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Learning to Relax: Mind, Body and Soul

Given all the stressors that life brings (academic, personal, familial), how can you achieve a relaxed state and maintain some part of it in your life? Below are some strategies for relaxation and some ways to incorporate these into your life on a regular basis, regardless of any external stressors.

It is self-evident that when we are relaxed we feel good, but what many people don't realize is that this subjective sense of feeling good may actually be accompanied by physical health benefits. According to researchers like Herbert Benson, regular relaxation (combined with other self-care practices) can help prevent or control all kinds of health problems, including high blood pressure, eczema, acne, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine headaches, depression, anxiety, herpes, endometriosis, insomnia, and many other conditions. Despite these clear benefits and the good feeling elicited by relaxing, there are many people who feel they don't have the time or ability to incorporate regular relaxation practices into their lives.

We all have lives that are, at least sometimes, busy and stressful. There are things that you can do, some of which take only a few minutes, to bring a sense of relaxation even in the midst of stress.

One strategy for promoting relaxation is to use deep breathing exercises. These are easy and very effective. All you need to do is take a long, slow, deep breath in through your nose, making sure you fill your lungs completely. As you inhale, allow your belly to push outward, making it as full as you can. Once you've inhaled completely, then you will exhale completely--again, through your nose with a long, slow breath. As you exhale, pull your belly in to help push out all the air in your lungs. (It can help to close your eyes while you're doing this as a way to minimize distraction and help you really focus on your breath.) That's it! Breathing in this manner for only 2-3 minutes a day can dramatically reduce stress and help you relax both physically and mentally. The more you practice this, the easier it will become and the more quickly you will feel the benefits. Because this is inconspicuous and quick, it's also something that you can do anywhere, anytime: in class before an exam, in bed while trying to go to sleep, etc.

Another way to relax is to do some form of meditation. Often when meditation is mentioned, people quickly respond "I can't do that". There are some easy ways to get into a meditative state that don't require you sit in the lotus position and empty your mind of all thought. For example, there are guided meditation websites you can use where a pretty image will come on your computer screen and a voice will talk your through a relaxation exercise. All you have to do is lie on your bed and listen! Some of the websites that offer this are: and

A second easy way to get into a meditative state is to engage in a somewhat repetitive activity that doesn't require a lot of thought. Such activities include running, knitting, walking, fishing, drawing, etc. Most of us have had the experience of being so absorbed in something that time passes without us even realizing it. Usually, this happens when we're engaged in an activity like the one I've mentioned above, where we get into a "flow state". This is a kind of meditation!

Some other relaxation strategies include lying down, listening to music, imagining a scene where you were relaxed in as much detail as possible, doing yoga, stretching, laughing, etc. Part of this process will be trial and error in that you'll have to try a few things before you find what works best for you. The key is to get really good at noticing when you're stressed, trying one of these interventions, and then noticing what it feels like to be relaxed. Once you've really tuned in to what your body/mind feels like when relaxed, you'll be more able to recapture this state again. It's within you, so you can have it any time you want!

Credited: Life Advantages, LLC

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