Time for calm and relaxation
by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante
From the time that I was a kid, July 1st always brought on a feeling of being able to take a break. Canada Day would signify the official end of the school year, and even now as an adult, this day continues to have a feeling of renewal and calm. Although summer weather always makes it easier to engage in fun and calming activities, I have realized that relaxation should be a priority all year round. Even 15 minutes a day to put responsibilities aside and have a mental “time out” can go a long way towards long-term health and wellness.
Why not start that daily practice now? Here are a few ways to incorporate relaxation into your daily life, no matter what the weather!
A regular sleep routine
An astounding amount of research emphasizes the importance of adequate sleep for children and adults. A sound sleep increases our ability to concentrate, improves memory, reduces the risk of heart disease and other serious illness, lowers the incidence of depression and helps the body to repair itself. So during these next couple of months, make it a goal to have healthy sleep habits. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, limit technology in the evening, and engage in soothing activities such as baths and quiet reading. A wise friend told me that her secret to a good night’s sleep is to “Treat yourself like a baby!”
The 4-7-8 breathing method
This strategy is a relaxation tool that is easy to remember and can be done at anytime. Dr. Andrew Weil developed this strategy with the aim to decrease stress and anxiety. It can also help you to fall asleep at bedtime if your worries and thoughts are keeping you awake. This is because it forces you to focus on your breathing instead. The basic steps are to:
- Exhale fully by parting your lips to make a whooshing sound until your lungs are empty
- Close your mouth and inhale slowly for four counts
- Hold for seven counts
- Exhale for eight counts, making another whooshing sound
- Repeat for at least four cycles
Research supports that the daily practice of mindfulness meditation reduces stress, depression and anxiety levels. It focuses on being in the present moment, and not replaying the past or worrying about the future. Meditation allows us to explore how our mind works without any kind of self-criticism or judgment. The result is that we have more compassion for ourselves and for others. Below is a simple beginner’s script to mindful meditation:
- Start by getting into a comfortable position that will not allow you to fall asleep. Try sitting in a comfortable chair or sitting on the floor with your legs crossed.
- Close your eyes or allow your gaze to centre on one spot, unfocused.
- Gently lean your head to one side and then the other. Roll your shoulders slowly in one direction, and then the other. Allow your whole body to relax.
- Bring your attention to your breathing. Without trying to change your breathing, notice how it feels to inhale and exhale. Notice the flow of the air as it enters your body, and then leaves it.
- If you find that your attention wanders to something else, or if random thoughts come up, notice them, but do not dwell on them. Let the thoughts pass.
- Bring your focus back to breath and notice how you inhale and exhale repeatedly.
- Feel the air enter through your nose, into your body, filling your lungs.
- Notice the pause right before the air exits your lungs and out through the nostrils.
- Pay attention to the sounds that your breath makes.
- Picture the air as it enters your body, nourishes it, and then leaves again. Feel your chest and stomach expand and contract as breath occupies and leaves your body.
- Now as you inhale, meditate on the word “calm”
- As you exhale, the breath will leave on the word “calm”
- On the next breath… inhale…. Calm….
- And exhale…. Calm…
- Continue to pair each inhalation and exhalation with “calm.”
- Be aware of how your body feels.
- Embrace what this sensation feels like to you.
- See how your breath is calm and flowing, and how relaxed your body feels.
- Now it is time to gently return to the room and reawaken mind and body.
- As you keep your eyes closed, pay attention to how your feet feel, your hands, and how your head feels. Feel the chair or the floor underneath you and how it feels to be supported.
- Take note of any sounds around you.
- Start to wiggle your toes and fingers.
- Stretch out your legs and arms gently and slowly.
- Shrug your shoulders slightly and tilt your head from side to side gently.
- Feel your consciousness come back to the room that you are in and open your eyes slowly.
- Stay in position for a few moments longer and notice the serenity that is in your body right now.
- Slowly start to move your body and bring your mind back to full awareness of the room that you are in. Come to a standing position, do some light stretches, and return to your daily tasks, feeling a new sense of energy within you.
Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.