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How to Relax in Five Minutes

Relaxing the body helps still the mind.

Pain, stress, and emotional distress are in the mind, but express themselves in physical tension. You can feel it in that tight neck, those stiff shoulders, and in that clenched jaw and hands. Notice that your back teeth hurt just a little? Feel that twinge between your shoulders? Back ache just a bit?

The relationship is reciprocal. Relaxing the body—the many points of tension and twinges of pain we don't notice until they're gone—helps to relax the mind as well. Yes, a yoga class, hard swim, or long run can do that for you. But if you don't have time? Learn some fast tricks you can integrate into your life. Like any other skill, the more you practice it, the faster or more effectively it will work.

When You've Only Got a Minute

Test being passed out? Standing in a room ready to start your presentation? Walking in to talk to the boss? Try these:

  • Open your mouth very slightly, just letting your lips part. Your jaw will drop and you should feel the tension release that you didn't know was there. Feel the muscles release from the jaw up along the side of your face to the temples.
  • Build on that. Your tongue should have relaxed and raised up. Touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Puff out your cheeks just a little, letting that relaxation spread with the breath down the back of your head and across the top of your chest.
  • Take one more breath, focusing on releasing your shoulders and feeling that relaxation roll down your upper arms to your wrists.
  • Imagine warmth and relaxation rolling down your shoulders and into your hands.

I go through these exercises often when I stand in front of my class waiting for the lecture to start. If you do it habitually, the moment you start relaxing your jaw, you will feel that relaxation rolling through you.

Got another minute?

Tap your neck lightly. Feel the point where your jaw curves up towards your ear. Just under there, you will find a spot that is quite sensitive when you tap it. That's the vagus nerve. Very gently, tap that spot. You'll find yourself calming down. Slow your breathing at the same time.

Five Minutes to Go!

If your test or presentation is in five minutes, you've got a little more time and can use a few more tools.

  • Wash your hands. Seriously. Go to the washroom and turn on some warm water. Listen to the sound and focus on it, ignoring intruding thoughts. Wash your hands, particularly letting the warmth run across your wrists. Focus on that sensation of warmth and relaxation, letting it spread.
  • From your wrists, let the relaxation spread up to your shoulders. Breathe, letting your chest rise. Your head will naturally come up - especially if you've been looking down at the sink. Move your head gently back and forth. Yes, you might hear little pops and creaks! Be gentle and slow.
  • Keep breathing as you let your head move gently back and forth. The next breath will help you drop your jaw a little, with the relaxation flowing from the back of your neck up to your temple and down to your jaw.
  • You've unclenched your teeth, right? Your mouth is a little open? You blow out your cheeks just a little?
  • You're ready to go into your one-minute routine.

And ready to go on to that task! Repeat as necessary.

More from Nancy Darling Ph.D.
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