// The art of relaxation - part 2: deep relaxation

by Monica Linford

Deep relaxation is really a willingness to soften and surrender every part of yourself, and to completely let go of all tension in the mind and the body. Most of us have no idea how much tension we are actually carrying.

The goal of deep relaxation is to become intimately connected and re-acquainted with our natural state of being. Exercise systems such as yoga, tai chi and qi gong can help us achieve that. Having practised and achieved momentary peace, the test is to then see how long we can sustain it before the drama of life takes over again. A body and mind held in a straight jacket of tension, stress and dissatisfaction causes dis-ease, ill health and a weakened immune system. Progressive concentration on the idea of relaxing, using sequences that incorporate movement and stillness, are simple but effective ways to bring awareness to areas of unconscious and previously unrecognised tension. The body is a storehouse of blocked memories and experiences that we carry as a burden. Each session of deep relaxation gives us the opportunity to release thoughts and feelings that come to the surface of the mind, along with aches and pains that are stored memories in the body.

If stress and back to back living is a deeply ingrained habit, it is going to take daily and consistent practice for an extended period of time before relaxed diaphragmatic breathing, and a deeply relaxed internal state of being, becomes an equally familiar and comfortable habit. The breathing and deep relaxation exercises offered in this article are ideally practised for at least six to eight weeks before their benefits can be experienced. In his book The Inner Athlete Dan Millman advises: ‘Our bodies, like our minds and emotions, have a tendency to resist change. We settle into certain patterns of movement and behaviour and only conscious effort can change these patterns’.

Take note that leaping up in the middle of, or straight after, any meditative relaxation practice to answer telephone calls or door bells virtually cancels out the experience. Dismantling stressful patterns will happen if we take the experience of the deeply relaxed state into daily activities and life in general. Additionally, repeating the breathing mantra ‘my breath is slow as I breathe in, my breath is smooth as I breathe out’ five times or more in everyday situations such as sitting in traffic, waiting to be connected on the telephone or to be served in the supermarket, will help nurture the process. It is also useful to do this when listening to a conversation amongst friends, before eating a meal or while sitting for a moment to take in a beautiful landscape.

Committing ourselves to a period of deep relaxation and contemplation at least once a day during our working week, a whole day on the weekend and over a four-day break every three months will markedly improve our ability to concentrate, become creative, decisive and be fulfilled and content with life. As trainers and health coaches we need to walk our talk and be a living example of what we teach. Bruce Lee, the famous martial artist, said that the more relaxed we are the more powerful we are. Therefore, permission to withdraw from our frantic pace of life for a few moments each day to induce softness, serenity, and peaceful composure is the greatest gift we can give ourselves and all those we encounter. Pilates to release stiffness and tension in the ribcage and spine

Seated twist and lateral bend

Find neutral pelvis in a crossed-legged seated position with the ChiBall held against the sternum. Align the neck on the spine, draw the shoulder blades down towards the hips, engage the abdominal muscles, stabilise the pelvis. Inhale, exhale: rotate from the lumbar spine first, then thoracic, then cervical spine. Inhale: return to neutral position moving the lumbar spine first, then thoracic, then finally cervical spine and head. Repeat on both sides four times each.

Benefits: relieves backache caused by muscular tension. Promotes mobility of thoracic spine.

Seated side bend

Sit with right arm extended and palm of hand placed on top of the ChiBall and left arm extended above the left shoulder. Inhale, exhale, roll the ChiBall away from the side of the hip, inhale in the side bend and reach the right arm over your head. Exhale, roll the ChiBall back to start position. Repeat four times on each side.

Benefits: stretches intercostal muscles to liberate breathing.

Pelvic circles

Place ChiBall under sacrum and arms by your side. With an imaginary clock on the pelvis with 12 at the pubis, begin at 1pm and continue tracing each number on the clock back to 12. Repeat 4 to 6 times then repeat counter clockwise. Breathe naturally.

Benefits: releases stiffness and tension in the pelvis and lower spine. Brings concentration to the mind, and regulates the breath. Ideal preparation for seated meditation.

Shoulder rolling

Reduce one third of the air from your ChiBall and place it in the middle of your back (thoracic spine), or just below the shoulder blades. Have your legs outstretched into a wide ‘V’, then wrap your arms and hug yourself tight (see first photo). Begin rolling side to side, on and off the ChiBall. Allow the head to fall in the opposite direction to the elbows (see second photo). Repeat several times, breathing in to rise up onto the ChiBall and breathing out to roll off to one side.

Benefits: releases habitual stiffness and tension in the thoracic spine, shoulder, neck and lower back.

Relaxation for the mind

Neck circles

Place the ChiBall half on the back of your head, half under your neck. Completely relax the head and neck and close your eyes. Release the jaw, part the teeth and open your mouth very slightly. Begin making circles clockwise about the size of a small orange with your chin. Then draw circles the size of a plum with your nose. Finally draw tiny circles the size of a cherry stone with the space between your eyebrows. Repeat each circle eight to ten times. Repeat the whole routine anti-clockwise. Observe your breathing throughout. Notice that as the breath rate slows down, so will the activity of the mind.

Benefits: stimulates blood flow to the neck, shoulder and upper back muscles and the muscles along the spine. Promotes chi flow through acupressure points for relieving insomnia. A good exercise for slowing the mind down and releasing mental stress and tension.

Further reading and references

Chi Kung, Daniel Reid
Tai Chi-Qi Gong, Chris Jarmey
The Big Book of Ch’I, Paul Wildish
Taoist Ways to Transform Stress into Vitality, Mantak Chia
Yin & Yang, Martin Palmer
The Inner Athlete, Dan Millman
Quantum Healing, Deepak Chopra

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