Yogis and meditators have known for thousands of years that relaxation is good for us. But a recent comprehensive scientific study by researchers at Harvard Medical School shows that deep relaxation techniques for stress can change our bodies on a genetic level. The conclusion – long-term practitioners of relaxation methods like yoga and meditation have far more active “disease-fighting genes” than those who practiced no forms of relaxation. In particular, they found genes that protect from disorders such as pain, infertility, high blood pressure and even rheumatoid arthritis were switched on when what they call “the relaxation response” was experienced.
More encouraging still, the benefits of the relaxation effect were found to increase with regular practice: the more people practiced relaxation techniques for stress such as meditation or deep breathing, the greater their chances of remaining free of arthritis and joint pain with stronger immunity, healthier hormone levels, and lower blood pressure. This research is considered pivotal because it shows how a person’s state of mind affects the body on a physical and genetic level.
The Art of Relaxation
Relaxation can have wide-ranging and powerful effects when it comes to dealing with the negative effects of stress and anxiety on the body.
As practitioners, we face numerous causes for stress and anxiety in our patients every day. Fortunately for me as a practitioner, I have been able to help many of my patients deal with their stress and anxiety in my Westchester and Dutchess County, NY offices by helping them apply essential dietary, lifestyle and supplement recommendations. The cause of stress and anxiety have multiple complexities that may vary from person to person. I have reinforced many tried and true techniques that have helped my patients make tremendous improvements in their health.
These are just some of the scientific and clinically proven health benefits…
1. INCREASED IMMUNITY
Relaxation appears to boost immunity in recovering cancer patients. One study found that progressive muscular relaxation, when practiced daily, reduced the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Similarly, another study found relaxation exercises boosted natural killer cells in the elderly, giving them a greater resistance to tumors and to viruses.
2. INCREASED FERTILITY
Women are more likely to conceive during periods when they are relaxed rather than stressed. Studies have also found that stress reduces sperm count and motility, suggesting relaxation may also boost male fertility.
3. RELIEVES IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME
Patient studies show those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) who practice relaxation meditation twice daily, have reported their symptoms of bloating, diarrhea and constipation improved significantly.
4. IMPROVES DIGESTION
A person’s state of mind or mood can have a direct effect on their digestive function as the gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotional triggers. When stress or anxiety is reduced the body is no longer in “fight or flight” mode and is better able to digest and assimilate the food consumed.
5. LOWERS BLOOD PRESSURE
Meditation lowers blood pressure by making the body less responsive to stress hormones, in a similar way to blood pressure-lowering medication without the side effects.
Stress leads to inflammation, a state linked to heart disease, arthritis, asthma and skin conditions such as psoriasis. Relaxation can help prevent and treat such symptoms by switching off the stress response.
So, close your eyes take a deep breath and practice relaxation every day for at least 15 minutes. The more you do it, the more deeply rooted the benefits will be.
HOW TO RELAX IN A FEW MINUTES
- Use your breath.
We often forget to focus on the simplest, shortest (and one of the most restorative) activities available to us: our breath. Taking five deep breaths noticing the natural pause between your inhale and exhale, and then between your exhale and your next inhale gives your body a built-in break.
- Create a bedtime ritual.
Rituals help us feel balanced, renewed and empowered as well as comforted. Choose to take time out before bedtime when you focus on nurturing yourself. Turn off your devices, TV and anything else that is distracting and taking you away from yourself. Light a candle by your bed, breathe and take time to slowly unwind from your day.
- Spend time in nature.
Head outside and take a walk in the woods or a park, if you live in a big city, sit on a bench or a blanket on the grass and quiet your mind while you engage all your senses with everything around you that is uplifting and peaceful.
- Take natural supplements.
Research shows that supplementing the neurotransmitter with GABA, magnesium, and 5-HTP could be helpful for mental stresses. Also, herbal supplements that contain valerian and passionflower can help with restless sleep and muscular tension. Finding the right supplements to help target your issues is invaluable to you.
- Drink a cup of relaxing tea.
To calm a jittery moment consider drinking some herbal teas such as chamomile (similar beneficial effects as the drug valium), green tea (high in the calming amino acid L-theanine), passion flower, lemon balm or peppermint. Consider sipping these teas slowly while you think positive thoughts!
Other ideas to integrate into your day to help you relax:
- Give yourself more time to do things. More time means less rush.
- Give yourself a day off from everything.
- Really take off during your lunch hour. Leave your desk behind and even leave the building if possible.
- Take evenings off. Seriously- no working in the evenings.
- Get a massage, reflexology or aromatherapy. Improve your mood and feel better!
HOW TO RELAX FOR LIFE
1. Yoga Relaxation
Take up yoga for life. Yoga provides many well-documented physical, mental and emotional benefits, including reduced blood pressure, enhanced feelings of relaxation, stress reduction, improved digestion, better posture, increased strength and flexibility and improved balance. Yoga also has been shown to benefit individuals with chronic diseases and disabilities through improved body awareness and orientation, the development of focus and concentration, the encouragement of learning and creativity, and increased awareness of our connectedness to others. Remember though that although almost all yoga classes end in a relaxation pose, classes that emphasize slow, steady movement, deep breathing, and gentle stretching are best for learning how to relax.
2. Meditation Techniques
Try mindfulness meditation. Rather than worrying about the future or dwelling on the past, mindfulness meditation switches the focus to what’s happening right now, enabling you to be fully engaged in the present moment. Meditation techniques have long been used to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions. Some of these meditation techniques bring you into the present by focusing your attention on a single repetitive action, such as breathing, a few repeated words as affirmations, or the flickering light of a candle. Mindfulness can also be applied to activities such as walking, exercising, or eating. There are so many benefits of meditation!
3. Go with the Flow with Tai Chi
If you’ve seen a group of people in the park slowly moving in synch, you’ve probably witnessed tai chi. Tai chi is a self-paced, non-competitive series of slow, flowing body movements. Focusing your mind on the movements and your breath helps keep your attention on the present, which in turn clears the mind and leads to a relaxed state.
Tai chi is a safe, low-impact option for people of all ages and fitness levels, including older adults and those recovering from injuries. Like yoga, it’s best learned in a class or from a private instructor. Once you’ve learned the basics, you can practice alone or with others.
4. Muscle Relaxers
Ever notice that the more stressed or anxious you feel, the tighter your muscles get? Taking a long soak in an Epsom salt bath is extremely relaxing. Epsom salt contains magnesium sulfate and other naturally occurring minerals. Dissolved in warm water it provides a medicinal bath of restoring every cell in your body. Soaking in magnesium has been shown to markedly improve skin hydration, relieve achy muscles and joints, decrease inflammation and is effective for stress relief and relaxation.
5. Relaxing Music
Music has the power to heal and this method of treatment has been known by the ancients for millennia. According to an article published by the University Health News, music therapy is an effective natural approach to treating stress, anxiety, depression as well as many other aspects of health. The significant benefit of music therapy is its ability to shift your focus from stressful events to something more calming and pleasant. Sample this natural soothing music tune, but feel free to search for the tune that best resonates with you.
6. Relaxing Words
Stress tends to build up if we don’t find an outlet for it. Some people find benefit from journaling. Being mindful of your thoughts and letting go can be beneficial in allowing you to vent privately. Another tip is to create visual art using calming words or quotes and display them where you can routinely glance at them for inspiration.
When you are coping with daily stress or anxiety it is good to have a magic bullet in your pocket. Pulling out some of your favorite quotes to help calm your mind is effective. Unfortunately, anxiety attacks can flare up at the most inappropriate times. An article posted by the Huffington Post shares some helpful apps to help you to fight off stress and anxiety.
7. Relaxing Tapes
Letting go and allowing your mind to relax can take commitment on your part. However, listening to relaxing tapes can help to reduce your stress and anxiety. There are many relaxing tapes available on YouTube to assist in calming your mind. Find the ones that speak to you and bookmark them, so you can tune in when you feel the need to chill.
8. Aromatherapy May Calm Your Nerves
Essential oils have been shown to inspire a positive and relaxed state of mind. The calming fragrance of essential oils can take the edge off and relieve stress and anxiety (without the side-effect of drugs). Research shows that essential oils such as lavender have helped to reduce anxiety symptoms in people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Other effective oils to quell stress and anxiety include ylang-ylang, bergamot, frankincense, lemongrass, sandalwood, clary sage and rose. Although there are many scents to choose from, you may opt for oils that appeal to you.
Some of the most common ways to use essential oils to help you chill out include:
- Simply inhaling them directly under your nose
- Rubbing them on your skin or pulse points (blended with a carrier oil)
- Dabbing a few drops on a tissue and breathing in
- Using them in a hot compress
- Adding them to your bathwater
- Heating them in a diffuser to permeate the room
I like to dab a few drops in my palm and gently rub my hands together and then inhale the scent deeply.
While relaxation techniques for stress and anxiety can be very different, their biological effects are essentially similar – the parasympathetic nervous system switches on and tension is released from the body. The next time you tune out and switch off and let yourself melt, remind yourself of all the good work the relaxation effect is doing on your body.
Feel free to share this article with anyone you know who may appreciate these relaxation techniques for better management of their stress or anxiety.