// The art of relaxation

by Monica Linford

The journey into relaxation

Stress and tension is a disease of the modern age. Most of us have forgotten how to relax. Sadly in this modern world in which we live, relaxation is a skill that we have to re-learn. The art of doing nothing is something we now have to practice and cultivate for it to become a familiar state.

Insufficient rest and sleep deprivation are the primary causes for feeling stressed, unwell, emotionally stretched and depressed. Traditional Chinese medicine’s theory of yin and yang and the five elements reminds us that all of nature (the macrocosm) goes through a cycle of gathering in, hibernation, recuperation, new growth, dispersal and consolidation. We are a microcosmic reflection of all that is nature. Injuries, illnesses, accidents and disease are consequences of having lived against nature. Nature enforces balance by making us stop.

According to Oriental medicine, lifestyle habits that ignore or override sign posts indicating that it is time to stop, rest and relax are major contributory factors in illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome and depression. Honouring the natural order of all things is how we can achieve good health and happiness.

Without sufficient rest and time out daily, weekly and seasonally, our physical body has to work harder, our emotions become unstable, and our immune system is compromised. Prolonged periods of living without adequate sleep, rest and relaxation – the unnatural state – becomes a familiar condition. Before we know it, we are living unnaturally in a perpetual state of stress.

It is only when we are deeply relaxed that the body can heal. When we relax the parasympathetic nervous system releases hormones into the bloodstream that counteract the effects of stress. Endorphins are also produced, improving blood flow to muscles which release tension and liberate the chi or, energy flow, providing pain relief.

Breathing

‘The breath is the key to your emotional state because it both reflects and can control your level of tension’ Dan Millman

How we breathe is also an indication of the degree to which we suppress or express our feelings. Emotional stability is dependent upon our ability to breathe a deep, smooth, slow and natural diaphragmatic breath. When we are stressed, breathing is the first thing to be affected. Most of us give no thought to how we breathe, or the way in which the body reacts to it. Muscular tension can also inhibit our breathing by restricting the natural movement of the diaphragm. The secondary breathing muscles then take over and, as a result, are overloaded.

We cannot relax if our breathing pattern is tense and irregular, so we focus first on regulating and correcting it. To breathe properly we must first become aware of any tension in the ribcage, chest, shoulders, neck, throat or face that is preventing proper breathing, and then learn how to release it.

Certain exercises can address this. Movements that rotate and stretch the ribcage, extend and flex the spine and mobilise the pelvis and thoracic spine are ideal for liberating and relaxing the diaphragm. Tai Chi-Qi Gong exercises that liberate the diaphragm and regulate the breath

Swinging arms

Begin with feet shoulder-width apart, feet parallel, and knees slightly bent (Wu Chi position, photo 1).

Begin swinging your arms from side to side, allowing them to wrap around your hips and waist. Breathe in when you rotate to the left (photo 2), breathe out as you rotate to the right (photo 3).

Benefits: loosens the thoracic spine, mobilises the ribcage, massages key energy points in the lumbar spine (ming men) and abdomen (dan tien) the balance of which are considered to be vital to a healthy life.

Opening the chest

Begin in Wu Chi with the arms held slightly away from the side of the body. Inhale, float the arms upward with the ChiBall in your right hand (photo 4), turn the palms towards each other at shoulder height and hold the ChiBall (photo 5).

Transfer the ChiBall into your left hand and open the arms to the side. As the chest opens, lean forward onto the balls of the feet as if on a cliff edge and looking out to sea (photo 6).

Exhale, as you bring the palms of the hands back together, turn them to face the floor and gently press downwards, return body weight to the centre of the feet and hands to start position. Repeat with the ChiBall in the other hand.

Benefits: strengthens the heart and lungs and helps reduce depression and lethargy. Lengthens and softens the breath. Relieves tension and stiffness in shoulders, neck and upper back. In the next issue the journey into relaxation continues with a focus on deep relaxation.

Further reading

• The Yoga of Breath, Richard Rosen
• The Breathing Book, Donna Farhi
• Everyday Zen, Charlotte Beck
• Breathe! You Are Alive, Thich Nhat Hanh
• The Healing Power of the Mind, Tulku Thondup
• Taoist Ways to Transform Stress Into Vitality, Mantak Chia


Monica Linford
Monica has a background in classical ballet, contemporary dance and yoga. She is the author of Awaken Your Body, Balance Your Mind and the creator of the ChiBall Method™. Monica is a former recipient of the Fitness Leader of the Year award and the UKs Fitness Professionals’ Award of Excellence. She has recently returned to Adelaide, SA, after seven years of being based in the UK. To find out about Monica’s tours and programs visit www.chiball.com

 NETWORK MAGAZINE • WINTER 2006 • PP42-44