The Importance of Relaxation
How to relax using hypnosis and other relaxation techniques
Firstly, let’s distinguish between hypnosis and relaxation.
Hypnosis is often described as a type of relaxation - especially by hypnotherapists who are trying to reassure potential clients. But if you know anything about hypnosis you’ll know that the idea that ‘hypnosis is relaxation’ is out of date.
In truth, hypnosis is not inevitably a relaxation state, although it can be. Hypnosis is really a state of highly focused attention. This is what leads to psychological and physical changes. It is very similar to the REM (rapid eye movement) state which governs our dreaming experience while we sleep. So, for example, the experience of physical pain – which is most certainly not relaxing – can nonetheless be extremely hypnotic, because it is so focusing. We are in a highly suggestible state when we are in lust, or frightened, or depressed. These states are emotionally hypnotic, and when we experience them we become more hypnotically suggestible. They are hypnotic states, but not relaxation states.
So hypnosis is not by definition relaxation, although therapeutic hypnosis can be profoundly relaxing. We use therapeutic hypnosis to help link the right state of mind to the right activity. For example, the person about to make love but who feels anxious needs to feel confident. The phobic seeing a spider needs calm to replace fear. Hypnosis is used to get the person naturally into the optimal good feeling state for situations in their life.
But what I want to focus on is that regular deep relaxation has massive general benefits. Deep and profound relaxation is just one type of trance state.
The fact is we need to relax more, not just as individuals but as whole societies and cultures. What do I mean by this?
Well, times have changed. Biologically we need to go slow sometimes, to zone out and relax. Yet culturally life demands we be constantly focused and active. If not properly managed, these cultural pressures can wreak huge damage on our health and efficiency.
Of course, better technology brings all kinds of advantages, but while it clearly can reduce some pressures we encounter in life, it can also create new, unanticipated, pressures. Cars are wonderful in some ways, but trying to rush to work while stuck in a traffic jam is not such a good thing. Since the invention of the clock we have been busy breaking our lives down into time segments. A wonderfully useful thing to do, which has enabled human beings to achieve what would once have been impossible feats. But if we allow the clock to drive us, we become nothing more than tools of the clock itself – nothing more than ‘slaves to the machine’.
Time related stress is very common; the feeling that you are playing catch-up all the time; that there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Being driven by an external mechanical clock means we pay less attention to our own highly evolved yet intricate and subtle internal biological clocks. For example, every 90 minutes or so, it’s natural for the dominance in brain function to switch from left hemisphere to right hemisphere focus. This happens so we can update new information, housekeep the body and recoup lost energy and focus. We experience this as a ‘zoning out’ or just ‘switching off’ for a few minutes – actually it should be about twenty. This is not a sign of weakness to be fought, but a vital part of recouping lost energy and re-focusing. The so-called ‘power nap’ improves focus and productivity precisely because it allows for nature’s natural cycles.
These shifts are known as ‘ultradian rhythms’. These rhythms flow and ebb within us and if we don’t heed them and relax every ninety minutes or so, then stress hormones kick in.
Of course, you can’t always stop what you are doing every hour and a half. However, if you continually and constantly ignore nature’s imperative to take time out, you will eventually find yourself suffering:
- increased uncontrolled emotionality (with all the damage that can do to your work life and relationships)
- loss of productivity, and
- increased likelihood of stress-induced physical illness.
More time pressures, steadily rising volumes of email, constant voicemails and text messages, more competiveness at every level – no wonder so many people find it hard to wind down. Millions use TV, music, alcohol or drugs to change their mood in a desperate attempt to relax. The trouble is, these attempted solutions to the problem of overwhelming stress tend, in the long term, to cause extra stresses themselves.
Putting boundary constraints around your time pays you huge mental and physical health dividends.
An instant way to relax more is to cut down on watching or reading the news. Trust me – if it’s that important, you’ll hear about it!
We live in increasingly emotional times. In fact, the media uses emotion to grab your attention. Just as some food manufacturers use sugar or saccharine to keep you hooked on junk. One crisis after another is paraded before us during news broadcasts, celebrities lives are rummaged through for evidence of scandal, freak accidents and emergencies start to seem commonplace because they get so much air time. News makes the whole world seem threatening and dangerous. No wonder rates of depression are rising.
Uncontrolled over-emotionality is bad for us. Perhaps you know of the research in which heart patients at Stanford University Medical School were asked to recall incidents that had made them angry.
While they were doing this, their heart rates were found to be at least 5% less efficient. This is clearly harmful – cardiologists consider a drop of 7% in pumping efficiency as severe enough to potentially cause heart attack. More importantly, the patients admitted that the anger they felt when recalling the upsetting time was only half as strong as the anger they had actually felt at the time. Yet it was enough to bring on this negative effect.
Without the release valve of regular and profound relaxation we all start to suffer. And it’s not only physical health which suffers from lack of relaxation. It gets in the way of your own satisfaction and accomplishment in life. Strong emotion swamps higher thought. Rage, terror, lust and all strong emotions inhibit intellect. IQ drops as emotion rises. It’s harder to think straight when highly emotional.
A quantum physics professor in a rage is no more intelligent than a five year old in a tantrum. The more time we spend being highly emotional, the more time we spend being dumber than we need to be.
Strong emotion makes you see everything in black and white, all or nothing terms. All the subtle, flexible thought you are capable of gets buried beneath the distortions of emotion.
Deep relaxation can give you your brain back. We see this all the time when we use relaxation with clients.
Deep calm restores your capacity for complex learning, objectivity and long term planning. All things that someone in the highly emotional state of depression, for example, finds extremely difficult.
Simple deep relaxation does many things for you. It:
- gives the heart a rest by slowing the heart rate
- reduces blood pressure
- slows the rate of breathing, thus reducing the need for oxygen
- increases ease of blood flow to the skin
- decreases muscle tension
- allows the emotional centers in the brain to rest and gives the so called ‘thinking brain’ a chance to work again.
After relaxation, many people enjoy –
- more energy
- better sleep
- enhanced immunity
- increased concentration
- better problem-solving abilities
- better self control
- greater efficiency
- less turbulent emotions – less anger, crying, anxiety, frustration
- less headaches and pain
Being stressed really means feeling overwhelmed. Deep relaxation helps you get back control of your body as well as your mind.
When we experience the stress response, otherwise known as the ‘fight or flight response’, what we call the ‘sympathetic nervous system’ is mobilized. The heart pumps quicker, blood is pumped away from the stomach into the major muscles, pupils dilate, we produce more sweat and subtle thinking stops working.
Now all these changes are fine if you are running away from an aggressive lion, but not if you are stuck in your car, or in the boardroom, or talking to your spouse. The first thing to change when you start to become stressed is your breathing. The moment you become stressed your breathing changes. You breathe in more rapidly and you don’t breathe out so much. When this happens, your lungs are acting as they would if you were running away, or fighting. This is how you breathe if you are sprinting hard. A person breathing as if they were running when they are not is said to be ‘hyperventilating’.
If you feel you are quite often stressed, then check this out. Stop and just observe how you are breathing. You may not be hyperventilating, but chances are you are breathing high in the chest and perhaps rather rapidly.
And here’s the neat trick. When you breathe out for longer than you breathe in, you begin to mobilize the parasympathetic nervous system – this is the relaxation response which balances your fight or flight response. When this happens, your body and mind have to start calming down. Just focusing on your outbreath and lengthening it is a sure fire way of calming down instantly.
You might not have twenty minutes to relax deeply or to listen to one of our downloads when at work, but you can encourage the parasympathetic part of you to operate by consciously re-setting your breathing. And you can do this by using the 7/11 breathing technique.
You can try this straight away: Just breathe in as you count up in your head to seven, counting at a pace that’s comfortable and easy. Then breathe out as you count up to eleven. You want to pace it so you don’t run out of breath. Do this several times and just notice your physical response.
You will have noticed there how just extending the outbreath got you feeling a little calmer straight away. If you do this when you are actually in a stressful situation then you are also teaching your unconscious mind that it is okay to relax in this time and place, so it is more likely to become automatic for you to feel more relaxed without even having to try.
Practice this whenever you get the chance.
Insufficient relaxation poses a danger to mind and body. Regularly zoning out has important benefits. 7/11 breathing enables you to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and rapidly calm down when you need to.In the midst of faster-paced lives, the person who can switch off and relax has huge advantages.
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