The mind and body are inextricably linked.  First day of class? Big presentation coming up?  Worried about your dad? Serving at tennis?  Your blood pressure rises and your heart speeds up.  You can feel your muscles tense and your stomach churning.  Your adrenal gland is pumping out cortisol and adrenaline to speed up your heart and respiration, enhance energy utilization, and trigger your immune system.  You feel stressed.  

It works the other way too.  If your heart speeds up you feel pressured.  Relax the body, and the mind relaxes too.

Relax the body, relax the mind

You can't just tell yourself to 'relax' and let that tension go.  But you can learn four simple techniques to relax your body, and your mind will follow.  They can be done anywhere.

  • Relax your jaw, shoulders and wrists.  Nervous?  Do you feel a little tension - maybe even an ache - at the hinge of your jaw?  Relax those muscles.  Open your mouth slightly.  Gently feel the tip of your tongue curl just a little towards the roof of your mouth.  With practice, you should feel a soft breath escape you as you do that and the conscious relaxation will send a release through the muscles in your whole upper body.

Now pay attention to the spot at the base of your skull and the center of your shoulder blades.  With your jaw still relaxed, drop your shoulders just slightly.  Can you feel that spot release its tension?  Now think about your wrists.  Relax your hands.  Feel warmth flow into them.  

Tip: If you're having trouble releasing the muscles, start by tensing them.  Clench your jaw and then release it.  Tighten the muscles and then let them go.  With practice you'll be able to go directly into relax.

  • Cleansing breaths.  Breathing is essential to all relaxation techniques.  Breathe from your stomach, not from your chest.  As your stomach expands, you'll feel your ribs move up and down as your diaphragm drops and your lungs expand.  I find one long full breath followed by consciously slower breathing slows my heart.  As I breathe, I continue to maintain my shoulders and arms in a relaxed state.

  • Puff.  Still tense?  Puff out your cheeks.  It relaxes all your facial muscles and forces you to take big breath from your stomach.  This works particularly well if you're in pain or you're so tense you can't concentrate and aren't able to relax and breathe slowly yet.  After puffing your cheeks and letting out that quick breath, your tongue should naturally rise to the roof of your mouth, relaxing your jaws.  FEEL that relaxation. That's what you're trying to hold and maintain.

  • Rinse.  Before tests or presentations or when you're feeling that pressure piling on, it can be really helpful to wash your hands. Washing your hands in warm water - particularly letting warm water flow over your wrists - slows your heart.  Why?  Tension reduces circulation to your periphery and focuses it on your core and brain.  That's why your hands get cold.  Warming your hands relaxes the arteries in your wrist, increases circulation, and slows your heart.  Just like slower breathing.  Feel that relaxation flowing from your hands through your shoulders and up to your jaw.  

Learning to relax on the go can help short term when you feel that rise in anxiety and help you focus on what you need to do next.  The more your practice them, the more effective they become.  Doing them often is one of the best habits to cultivate to reduce stress in your life.

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