Basically, relaxation exercises are short, focused routines with a specific purpose in mind – usually to slow down your breathing or relax when you are tense.
The ability to gently slow your breathing, relax your muscles and calm yourself is a useful life skill. Learning to simply take some quiet time out, that is not about ‘getting something done’, can help you to relax and feel fresh and energized.
Some people who have survived trauma find that imaginative relaxation – focusing on an image or thought that is calming and soothing – works as well as body centred approaches.
Men who have been subjected to traumatic experiences, including sexual assault, can find relaxation difficult. At one time, staying alert, constantly checking for danger might have been necessary in order to keep safe and reduce harm.
The first challenge can be to consciously notice when you are tense – your body and mind might have got in the habit of being on-guard to the extent that you hardly notice it.
So it can initially feel unsafe to drop your guard, and it can take practice and a bit of a risk to accept that there might be some places and times where you are actually safe from harm.
There are significant health benefits when you can learn to stop being constantly tense and on guard.
Tips for relaxation:
Learning to breathe deeply and relax your body helps with your general ability to rest, as well as recharging your batteries. Below is one simple relaxation exercise, focusing on breathing, and tensing and relaxing your muscles. The Living Well website has more to try.
- Find a safe quiet spot and sit in a comfortable but upright position in a chair or on the ground (try not to slouch).
- Plant your feet or hands firmly on the ground- push them into the ground and feel that the ground is solid.
- Gently clasp your hands together in front of your stomach, just below your belly button.
- Begin to notice your breathing – the pace, the depth, etc.
When you are ready, take a slow deep breath in through your nose.
- Breathe in, without causing pain, for about 5 seconds.
- At the same time as you breathe in, grip your hands together, like your hands are trying to pull in opposite directions. Use the muscles in your arms as well.
- Stop if you are hurting yourself, and try again with a bit less pressure.
- Slowly breathe out through your mouth, releasing the air in a smooth controlled flow (again, about 5 seconds).
- At the same time as you breathe out, relax your hands and arms.
Repeat steps 5-9 three or four times.