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The Art of Relaxation

By Diane Sheppard, PhD, LAc
As we transition out of quarantine, it’s important to maintain quiet time for ourselves.

The art of relaxation comes naturally for some people, while for others, it is hard to turn off the chatter in their minds. You don’t need to sit in a lotus position and meditate; however, this is one way to start the feeling of easing out of fight or flight and into the parasympathetic response of relaxation.

We are hard-wired in our DNA to react to stressful situations physiologically. Our heart races, breathing becomes shallow, blood vessels constrict, pupils dilate, muscles tighten, and we become short-tempered. We may even explode with an explicative or two when we are triggered. Our parasympathetic nervous system, on the otherhand, is our built-in stress defense mechanism to calm us down. 

As Americans, we are go-getters. We work more hours and take fewer vacations than people in other countries. European countries, which offer significantly more vacation time than the standard two weeks we are standardly granted, tease us that we are all about work and take little time for pleasure in our workday. We don’t have siestas or tea time. 

This pace can truly affect our health, and those of us who find it hard to carve out “chill time,” now, after this COVID year, realize just how important doing so is.

How do we find time? 

Try getting up early; the morning is the best time to do nothing. We need to stop – or work to not return to – the robotic cycle of getting up, brushing our teeth, drinking our coffee and dashing out the door.

If we can take time to just be, instead of checking our texts, email and social media first thing — to just sit, breathe and clear our mind, we will become conscious of our environment, able to enjoy watching the birds outside the window for a moment before we turn to the newspaper and newsfeed.

By doing this simple act, we do so much for our health, including reducing blood pressure, clearing a cloudy mind, increasing focus and creativity, improving digestion and increasing oxygen levels and circulation. We become better at problem-solving and can repair some damaged telomeres to slow down the aging process.

Sure, we know how to do nothing and lay around, but we often feel like we are wasting time. That perspective needs to change. It is a process.

During the beginning of the COVID break, I took some virtual chair yoga meditation classes with Laya Resnick. At first, I thought, “I don’t need a class,” but I had fun and reaped benefits from being in a group — even on Zoom. I also took virtual tai chi classes with Robert Haberkorn. These classes helped to relieve COVID stress and redirect me back to quiet time.

Now that we are in season and business is busier, I have to carve out time in different ways but have maintained my practice of self-care, and wish to share a few tips.

Schedule a quiet time. Start small; take 10 minutes in the morning before you leave for work. If possible, find a quiet place in your home, cozy chair, couch or a made bed — not in a cluttered space, or in nature where there are not a lot of distractions. NO phone! Now, close your eyes and do nothing; just breathe, either sitting or lying down.

Focus on breathing and release body tension. Start to focus on your breathing, slowly breathing in, then out and do a “HA” breath. Breathe in and exhale, saying, “HA” to release pent-up emotions. You can also scan your body, feel where it is tense and actually tense up that muscle, then release it. Start with your feet, then your legs and work your way up to your eyebrows.

Soak away stress in the tub. Baths are not just for the end of the day; try one in the morning or afternoon with aromatherapy salts or oils, maybe even bubbles!

Sip and savor a moment. Another way to relax is to enjoy a cup of tea and or some of nature’s fresh fruit; chew slowly, take your time.

In my clinic the other day, I had patients in many rooms and heard the soothing melody of snoring; this was the impetus to write this article. Sometimes patients come to our clinic, not only for pain relief or any specific issue, but just to turn their phone off and take an hour to relax and reset their body, mind and spirit. Some people need to have acupuncture needles to force them not to move around and to relax!

I have found that when you set aside time to do nothing, so much more can be accomplished when you are rested and relaxed.

Diane Sheppard is a licensed acupuncturist and doctor of traditional Chinese medicine. She is the owner of AcQpoint Wellness Center in Palm Desert and can be reached at (760) 345.2200 or visit www.AcQPoint.com.

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