8 Relaxation Exercises to Release Tension
Here's a look at some exercises that will help to ease tension. And, by
the way, these are great exercises to do if you can't sleep!
What happens when we are under tension?
Our bodies trigger the 'fight or flee' response - the natural reaction
to a perceived threat. This generates extra adrenaline to give us a burst of
energy so we can deal with the threat. It also thickens the blood to stop us
bleeding more quickly in case we're injured while 'fighting or fleeing',
and tenses up certain muscles so we can defend ourselves more effectively.
We have no control over this - it's totally natural and instinctive.
In ancient times when we faced danger we used up the extra energy by fighting
the danger or running away from it, but in modern times we can't do that.
The causes of stress or tension in modern times often come from the office
or home - an unreasonable boss, a relationship breakdown, a new job or a death
in the family. In these cases we don't remove the danger by physically
fighting or fleeing. As a result we don't disperse the adrenaline or allow
our blood to thin out - our bodies remain in a permanent state of readiness
to deal with the danger.
What is the effect of this?
This permanent state of readiness over time leads to tension headaches, stiff
neck and shoulders, stomach upsets, back pain and other symptoms of stress.
What can we do about this?
When we are under physical threat the body naturally tenses up certain muscles
in order to protect itself. It basically hunches and curls up into a ball to
protect vulnerable areas and expose the better-protected ones.
Remember - the body reacts to stress in the same way as it reacts to perceived
danger. So when we are under stress the body will naturally try to react in
the same way. While we don't normally curl up into a ball in the middle
of a meeting if we are under tension, the same muscles that would allow us
to do so are the ones that become tense.
These are the muscles that tense up under stress:
- We tend to frown
- We tend to clench our jaws
- Our shoulders tend to hunch up
- Our chest tends to close
- Our arms tend to come into our sides
- Our hands tend to bunch into fists
- Our legs tend to close
- Our knees tend to be drawn up
- Our feet tend to be drawn up, so our feet are pointing upwards
So how do we relax these muscles?
Muscles tend to resist external pressure that's forced onto them. Try this:
rest your wrist and hand on a table, palm facing up. Your fingers will be curled
inwards. With your other hand try straightening out your fingers. Your will
feel a resistance and, once you let go, your fingers will bounce back to their
original position. We need to find another way to relax those muscles.
Each joint in our body is supported by muscles on both sides. This enables
us to move the joint in many directions. If we move a joint in one direction
the muscles on the opposite side of the direction we're moving in have
to relax so as to allow the movement. For example: if we bend our knees the
muscles at the front of our upper legs have to relax to allow the movement.
If they didn't relax our legs would stay straight.
Here are 8 relaxation exercises:
In order to relax the muscles that tense up under stress we need to move the
affected joints in the opposite direction to the natural danger response.
Here are some relaxation exercises to release tension:
- Try to move your forehead or hairline backwards over the top of your head
- the opposite of a frown. It may help to imagine your hand stroking backwards
from your forehead over the top of your head and down to the back of your neck
- but don't actually do the stoking.
- Open your mouth as wide as you can, hold and release
- Push your shoulders down and back, hold and release
- Stretch your arms up and link your hands above you head.
- Open your hands as wide as you possibly can, hold and release.
- Lie on your back and roll your knees outwards. No need for a big movement
on this one - a few millimeters is all that's needed to relax your inner
- Straighten your knees so that your hip is opened out and stretched.
- Point your toes downwards as far as you can. Hold and release.
The ideal way to start learning these exercises is to lie flat on your back.
Once you have got the hang of it you can do them at any time: sitting at your
desk, waiting in a queue, waiting at a stoplight. Wherever you have a few moments
Good luck and remember: if we don't do anything different we'll keep
getting the same results!
For Further Reading