Body relaxation techniques help prepare the body for meditation and sleep. They also assist the body wth the healing process when needed, and to perform optimally on a day to day basis both mentally and physically.
There are over 600 muscles in the human body which are made up of fibres that are long and flat when relaxed and bunched up and tight when tensed (e.g. your biceps when your flex them). Unresolved trauma, worries, fears, anger and tension that are not resolved or released, can keep our bodies and minds in a state of tension or stress aka the “fight or flight” mode. This can make it difficult to sleep, focus and function. Lack of sleep can then cause muscle tension, perpetuating the cycle.
About Muscle Tension
- Fear, worry, and anxiety can contribute to muscle pain and tightness.
- Muscle tension is the body’s defence against injury and pain.
- Muscles release tension when short term stress passes but with chronic or long term stress the muscles in the body are in a constant state of tension.
- Increased stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, can take a toll on the body physically as they increase things like heart rate and blood pressure.
The Relaxation Response
To be relaxed is to be healthy and meditation invokes the relaxation response – a deeply relaxed body and still mind, creating the optimal conditions in which the body’s natural healing ability can operate and develop. Focussing on body parts or muscle groups also has the benefit of getting us out of the thoughts in our head and into our bodies and the present moment. Following are some muscle relaxation techniques:
PMR (Progressive Muscle Relaxation)
- This is a quick, easy and very effective form of body relaxation as you are physically and mentally instructing your body to clench a muscle and then release it, reminding it how your muscles feel when they are relaxed.
- Clench and release each muscle group one by one starting with your face, shoulders, arms, hands, stomach, glutes, legs then feet/toes.
- Don’t forget to breath as you do, e.g. breathe in and clench, breathe out and release.
Short Mental Body Scan
- Scan your body from head to toe, focusing on one muscle group at a time.
- Mentally release any tension you find along the way – breathing in as you focus on the muscle group then breathing out as you let go of any tension you are holding in that area.
Full Body Scan
- Listening to a full 30-40 minute body scan (e.g. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s) is great for beginners and for deep relaxation, muscle by muscle and limb by limb starting with just your left big toe.
- Once you become practiced at relaxing your body this way, you may be able to just bring your awareness briefly to each body part and consciously relax from head to toe or toe to head without doing a full body scan.
Directed Body Scan for Pain Management
- If you are feeling pain or any kind of strong or uncomfortable sensation in one particular area of the body, focussing the breath on this area is an effective way to lessen the sensation.
- Focus on breathing in warmth or coolness or soothing and healing with each inhale directing it to the area of discomfort.
- Then on the out breath picture the pain or sensation being drawn away and keep repeating until it’s gone or at a more comfortable level that you can accept.
- Ian Gawler’s Pain Meditation is a great tool for this
You can learn these body relaxation techniques in detail, and more, in my my short course on Teachable Body Relaxation Techniques.
“Enjoy your body, use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.”
(Kurt Vonnegut Jr)