Active relaxation

22 Jul

This article is part of the series “31 blogs in 31 days” during July 2017 on

During a recent conversation with a friend, she mentioned that the best way for her to relax was after super exhausting strength training. I nodded in instant approval – I discovered strength training myself a couple of years ago and have happily embraced it ever since – and then I also instantly realised that I had not actually done strength training in a while. A possible reason for my recent feeling of imbalance and sluggishness? Well, yes. If only we were all able to actually make use of the knowledge and experiences we acquire over the years! *sigh*

Anyway, this is one of the simplest and most beautiful truths in my life. The fact that the best relaxation comes from and after physical exertion. It does seem somewhat counter-intuitive – that if I want to chill, I first need to get my body moving and my muscles working. And also: to get my mind to shut up, I need to get physical and sensual.

One of my all-time favourite body meditation techniques is Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR; after Jacobson). The underlying premises are:

  • Tension and relaxation can’t exist simultaneously
  • The mind and the body occupy the same house and are hence part of the same thing

Especially the second premise is one that is so self-evident and obvious to me that it still baffles me how our health system makes such a difference between physical and mental health, illnesses and therapies. We perfectly accept the fact that a toothache affects our emotions, our thinking and levels of activity. That a broken arms takes weeks or months to heal properly. And yet the fact that grief or a broken heart can make our body scream with pain is mumbo-jumbo for some people. It can be subtle, but every thought or every emotion manifests itself on a physical level. And sometimes we feel the physical symptoms without understanding what they mean and where they come from. Yes, it can take longer to find out, but it’s definitely worth asking that question and it’s definitely better than taking a pill every time we feel pain.

PMR is a relatively easy to learn technique in which you tense up individual parts of your body and then relax them again. Especially for those who have developed a problematic relationship with or even a disconnection from their body, this can be a very effective way to start feeling their own body again. It’s also commonly used in depression or insomnia treatment. Focussing on the body, the physical and the sensual impressions, takes you out of your own head. Consciously feeling the difference between a tense and a relaxed body-part can be a transformative experience and also consciously feeling the tension flow away from your body is a fantastic way to relax, as (premise 1) when your body is relaxed, your mind is too. Those who master PMR can use it as a resource during day to day life. The more you are tuned into your body and the quicker you can feel your body (and your mind) tensing up, the quicker you can use your body to respond and relax.

One of Tony Robbins’s famous quotes is “Stay in your head, you’re dead!”. This is of course dramatic for effect – but he’s not entirely wrong. To feel alive and to rejuvenate, it helps to get active. It also helps to get active (and for some people this means strength training and weight lifting) in order to relax. It also helps remembering those things in the right moments….

Picture: leegreen12 via Pixabay / CC0



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