"WORDS are the most powerful drug used by mankind (sid)" Rudyard Kipling.
Elizabeth Noble—THE ENNOBLER—can improve your communication.
It is a paradox that relaxation can be learned, but not taught.
The oxymoron "try to relax" however persuasively expressed, is as ineffective as the imperative "RELAX!". Both are meaningless to the brain. We have learned to let go of “try” and “don’t.
Scant time is spent on relaxation although anxiety is a universal problem underlying most health care challenges. It leads to all manner of dysfunction and disease. Addressing anxiety then, should be top priority.
A relaxation session—even if brief— is an ideal way to open or close work sessions and gatherings. You audience will listen more attentively and better retain your information.
Webster’s dictionary defines relaxation as “to loosen” or “to slacken”. Can we consciously loosen and slacken? This dictionary further defines relaxation of a muscle or muscle fiber as "to become inactive and lengthen." What is the science behind this neuromuscular change?
The popular technique of “conscious release” is not possible neurologically, because NO nerve endings that register muscle tension reach the conscious mind. Asking someone to “relax” muscles and/or joints leads to fidgeting — a natural response that engages proprioceptors that do reach consciousness. (Conversely, electromyographic biofeedback has been a major breakthrough making it possible to hear and see levels of tension.)
The common technique of progressively tensing flexors— with the intent to achieve relaxation— is counterproductive. It is too difficult to return to baseline levels after strong contractions.
Tips for Facilitating Relaxation
The law of reciprocal relaxation is useful. When a muscle group contracts, the opposing muscle releases. For example: "Drag your jaw down" "Stretch your fingers long" "Pull your shoulders down from your ears" —such commands cause our typically tight muscles to lengthen. This is an acceptable command for the conscious (alpha) nervous system and the response is physiologically regulated.
Whatever the source of anxiety or pain, the reaction is increased arousal of the sympathetic nervous system and higher levels of tension in the flexor muscle groups. As well, a sedentary lifestyle places people too often in flexed positions. Further aggravating these effects is the force of gravity pressing us into flexion. For all these reasons, extensor muscles are typically weaker. By working extensor groups, they are strengthened and relaxation is gained in the flexors: a double benefit.
Deeper levels of relaxation require connections with the next layer—the gamma nervous system. Like the deepest level, the “psychotonus" (“gut feelings”) the gamma nervous system is reached indirectly.
Both the “right” touch, and language are essential. Always use the permissive tense, e.g. "allow your breathing to deepen" "let your muscles soften". The present participle works too, e.g., in a group session: using phrases such as “feeling your body become heavy” or “letting go of tension in your jaw”. Then the nervous system may achieve these states in ways of which we are not conscious.
Another type of suggestion is hypnosis. Hypnotic states are induced by sequence (e.g. counting numbers, especially backwards), repeating a mantra, or focusing on a flickering candle flame.
Guided visualization is a powerful tool, but it is also self-regulatory. Participants can always tune it out, or doze. Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) teaches that people have a predominant learning mode—visual, auditory or kinesthetic. Always include cues for all three modes in your choice of images and sounds. Experiment with different music and environmental acoustics—waterfalls, birds, ocean sounds, raindrops etc. Speaking and listening is ideally multi-modal!
© Elizabeth Noble, 2009. All rights reserved