Active Relaxation

By Dr. Gretchen KubackyNutrition & Mental Health, Thriving, , ,

The term “active relaxation” probably sounds like an oxymoron – you’re thinking, “but isn’t relaxation supposed to be about doing nothing?” or, “If I’m being active, then I’m not relaxing – right!?”  But active relaxation is a concept, a choice, and a practice that leads to stress relief in a way that lounging in front of the television can never do.

Decades ago, relaxation meant sitting on the front porch with your family, chatting with the neighbors, or kicking back on the couch and reading a good book.  All of these activities were human-paced, not machine-paced.  We are living in a time when fax machines are already obsolete, and e-mail is “so 1999,” according to social media expert Lorrie Thomas.  Every spare moment is filled with checking out the latest business and personal tidbits via your smart phone, or sending out tweets – little time-fillers that contribute to a sense of being rushed, frantic, and always needing to be productive.

Active relaxation is consistent with the idea of being productive, yet counter to it.  What do I mean by active relaxation?  I mean, choosing activities that contribute to a deep sense of well-being, centeredness, calm, and good health.  Yoga, meditation, listening to relaxing music, a lengthy solo walk, or actively connecting with someone you care about in person, without the distraction of your cell phone.  And these activities need to be a priority in your life – yes, they even need to be scheduled!

What happens when you choose leisure over productivity?  The shift in activity, from hyper-social and seemingly ultra-connected, back to the limitations of the moment, will shock and surprise your brain in a way that rewires it over time.  Remember, the human brain evolves much more slowly than technology.  And just because we have access to warp-speed communications does not mean that we need to be engaged in them 100% of the time.  The brain craves novelty, and responds well to it – and nowadays, that novelty is going to come from periodic engagement in slow, concentrated activities.  Although the brain has infinite capacities, in this case, slow is better.

Sounds scary setting aside all of the devices and activities we’re addicted to, to just be with ourselves or one another?  Start small, start slow, and experiment with what feels comfortable to you.  As little as five minutes per day of simply turning off the phone, closing your eyes, and paying attention to your breath will begin to re-attune your mind to its healthy natural rhythms.