Photo credit: Kate Bachtel
"During the times we think we're being 'unproductive,' the seeds of new worlds are germinating with us, and they need peace to grow. -- Martha Beck
"When in doubt, push harder" was my motto. The more on my plate, the harder I pushed. I could juggle 600 things at once and still keep going. I was proud of my drive, my productivity, my energy.
Until I wasn't. What is this effort all about? Why do I do what I do? Several deaths and a stroke in my close circle instantly rendered everything else in my life unimportant. These events forced me to examine things I once had considered critical and question why I gave them such importance, especially my fears, beliefs and opinions.
I'll never forget visiting my mom in the hospital at 5:30 a.m. at the end of my run. The nurse was startled and asked anxiously, "You just ran in the dark? Aren't you afraid of mountain lions?"
I'm sure I answered her nicely, but when I tell the story now my response was: "How the hell can I be afraid of mountain lions when everyone around me is dying? How can anything else matter when my invincible mom is here after a massive stroke?"
Surprisingly, at that moment in the hospital I was more relaxed than in most of my life. When facing a life-changing blow not much matters besides love and taking the next clear step. I could no longer believe that money, a clean house or a score of other things had any relevance. I relaxed around all of the things that just the day before had seemed so crucial.
This story is five years old. I did relax for a period of time but I haven't stayed that way continuously. I'm not perfect. Many times since then I have gotten caught up in doing more, in believing that pushing through and getting things done mattered more than the children, sanity, my health, my being.
What I know is relaxation is a muscle that needs to be strengthened; when left unattended, it gets weak, just like your abs. It takes practice to find your way from pushing through life to relaxing into life. And it takes patience. Learning how to relax is not a skill taught in school nor is it valued at work; in fact relaxing can look like laziness (it did to me). But, in fact, relaxation could be the most important factor for thriving in life, for creating healthy minds and bodies, for strengthening relationships, for succeeding in business, for enjoying the life of joy we all crave!
When we are relaxed and centered in ourselves, our energy is focused, aligned with what we want to achieve. From this relaxation we are far more productive in a fraction of the time.
I could give the statistics on stress and how science shows it's killing us on all fronts but I will spare you; instead I will give you a few exercises to play with (did you notice that word, play?) Through these exercises you can find your way to relaxation then watch how it affects, well, everything: family, friends, health, happiness, joy, the whole game called life.
It's simple, no rocket science here. But, when you start to slow down and train the 'muscle' of relaxation for small moments in your life, it might feel like rocket science because from that place of inner peace, you can fly.
It's Playtime! (Two simple exercises to play with relaxation.)
Stop! (Warning: This exercise could also be called meditation but that word can turn some of us off for years -- 15 years for me.)
Start with 1 to 30 minutes; choose what feels right for you. Set a timer. If you have never sat still before and experienced being rather than doing, one minute can feel like forever. Place your feet on the floor, sit comfortably and do nothing. Notice your thoughts but don't follow them. Stay seated. Do nothing. BE here. Breathe, and allow everything to be as it is (including the screams in your mind). Reflect, repeat and congratulate yourself. Validate your every success!
I'm Doing It My Way!
Gift yourself 10 minutes. I know this could be a lot to ask but it is worth it. Start by sitting still. No agenda allowed. This gift is time to sit and relax until that little voice inside moves you. Let yourself do whatever you actually desire. Example from my life: I got out of the shower and wanted to paint my toenails. My mind said 'No, you don't have time for that,' but another voice inside said 'Relax, there's plenty of time, go for it'. My blue toenails made me smile and I was still ready for my client right on schedule, relaxed and happy. Give yourself a huge hug for gifting yourself this delicious taste of love!
I hope you read these tips, try them once and find deep relaxation for the rest of your life. Please let me know if this happens, it's not the way it worked for me. In my life, relaxation is a practice I have been developing over time. Some days are chock-full of things to do and I move through them with ease and relaxation. Other days I get thrown off, become stressed or anxious, want things to be different than they are, and any accomplishment is difficult.
But more and more I find I have a choice, a choice that has come from a commitment to strengthening my muscle of relaxation in the easier times so I am strong enough to relax through life's most difficult challenges.
Have fun playing and please share a report on your experiences with these exercises!