Relaxation is an essential addition to our wellbeing toolkit, but it’s not always easy to accomplish, especially in challenging circumstances such as those we’ve all been experiencing. But learning to do it right could give your health a much-needed boost.
‘Relaxation is vital to our health and wellbeing, as well as our immune function,’ says natural health and wellness expert Dr Tim Bond. ‘Researchers at Harvard Medical School discovered that in people practising relaxation methods, such as yoga and meditation, far more “disease-fighting genes” were active, compared to those who didn’t practise. In particular, they found genes were switched on thathelp to protect from disorders such as pain, infertility, high blood pressure and even rheumatoid arthritis.’
And that’s not all. The art of relaxation also drives higher levels of feel-good chemicals, such as serotonin and growth hormones, which repair cells and tissue. ‘In essence, relaxation has virtually the opposite effect to stress, lowering heart rate, boosting immunity and enabling the body to thrive,’ says Dr Bond. ‘An example is when women menstruate, they often find taking a long bath or doing some gentle relaxation exercises helps their general wellbeing.’
Sounds great, but our hectic lives often prevent us from finding – and utilising – what’s best for us. In order to move away from the sympathetic (fightor flight) response and activate the parasympathetic (rest and digest) response, we must trust our instincts and choose what produces the most satisfaction. ‘It’s about finding out what's right for you,’ says Dr Megan Jones Bell, chief science officer at Headspace (headspace.com). ‘Breathing can be a powerful way to help us reset and activate our natural relaxation response, so one of the easiest and most accessible ways for anyone to relax, in any setting, environment or activity, is to focus on the breath.’
As well as spending time in nature, playing with animals, getting a massage, and praying or meditating, here are some quick and effective ways to put you back on the path to wellness.
The art of… creating
Creating can be anything, from taking an art class or colouring in, to crafts or jigsaw puzzles. These forms of active mediation allow us to settle our overworked brains and focus on the here and now. ‘Art has the power to heal, increase wellbeing and reduce anxiety. Researchers liken creating art to exercise for the brain, and studies consistently show that creating art helps individuals cope with stressful and difficult situations,’ says Scott Phillips, co-founder of Rise Art (riseart.com).
Even doodling is beneficial. Writing in Psychology Today (psychologytoday. com), Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, says: ‘The wonderful thing about doodling is that it is a whole-brain activity – self-soothing, satisfying, exploratory and mindful.’
The art of… yogic breathing
Brighton-based yoga practitioner Danny Griffiths (yoga-fit.co.uk) recommends alternate nostril breathing, called nadi shodhana pranayama. It activates the parasympathetic response, strengthening the immune system and providing quick relief from stress.
The art of… sound therapy
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