Struggling to relax?

We need a concrete and objective measure of our relaxation, which will tell us how relaxed we really are

Relaxation is a thriving industry. There are enough 'stress busters' out there to confuse us—lectures and workshops by so-called gurus in public parks and temperature controlled halls; herbs, techniques and gadgets to calm us and relax us. Selecting the right one in itself becomes a stressful activity.

So, the question that we need to ask is do these options really give us mental peace? For that matter, does even visiting a health resort or a religious place and taking a vacation, help us find peace?

Since there are so many means to achieving one end, we can safely conclude that no one formula is effective. What is amiss?

If we find what is missing, any method will work. If we don't find the missing factor, none will.Be it shavasana, chanting, progressive muscle relaxation, guided visualisation or 'think positive' auto-suggestions, nothing will work if we are not really relaxed. We may go on chanting or jogging, but if we are not relaxed at the level of our autonomic nervous system, then these clutches will be rendered superfluous.

Your heart, thoughts and breathing may be racing even as you may be chanting a 'relaxation mantra', indicating that your autonomic nervous system, on which we normally have no voluntary control, is aroused.

We need a concrete and objective measure of our relaxation, which will tell us how relaxed we really are. Be it breath, heart rate count, thermal feedback [finger-tip temperature reading], or electro-encephalograph [EEG] feedback of our alpha brain waves—any of these methods can be used to get feedback, but it has to be physiologically true. Only then will you be truly relaxed.

In one experiment, the subjects were given false feedback of their heart rate. The feedback signals were intercepted and modified online to convey to the subjects that their heart rate had slowed down when, in fact, it had not.

Another group of subjects was given true online feedback of heart rate. The results showed that the heart rate slowed really in the subjects who received the true feedback.

We may do many things to calm down, but unless we are truly relaxed inside, we are only cheating ourselves. Forcing yourself to relax may, in fact, lead to a paradoxical situation, wherein the more you try to relax the more tensed you get.

You may catch yourself worrying, "I am really not relaxed" and this thought feeds on your inner tension. In such a logjam, the trick is to 'not relax'. Just give up, just be. Sit for a while if you like, but just be with the honest intention to 'not relax'. Like Sri Ramana Maharishi had suggested: "Don't meditate, be; don't think of being, be; don't be, you are!"

Let's call it paradoxical meditation/relaxation because the concept is similar to the Paradoxical Intention Technique used in behaviour therapy to treat anxiety neurosis. Just be patient, stay put, and gradually the autonomic physiological tension will settle down.


This was first published in the May 2011 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Ratan Singh
Ratan Singh is a certified behaviour therapist from late Prof. J. Wolpe's Unit, Temple Univ Med School, USA. His interests include Quantum Physics and its integration with spiritualism. He was the religious advisor for Chinese Buddhist students of the University of Science Medical School in Pinang, Malaysia.

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