Our bodies respond to stressful situations in a variety of ways, as noted in the few previous articles. Many of the physiological changes that occur within us are undesirable, unhealthy, and even dangerous if prolonged. Insomnia, fatigue, back pain, muscle stiffness, headaches, ulcers, colitis, gastritis, heart disease, cancer, and strokes have all been associated with stress and can all have debilitating effects on our bodies. In order to counteract this negative physiological impact, we must learn to reverse it. Learning to relax provides life-long control over our most vital functions.
Relaxation techniques were designed for just this purpose and have been around as long as humankind has had a written record. In addition, most of us are unable to take the time off necessary to truly unwind, so we must learn to calm our bodies more often and in quicker ways.
When you relax, your heart beat slows, your blood pressure is immediately lowered, muscle tension decreases, your body demands less oxygen, the flow of blood to your muscles and organs decreases, and your natural output of cortisone is reduced. This produces an immediate difference in the way you feel; a dramatic increase in your sense of well-being. Relaxation can be learned and doesn’t require any special equipment. In fact, it doesn’t even require a special location. Many people have reported significant positive changes as a result of practicing as little as two 15-minute relaxation exercises per day, each and every day.
Methods for releasing tension from our bodies are many and varied, with new ones being developed every year. Probably the most commonly known is massage, in all of its many forms. Because it involves two people, we explore massage a little later in this chapter, under the heading of “getting help.” In this section we focus strictly on ways of relaxing the body that don’t involve anyone but you.