The Art of Calm: Why you need to practise relaxation (and 5 ways to do it)

Calm water: Calming, relaxing yoga in Southampton and Eastleigh
Calming the waters of your mind: the art of calm and relaxation

Blimey, it can be difficult to relax can’t it?

Your to-do list is a mile long, and as soon as you cross one thing off another three get added! There’s always something to do, someone to speak to, some problem to sort out, some deadline to meet; some occasion to go to; some fun to be had… The list is (seemingly) endless.

And if you do manage to make some precious quiet-time for yourself, then your whirring, busy, planning, judging mind seems to get even louder! Frustrating!

So many people who come to my yoga classes tell me that they find it difficult to switch off, or, at the other end of the spectrum they’re so exhausted by all the busy-ness they just fall asleep as soon as they lie-down for the guided relaxation.

It’s a busy life

So, first of all I’d love you to know that you are not alone.

All the demands on our time and attention take their toll on all our bodies – we nearly all live in a state of low-level stress which means our nervous system is always in some kind of “fight or flight” mode. A recipe for tension, headaches, sweaty palms, dodgy digestion and inability to sleep. (And believe me, I’ve been there!)

And secondly, I’d love you to know that you can relax.  But it’s an art. It’s a practice. And as with any art it takes time to develop the skill. Don’t pile more pressure on yourself by running around, coming to a screeching halt and expecting to be able to switch off and relax just at a flick of a switch!

Change your brain

The art of calm is about the wiring of your brain. The brain has a propensity to get stuck in familiar patterns of thought – the more times we think a thought, the more ingrained the neural pathways become.  So a busy life, a tense and stressed body means your brain gets used to the stress and anxiety and tension. Your button gets pressed and the brain fires off its neurons in its accustomed fashion. We go on autopilot. In this way we can get stuck in a chaotic life.

But, by consciously choosing different thoughts scientific research shows us that we can create new neural pathways. The same happens when we adopt different behaviours. We switch off autopilot and act with awareness and choice.

So know that you can change the way your brain works by harnessing the power of your mind – by changing your focus and attention. Amazing eh?!

Practise the Art of Calm

So, it’s time to practise the art of relaxation. To get your brain firing differently. To create new, positive habits.

And if your mind is telling you “I just don’t have the time!” then reflect on this thought:

The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it ~ Sydney J Harris.

The Art of Calm #1: Move your Body

To release the anxiety or stress from your body; to soften the hardness, holding and tension, you need to get moving. Daily. Stretching and twisting are good – to get the energy moving in your body.

Try these: Chair YogaActivations to wake up your body and mind, the Earth Sequence to stretch the body and calm the breath.

The Art of Calm #2: Use your breath

Your breath is such a powerful tool to help you calm your body and relax your mind.

Notice if your breath is shallow. If you’re chest-breathing. Most of us breathe this way. But this shallow breath isn’t bringing into your body all of the oxygen and Prana (life force) you need for well-being; it’s not expelling the toxins you need to.

Tense, shallow breathing sends a signal to the brain that all is not well, to be on alert for danger, to get ready to run. A steady, full, deep breath is a powerful signal to the brain that it’s safe to relax.

Try this simple but effective breathing technique: breathe in to a count of four and out to a count of four. To your own speed. Let the speed of the counting be equal. Focus on nothing but your breath. Allow calm to wash over you.

The Art of Calm #3: Harness your mind

This is where we bring our yoga off the mat and into daily life – a way of living your yoga.

Notice the habitual thoughts. The stories you tell yourself. I don’t have enough time… I can’t… I’m not good enough to … I’m not worthy of…

Notice them. Acknowledge them with gentle compassion. And then change them.

And reflect on this wonderful piece of Cherokee wisdom:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

And ask yourself: which wolf are you feeding? Remember, it’s your choice.

The Art of Calm #4: Make time for you

Calm sky: Calming, relaxing yoga in Southampton and Eastleigh
Looking at the sky can be so calming: look up and get out of your head and into a quiet space

This is where you may meet resistance if every minute of every day is scheduled to the full.

So, bargain with yourself!

Write a list of things you could do to help yourself to relax.

  • If I had two minutes I would…
  • If I had five minutes I would…
  • If I had 10 minutes I would…
  • If I had half an hour I would…
  • If I had an hour I would…
  • If I had two hours I would…

Write them down and start with your two minute list; do one or two a day. Then move onto your five minute list… And so on.

Make time for you.

The Art of Calm #5: Do what makes your heart sing

Calm flowers: Calming, relaxing yoga in Southampton and Eastleigh
Flowers make my heart sing!

What do you love to do? What brings you joy? What makes your heart sing?

These don’t have to be grand visions. It could be as simple as smelling a flower.

Write a list. Put the judging, worrying mind on pause. And connect to your inner wisdom and joy.

Put that list somewhere where you can see it every day – and give yourself permission to do one thing which brings you joy, every day.

Nurture yourself.

These words sums up the importance of cultivating the practice of releasing tension:

“The international problem today is not hunger, poverty, drugs or fear of war. It is tension, hypertension, total tension. If you know how to free yourself of tension, you know how to solve your problems in life.” – Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Do yourself and the world a favour: become an expert in the art of calm.


Over to you

How do you relax? Do you find it difficult? What are your tips?

Share in the comments below – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

What next?

Yoga in Southampton/Eastleigh: come to a weekly class for regular calming mindful movement and relaxation in a supportive atmosphere. I teach seven public classes a week and monthly workshops – check out my yoga class timetable and workshops schedule to find out more and make a booking enquiry.

You may also like to know about my deeply calming Friday evening monthly class: Release, Relax, Restore.

If you would like regular tips, insights and wisdom delivered to your inbox, and to receive a free 17-minute guided relaxation, then please leave your name and email address.

{Photo credits: all my me, Stella Tomlinson, Southampton Yoga Teacher!}

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