When we are stressed and anxious in life, relaxation is almost impossible, yet if we can relax, we will reduce the stress and anxiety.
Addiction is a vicious cycle of stress and anxiety, with the object of addiction promising us release and relaxation, but in reality creating more stress and worry as it dominates our minds more and more. From easy oblivion in the early days, our addiction can become a constant stream of stressful thoughts – when will I get my next fix, where will I get it from, where will the money come from, what did I do that for, the shame, the unhappiness, the growing self loathing that the addiction creates in us.
When we are ready to change, when we are ready to tackle the addiction head on, we encounter many obstacles in our journey. One of the hardest things is dealing with stress, and relaxing the body and mind. While in the grip of addiction, we believe that the source of addiction helps us to relax. I thought I couldn’t sleep or relax without alcohol, the racing thoughts that kept me awake when I went to bed sober seemed to prove that beyond all doubt.
While there is no quick fix to this, and this recipe will not solve all your recovery difficulties, learning to relax body and mind can certainly make those challenges easier.
This recipe can help you
- Sleep better
- Gain mental focus
- Find stillness in your day
- Be fully present in yourself
- Release physical tension
- Cope better with stress and negative thoughts
You don’t need to spend long prepaing for this. Being ready and willing to relax the body and mind naturally is a great first step, and a vital one to be able to relax properly. Once you have that, ensuring that you are not going to be disturbed, and gathering the simple equipment you need is all it takes.
Now you are ready, let’s start cooking!
Relaxation and calm can be achieved with anything from a few seconds to a two hour Yoga session.
However, this recipe is going to look at a simple relaxation technique you can learn and use when you need to allow yourself to relax both body and mind. You will need about 20 minutes all together.
While this relaxation technique is helpful for anyone, it is particularly useful for those who are new to relaxation practices.
It will be hugely beneficial if you are experiencing
- Difficulties sleeping
- Inability to focus
- Negative thoughts
- Physical tension in the body
- Rumination (focusing on one thought over and over)
- Anxiety and stress
This is a really simple relaxation routine that you can practice (almost) anywhere, but the ideal ingredients would be
- Somewhere quiet where you can be undisturbed for about 20 minutes
- Somewhere to lie down, or a chair with a straight back
- A blanket
- Access to the internet so you can access a video (optional once you know the technique)
- A device to be able to play an mp3 on (optional, you may prefer to do this yourself)
You will also need
Self compassion. Too many people think ‘I can’t do this’ the minute their minds wander when attempting any sort of relaxation practice. They think that in order to achieve mental relaxation we much get to a state of ‘emptiness’ in the mind.
This is understandable but misguided.
Conventional understanding tells us that we experience around 50,000 thoughts a day. Imagine trying to go from this to nothing? It cannot happen.
Accept that the objective is not to ‘not have thoughts’ but to not allow those thoughts to consume us. The art of relaxation of the mind is the art of letting go of the thoughts that come, not stopping the thoughts completely.
Many studies have made the link between stress and addiction clear. A report from Brown University in 2013 identified the exact process in the brain that occurs when stress leads to relapse. Stress can lead to a weakening of the resolve that we employ to remain in recovery. As Chris Prentiss, author of Alcoholism and Addiction Cure: A Holistic Approach to Total Recovery tells us,
“When people who believe themselves to be addicts or alcoholics come under great stress or trauma, they mentally give themselves permission to drink or use drugs as a remedy.”
Clearly, antthing that helps us to remove stress, or learn better ways to cope with stress in our life, is going to reduce the risk of relapse and make recovery more likely and joyful.
This recipe is in 3 parts. Each part can be served as a stand alone dish, but added together they create a delicious meal that will satisfy the biggest of appetites!
Part One – Quiet Sitting
This is a great way to start or end the day, or give yourself a peaceful pause at any time you might need it.
- Sitting cross legged on the floor, or in a straight backed chair, clasp your hands together with your right dominant, and drop them into your lap
- Close your eyes, and take your awareness to the breath.
- Keep the mind focused on the breath, paying attention to the movement of the breath as you breathe in and out.
- Notice the movement of the body when you breathe. When we breathe in deeply, the abdominal area expands as it fills with air; as we exhale the abdominal area shrinks back.
- Are the breaths even in length? Try to ensure that the breaths are the same length. If you can make each breath last 6 seconds, then do so, if not, focus on them being equal.
- Keep the mind focused on the breath at all times, bringing it gently back to the breath with no judgement or recrimination when it wanders (accept that this will happen. The learning here is not in emptying the mind, but in recognizing the wandering, and bringing back the focus)
- Remain in this practice for as long as you need to. Don’t give up when your mind wanders and think you have failed. Simply bring the mind back to the breath and let the thoughts go. Aim for at least 5 minutes, and try to increase the time spent each day.
Part 2 – Throwing out
This is a wonderful practice that helps to release negative thoughts and feelings. It creates both relaxation and energy.
After the quiet sitting, slowly rise to standing. Then follow the instructions in this video
Part 3 – 22 point relaxation
The Marmanasthanam Kriya, or 22 point relaxation is a relaxation technique that involves conscious concentration on the 22 sensitive parts of the body which are grouped together and called Marmanasthanam. This invokes a very deep sense of relaxation in the body and mind. It has two purposes, depending on the way in which it is performed. This must only be performed when you are able to relax deeply and are not needed to perform duties which require concentration.
- Lie on the back with a blanket over you. Have the legs out straight, with the heels touching and the toes flopped open. The arms are straight alongside the body with the palms upright. This posture is Shava Asana, the relaxation posture.
- Focus the mind on the breath as in the quiet sitting, and allow the breath to settle into a slow, deep breath.
- Beginning at the feet, the awareness is taken to different parts of the body in turn, commanding that body part to relax. This can simply involve thinking of the relevant body part, then thinking the word ‘relax’
- The order of the body parts is (1) toes (2) feet (3) calves to knee (4) thighs (5) buttocks (6) base of spine (7) pelvic area (8) abdomen (9) chest 10) shoulders (11) fingers (12) hands (13) lower arms and elbows (14) upper arms and shoulders (15) throat (16) mouth and chin (17) nose and cheeks (18) eyes (19) back of the ears (20) back of the head (21) top of the head (22) Cavernous Plexus in the middle of the forehead (between the eyebrows).
- Following this focused relaxation exercise, remain in Shava Asana for at least 10 minutes to allow the body to absorb the benefits of the deep relaxation.
- After 10 minutes, take a deep breath, wriggle the fingers and toes, then roll over onto the left side and curl up.
- Slowly move onto the belly, and rest the forehead on the hands.
- Slowly come up to sitting, and gradually get up and go about your day
- If you are using this as a technique to help you sleep, omit points 6, 7 and 8!
There is a lot to remember in this technique, if you prefer you can download a free mp3 here
If you can learn to relax the body and mind, you will find that the rest of life becomes so much easier, as you sleep better, have more energy, deal with stress better and function better in every way in the body and mind. This will help to make your recovery a far easier and more enjoyable journey, and reduce your risk of relapse.
Relaxation helps to keep the mind and body healthy, promotes good sleep, increases energy and improves mental wellbeing.