Some jobs let you leave the work at work. They are contained. It does not mean they are unskilled, but there is nothing to worry about. The problems that present today are solved today, and you have the skill set to solve tomorrows problems. Other jobs are never finished. You are always working towards something. You are always planning, and by their very nature they will never be finished.
This makes relaxation difficult. We have weekends and seem to have settled on 20-25 days a year being sufficient leave for professionals. In most cases, a maximum of two weeks for professionals unless you are particularly skilled at sweet talking your boss. On Friday you are shattered. On Sunday you are preparing mentally for the week that lies ahead. So in truth you get Saturday. One day a week. Do you use that for relaxation? Not really. You use it for life. You use it for the stuff you are working for. Work hard. Play hard. It is not unusual to get back from a weekend or a holiday tired because we are trying to pack in as much as we humanly can.
On top of that, if the work isn't contained you get a 'Concertina Break' where all the work isn't put aside, it gets squished into the week before you leave and the week you get back when there is a mountain of stress to welcome you with open arms.
So we can't rely on those periods of not working to relax. Relaxation isn't really a luxury though. Without it we can't actually function, so we have to figure out some way to fit it in.
The Yogis talk of three types of relaxation*:
1. Physical Relaxation
Tension and relaxation are closely related. If you aren't exercising it does make it harder to relax. So this is why lying on the couch watching test cricket for a week doesn't leave you feeling relaxed. It just leaves you feeling awesome. Ok, I am getting distracted. We all feel better when we are fit and healthy. Yoga takes this a step further in gaining an awareness of all the muscles and learning to 'tense and release' each of them. It uses a process of 'autosuggestion' where you consciously go through the body tensing and releasing each part. The whole process helps relax those organs you don't consciously control either since they 'realise' everything else is relaxing. 'Yoga - Your Home Practice Companion' gives some very short routines that you can fit into your day. So that bit at the end of a Yoga class where 'everyone has a little sleep' is actually probably the most important bit. You are not sleeping, you remain very conscious but learn to completely relax.
2. Mental Relaxation
The physical battering we take or just the stress of sitting in a chair for hours on end, is much less of an energy sapper than the constant tension from worries and anxieties. Training yourself to be able to recognise the thoughts and put them in their place is goal of mental relaxation. This ties back to jobs that can or can't be left at work. You may leave the office but the office doesn't leave your head. There is a funny scene in the movie 'The Champ' where a reporter asks the homeless former boxer whether he has thought about his offer to write a story on him. He replies that he hasn't thought about it at all, he was 'saving that till later'. Controlling thoughts doesn't mean ignoring them, it just means giving the attention they deserve and not letting them be the boss of you. I couldn't find that scene, but this is another classic...
3. Spiritual Relaxation
I spoke about my concern yesterday that there are many moral leaders whose message gets restricted unnecessarily because of the groups we create. I think it would be great if we were able to have more platforms to share common ideas on happiness and how to live irrespective of group. Whether a minister, youth pastor, humanist chaplain, swami, imam or philosopher - there are huge overlaps where we have common ground. One of those is the relaxation that comes from identifying with something bigger than yourself. Spiritual relaxation is effectively a separation from your own issues - the ability to not identify with personal worries, sorrows, anxieties, fear, and anger which bring tension. This is not a religious thing or an esoteric thing. It is in my view one of the core reasons we search for those means of expression though. If through worship, watching videos of space, or meditation you are able to let go of your 'stuff' just for a bit, you end up having a whole lot more energy to get back into the game.