrate and think clearly. By having a short nap we can help ourselves think more clearly by more productive and reduce the risk of heart disease. Tiredness can also be a cause of accidents. A short 10-20 minute nap is all that is needed to restore our concentration, alertness and improve productivity for the afternoon.
It’s hard to find time to nap during a workday due to logistics, and even in Spain the practice is dying out. On the weekends, after mowing the lawn and turning on a college or NFL game I don’t really care about, is when I have a chance to take a short nap and it. feels. great!
Finally, your bedtime routine can be either adverse to proper sleeping or beneficial to relaxation and good sleep. If you are one that is checking e-mail, facebook and reading blogs right up until bedtime you are disrupting your body’s natural rhythms. According to this Medical News Today article:
Artificial light prevents sleep-promoting neurons in the brain as well as the nightly release of melatonin - the hormone that encourages sleep. Instead, the light activates neurons that make people more alert.
WebMD recommends this sleeptime routine:
- Unwind before bedtime. Have a transition period, about 15 to 30 minutes, of technology-free time before you go into your bedroom for sleep.
- Shut down your bedroom. Make where you sleep an electronic-free zone. According to AOL’s third annual “Email Addiction” survey, more than 40% of 4,000 respondents have checked email in the middle of the night. Put caps over your electric outlets to discourage plugging in for a recharge.
- Disconnect your kids. A TV in your child’s bedroom has a negative effect on sleep quality. Give him or her a relaxing book to read before bed instead of the remote.
I would even take it a step further, and recommend before drifting off to sleep (well after you’ve turned off televisions and I-pads, and maybe read a real book for a bit), you close your eyes and calm your mind. Perhaps not meditation, but simply try and empty your mind of all the junk it’s picked up over the day or week, of all the stresses and simply focus on breathing, positive thinking, and feeling the energy flow through your body before you drift off to sleep.
So try and actually relax and turn your brain off for a bit. I’m guessing if you do, you’ll feel more energized, more calm and it will promote other positive behaviors in your life.