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Relaxing on the move

Relaxation is a word on many lips and there are as many ways of doing it. We do well to think why it is so necessary. The words 'fear' and 'anxiety' spring to mind.

Why should this be so?

Speed of change and multiplicity of choice confront us daily. Alvin Toffler, a well-known sociologist who has written several books on the future, coined the phrase, 'Future Shock', saying that we all face the effects of change, just as travellers are faced by culture shock, strangeness in a strange place. We become disorientated and unable to make good decisions. Governments confront the same situations as news travels so fast and information multiplies. This all gives us a sense of apprehension, possibly even panic at times. There is a sense of 'disordered chaos' with no one at the helm.

Time shortens and distances shrink. We experience globalisation and fragmentation at the same time. Strangers invade our private space and loneliness spreads.

Our bodies respond by preparing to fight or to run a mile, the 'fight or flight' reflex. Tension springs into our muscles but remains there as we usually neither fight or fly, and so remains unrelieved in our systems. Often it is unrealistic to tune out of life and visualise lying on a beach with water lapping nearby. What can we do driving down a highway or sitting at a meeting?

There is such a thing as active relaxation taking charge of our muscles and releasing the tension.

We must train ourselves to monitor our bodies, becoming aware of the state of our muscles and systems. A new word for it today is 'mindfulness'.  A palpitating heart, rapid breathing, sweaty hands  and a nervous stomach are give-aways. Sometimes we have a strong desire to curl up in a little ball and our bodies go into what we call 'flexion'. The tension remains in our systems, burning up precious energy and so draining our resources on useless effort.

The idea is to actively go into the position opposite to that of flexion (being curled up in a ball). It is to stretch out into the position of extension, stretching the flexed muscles out. You can teach yourself to concentrate on the areas most liable to tension.

Neck and shoulder area, often most affected. 

The idea is to start by drawing down the shoulders away from your head, stretching the muscles that run between these parts. This is mainly trapezious, a very large group of three muscles: the long one extending from the skull down to the lower spine, the others running to the shoulder. Pull your shoulders down and then let them release the tension. Repeat this several times. As you become more conscious of this area you will quickly recognise tension in these muscles and draw the shoulders down.


The muscles of the jaw clench your teeth together. This often happens at night, while sleeping, and is called 'grinding your teeth'. Again you can draw your lower jaw down and then relax. Your tongue should drop and your mouth should feel hollow.


Open your hand out, stretching the fingers. Then let the muscles relax and repeat again.This will counteract a clenched fist. It is often good to do this from time to time, particularly if you spend time at a key board.

The upper body contains a multiplicity of muscles which interact. Allowing these muscles to contract and relax on a regular basis keeps the blood flowing and washes away the waste products that accumulate and act as an irritant. The movement called 'rowing' is ideal.


The long extensor muscles which run the length of your spine often become tight. Drawing your shoulder blades together and arching your back several times gets the blood flowing through the muscles. This can be done anywhere and at any time. This is essential on a long drive.

Pelvic floor

Should the need arise to relax the muscles that support the bladder, the uterus and the rectal area, think of blowing this area outwards, as if blowing up a balloon between your legs. This can greatly assist when giving birth but also when it is necessary to have an internal examination.

At the end of a long day it is very good to lie on the floor with your knees bent, feet on the floor. This will allow the long back muscles to let go and you will feel them release. Again, still in this position, drawing the shoulder blades together and then releasing them will assist this. The benefits can be as good as a massage and you will feel the warmth in your spine.

In all these areas, working on relaxing the muscles gives you something to do actively so managing the stress. It also takes your mind off the causes of stress. It is also good to play cheery, rather than calming music, as this recharges the mind, preparing it for the demands ahead. Any music you find which lifts your spirits is suitable. In this regard John Rutter's songs and music are a remarkably good antidote to depressing thoughts. They remind us of the good things in life. 

It is worth repeating here that visualisation is not the most effective way of benefiting your mind and body. It may feel good at the time, but the tension quickly returns when you enter the real world with its demands.

An active body and a cheerful mind will carry you many a mile and restore your spirit.