Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Learning to Relax

We need to learn to relax. It is counterintuitive since it seems like all you need to do to relax is just stop doing something. To some relaxation is just a synonym for being lazy. So when you 'relax', you are still using energy, you are just doing something you enjoy or something that is not necessarily productive. We do experience some stress by being aware of the wolves at the door and the worries of work, so allowing time to direct our energies is a kind of mental relaxation. But to relax completely, we have to actually consciously, intentionally, try and do it.

I have been introduced to the importance of relaxation through Yoga. The focus in the style I am involved is on gently going further physically in a set of basic postures, while maintaining your steady breathing. Your breath acts as a personal coach, telling you whether you are pushing too hard. The aim is to release physical tension so you can sit comfortably and work on the other forms of relaxation.   In one of my favourite books, 'The Art of Learning', Josh Waitzkin describes his introduction to Tai Chi as essentially learning to release the tension stored in various parts of your body. Particularly when we are uncertain of something, we naturally tense up. Learning to be aware and how to direct that tension to disappear seems a fundamental part of both high level performance and basic level contentment. In all the approaches I have heard of, the first step seems to be becoming aware that you are tense in the first place. Then you have to learn to control that.

Source: Wikipedia and Amazon

I don't think of relaxation as an issue of work-life balance. Whether your goal is to be a hyper-productive uber-achiever or you are an under-the-radar just keep on keeping on kind of brother, proper relaxation will help you do that thing you do without exploding or imploding.

Summaries of three Related Posts:

The Yogis discuss three levels of relaxation:

Physical relaxation comes through the development of awareness of muscles and the ability to tense and release them intentionally. Training yourself to recognise thoughts, acknowledge them, and put them in their place rather than chewing on them unproductively is the goal of Mental relaxation. Spiritual relaxation is 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 only a religious or esoteric thing. Through watching videos of space (or using a telescope), worship, music, or meditation you are able to let go of your 'stuff' for a bit, and you end up having a whole lot more energy to get back into the game.

Kids (and adults) concentrate & learn better when they are eating well, sleeping well & getting exercise.

Yogis like Vishnudevananda spent years focussing on physical exercise for the purpose of being able to sit comfortably. While the Scorpion pose may look more impressive, it is the ability to sit still with no pain that is the goal. This is when you are able to concentrate for longer periods of time. There are lots of jokes that go around about the Corpse Pose (Savasana) where you are lying down. The irony is that this is one of the most difficult poses to hold and maintain concentration. We aren't good at consciously relaxing. We tend to fall asleep rather than be able to focus on our breathing.

If you spend the majority of your life at a desk or in a bed - perhaps that is where spending a little extra is good value.

Gary Kasparov is a big fan of the afternoon snooze. I have always suffered from the traditional afternoon lull around three o'clock when productivity falls through the floor. Kasparov argues that pre-lunch sleeps provide a great boost and shouldn't be just for later in life. In a TED talk on buying happiness, one area Benjamin Wallace believes money can help is a high quality bed. John Medina looks at another area we spend a lot of time - the desk. If you are going to spend most of your (un)productive hours there, perhaps walking desks are the awesome beds of the office and worth spending a little extra. There is also the lower tech, cheaper, and easier method of going for walking meetings.

If you have any interesting thoughts/questions or would like to write a guest post on happiness & learning, or if you would like to do a 100 hour project, please contact me on

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