All things we do that show we are alive, with which we express the meaning of living. All the myriad of ways in which we are always doing, be it physically or mentally.
Our minds and bodies are machines, the tools of our self-expression. One of the interesting statistics that reliability testing has come up with is the measurement of mean time between failure (MTBF in geekspeak) - how long you can expect the tool to function between breakdowns. As systems, our minds and bodies also have a MTBF. It's never been measured, and varies from person to person, but you only have to spend some time in a physician's office to see the results.
That being the case, what is the one sure way to extend the length of time you can go between breakdown of your personal system? Take it out of service periodically. This doesn't mean take a vacation. It doesn't mean do something different than you normally do. These have their benefits, but not as a means of removing the system from service. You need to take it out of service completely. With biological machines this usually involves death - not something that we really look forward to :-), so taking ourselves out of service to the greatest extent possible is preferable.
This we can do.
Natural Mechanisms of Mental and Physical Relaxation
There are two natural mechanisms we have to do this. The first is sleep. During sleep (about which you can find many more articles in the archives) our bodies enter a somnambulistic state in which much of the destruction of the day is repaired. Our minds go through periods of minimal activity that gives them a rest.
The second is a state to which I give the technical term zoning. We've all done it. We temporarily stop noticing the world and our thoughts, realizing only when we come back that we were gone for a bit.
Technical Methods of Mental and Physical Relaxation
Technological creatures that we are, we've found ways to improve on the natural mechanisms of taking our body-minds out of service. For the world of the mind there are the myriad forms of meditation. You'll find a lot about the subject here and elsewhere on the web.
For the body, there is conscious relaxation. There have been many methods of conscious relaxation devised over the years. Here is one that has worked for me.
- Lie down or sit in a comfortable chair such as a recliner.
- Breathe slowly and evenly.
- Start at your toes and gradually work your way to your head. Visualize a white light enveloping and permeating each part of your body in turn. I have broken my body down into my toes, feet, ankles, calves and shins, knees, thighs, pelvic area, abdomen and lower back, chest and upper back, shoulders, upper arms, elbows, forearms, wrists, hands, neck, face, and head.
- With each breath, visualize the light enveloping and permeating the next part of your body. As it does so, tell yourself The light flows over and through every cell, every fiber, every muscle. It washes away all tension. My work is done. I can totally relax. All poisons, and all stress are washed away as the light heals and relaxes me.
- As the part relaxes see the light moving over and through the next part, and repeat the words to yourself until you have covered the entire body.
At the beginning this takes 20 - 30 minutes. It can decrease to take only 2 - 3 minutes. However long the actual relaxation process takes, at the least spend about 15 - 20 minutes either relaxing, or in the relaxed state. At the end of the process your body will be so relaxed you cannot feel it. Carried to an extreme you may even find yourself snoring, and aware you are snoring as you enter the first light stages of sleep while retaining full consciousness.
This type of relaxation is also an excellent preparation for sleep, but you would be well-served in practicing it at another time during the day also, even when you use it as a preparation for sleep.
Benefits of Conscious Relaxation
Learning and practicing conscious relaxation has several benefits. Prime among these are
- It just feels good. :-)
- Decreased anxiety level.
- Improved tolerance for pain.
- Improved ability to deal with stress and illness.
Pretty good outcomes for 15 - 20 minutes a day, don't you think?