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Turning off Stress

The article on my blog: Turning Off Stress: The Parasympathetic Nervous System And Spiritual Development explains how relaxation exercises cause the nervous system to turn off stress. It discusses the most effective method of combining relaxations exercises to turn off stress.



Relaxation is helpful for spiritual development because it can help you to maintain a calm and unhurried attitude that will help you live according to the spiritual values you develop through meditation.

Different relaxation exercises have effects on different systems in the body. In this chapter, relaxation exercises are provided for relaxing or calming the muscles, respiration, the mind, and emotions. By using these relaxation exercises in combination, all of these mind/body systems can be relaxed or calmed at the same time. This results in faster, deeper relaxation than can be achieved by using only one exercise by itself.


Relaxing the Muscles

Yoga and Stretching

Stretching or yoga can be a helpful preliminary to any of the other relaxation exercises. If there are certain parts of your body which you find become especially tense, you may want to pay particular attention to them when stretching. Such areas include the back, calves, shoulders, neck and jaw.

The jaw can, for some people be particularly difficult to relax. It can be helpful in relaxing the jaw to repeat the sequence of 1) clenching the teeth with moderate but not too much pressure while pulling the lips back in a grimace and scrunching up the eyes, 2) then open the jaw as wide as possible (and optionally sticking out the tongue), 3) and then forming the lips into an "o" as if you were blowing out a candle. Repeating this several times will help relax the muscles of the jaw.


Tai Chi

These Tai Chi exercises on Youtube are very relaxing.


Progressive Muscular Relaxation

Progressive muscular relaxation can help to relax the muscles of the body. To do this, tense and relax each part of the body, or gently move each part of the body one after another.

For example, to move each part of the body: make each movement described below several times before going on to the next. These movements can be done while sitting, lying down, or standing. Make each movement gently so you do not injure yourself.

  • Curl and uncurl your toes.
  • Move your feet so your toes move towards your shins and then away from your shins. Then move your feet so your toes move in clockwise or counterclockwise circles, then move them the other way in counterclockwise or clockwise circles.
  • Bend your knees and bring them a little way toward your chest.
  • Rotate your legs so your toes move towards and then away from each other.
  • Curve your spine forward and then backward.
  • Curve your spine so you lean over to the left and then to the right.
  • Rotate your spine by twisting at the waist so your shoulders turn to the left and then to the right.
  • Close and open your hands.
  • Bend your wrists so your hands move up and down and then in clock and counterclockwise circles.
  • Bend and straighten your elbows.
  • Move your arms at your shoulders.
  • Shrug your shoulders.
  • With your elbows straight, rotate each arm as if it was turning a dial clockwise and then counterclockwise.
  • Move your head side to side, look left and right, up and down.
  • At the same time, close your mouth and pull back you lips to show your teeth and close your eyes, then open your mouth, stick out your tongue and open your eyes, then bring your tongue back into your mouth and from a small circle with your lips while lowering your jaw.

Here is an mp3 file from Western Sydney University with a guided 15 minute session of another type of progressive muscular relaxation:


(Self) Hypnotic Induction

(Self) Hypnotic induction can also be used to relax the muscles. Focus your attention on each part of the body in turn from the toes to the top of the head and say to yourself that it is becoming "relaxed and heavy". For example say, "My toes are relaxed and heavy, my feet are relaxed and heavy, my calves are relaxed and heavy..." working your way through all the muscles of the body. As you name each part of the body, take a moment and relax it and observe if it really does begin to feel relaxed and heavy. Use as much detail as you feel is appropriate. For example, you may name all the components of your foot - toes, sole, instep, ankle, heel, Achilles' tendon - or if you prefer you can be less detailed and just name the toes and the feet. You have to find out what works best for you and use that.

A very detailed list of the parts of the body includes: the toes, insteps, soles of the feet, the ankles, the heels, the Achilles' tendons, the calves, the shins, the knees, the hamstrings (back of the thighs), the quadriceps (the front of the thighs), the groin, the lower abdomen, the belly, the chest, the buttocks, the lower back, the mid back, the upper back, the shoulders, the fingers, the palms of the hands, the back of the hands, the wrists, the forearms, the elbows, the biceps (the front of the upper arm), the triceps (the back of the upper arm), the Adam's apple, the gullet, the nape of the neck, the forehead, the eye brows, the eyelids, the eyes, the cheeks, the nostrils, the nose, the lips, the teeth and gums, the tongue, the chin, under the chin, the jaws, the ears, the temples and the crown of the head. Remember to focus on both right and left arms and legs.

It can also be helpful to imagine a white healing light shining on each part of the body. If you do this say something like, "A healing light shines on my toes making them feel relaxed and heavy ..." etc.

Here is an mp3 file from Western Sydney University with a guided 8.5 minute session of a similar relaxation induction session:


Imagine You are Floating

Sitting quietly or lying down, with your eyes closed and imagining you are floating can be a very effective way to relax.


Calming Respiration

Rhythmic breathing

Rhythmic breathing can help to slow the heart rate and rate of breathing. For example: for a few minutes, maintain a ratio 2:1:2:1 of inhalation 2 heart beats, hold 1 beat, exhalation 2 beats, hold 1 beat. Use a ratio of 2:1 if that is most comfortable or 4:2 or 6:3 etc. what ever is most comfortable. Other ratios/values are recommended by different schools of thought and can work well too.

If you find your heart rate is high, use a longer count so that you maintain a slow rate of breathing. As the heart rate slows you may find that you need to use a lower count to keep the breath rate from getting too slow. Also, if you are trying to relax after some physical activity and are short of breath, you should use a lower count. You should not strain to slow the rate of breathing when doing this exercise.


Calming the Mind

Concentration Meditation

Concentration meditation will help relax the mind. See the chapter on Meditation for more information on concentration meditation and how to do it.



Visualization is excellent for relaxing the mind and for going from a relaxed state to an even deeper state of relaxation. Visualization puts the mind in a "dream like" state.
  • One way to use visualization is to visualize a location that you would find relaxing or pleasant, a natural scene, or your dream home, anything that would be calming.
  • Another way to use visualization is to visualize each color of the spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, and white). You can visualize either the pure colors or an object of each color - fruits or flowers are good objects.

Notice how deeply relaxed you get while visualizing. Notice that dreamy state that is so different from ordinary waking consciousness. You may feel waves of relaxation spreading through yourself as you visualize.

Visualization has been found to increase the amount of theta waves the brain produces. Theta waves also have been found to be co-incident with psychic experiences. This may help explain why in chakra mediation the successive visualization of each chakra and its corresponding color have been found by many psychics to be helpful in psychic development.


Calming Emotions

Working With Chakras

There are various philosophies about the chakras. The discussion here is a practical approach that has been found to be useful for relaxation. Focusing your attention on the chakras and observing any sensations you feel in them can be used as a relaxation exercise because you have to be relaxed to feel the sensations in the chakras. In this view, the chakras are just another part of the body to relax, as well as an indicator of relaxation.

Tradition says that each chakra has an associated color. The following list gives the location of each chakra with its associated color listed in parentheses: The chakras are located at the base of the spine (red), in the abdomen (orange), the solar plexus (yellow), the heart (green), the base of the throat (blue), the brow (purple), and the crown of the head (white). These are regions where you feel sensations that accompany strong emotions. A lump in the throat, a broken heart, a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach, a stress headache, soiling your self when frightened, etc.

Since the chakras are areas where the physical effects of emotions are expressed, relaxing the chakras can help in letting go of emotions.

If you notice an unusual sensation or tension in a chakra it may indicate you are experiencing an emotion. If you are not conscious of this emotion it may help to focus your attention on that sensation in the chakra to help you bring that emotion into consciousness. This may help you in letting go of that emotion since being conscious of an emotion is helpful in letting go of it.

Working with the chakras is believed to be associated with psychic development, and raising the Kundalini. If you do not want to develop psychic abilities, or experience Kundalini energy you may want to avoid this work.

Place your finger a short distance in front of your forehead just above the bridge of your nose. Do you feel an odd sensation? This is your brow chakra.

Focus your attention on the other chakras one at a time. Try to notice any sensations you may feel in them. If you don't feel anything, you can try touching a chakra and then observing the sensation that lingers after the touch. Sometimes focusing your attention (or imagining a point or light) a short distance above the crown chakra or in front of the other chakras will help too.

Tradition says that to open psychically, or to release kundalini energy, you should work with the chakras in order from the lowest to the highest, from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. To shut down psychically work with the chakras from the highest to the lowest. When working with the chakras for these purposes, it is traditional to visualize each chakra as ball of light of its associated color as you focus your attention on the chakra. Some psychics prepare for a reading by working with the chakras from lowest to highest and shut down after a reading by working with the chakras from highest to lowest.


Visualizing a Pleasant Situation

Your emotional state can be thought of as a bodily system that can be addressed directly with a specific type of relaxation exercise. One way to do this is to imagine or remember a pleasant situation. This differs from the visualization section above because here you are selecting the situation for the emotional reaction it will induce in you. Try to imagine you are in a place or situation that fills you with good feelings. You might imagine you have something you want. It's okay if it is something materialistic like a lot of money. Or, it could be relaxing in the backyard of your dream house, or having a special relationship with someone you love. Or, it could be a memory of a time you felt good, maybe when you were with a cherished pet, on a wonderful vacation or when you were with someone you love. It could be anything that happened that made you feel good. Whatever would make you feel at peace and content. When you think of a pleasant situation, notice how good you feel. Notice how you are able to replace whatever emotions you were feeling previously with the good feelings that you generate with your memory or imagination.


Combining Relaxation Exercises

Don't just do these techniques mechanically, you must use them consciously, and see to it that they are working and that you are relaxing as you do them.

Using these different exercises in combination produces an extremely deep state of relaxation very quickly. One can also alternate and repeat techniques during the same session. For example, start with progressive muscular relaxation, then repeat a sequence of hypnotic induction, relaxing your emotional state, visualization, rhythmic breathing, and concentration meditation, until the desired depth of relaxation is attained. When you combine techniques in this way, spend a short period of time on each technique and repeat the sequence rather than using one technique for the entire session.

There are quite a lot of things you can do when you are in a deep state of relaxation.

  • A deeply relaxed state is a great time to do self healing or healing of those not present.
  • Sending healing to "where it's needed for the highest good" is a practice that leads to spiritual unfoldment.
  • You might try using affirmations.
  • You can also try asking questions of God, your higher-self, or spirit guides when you are in a deeply relaxed state. After you ask a question, notice the activity of your mind and see if any relevant thoughts or symbolic images arise that pertain to the question. Notice if the thought is the first thing that pops into your mind, if it is a train of associations, or if it is something that you only recognize after you notice you have been lost in thought for a few seconds. For more information on communicating with spirit guides see the page on Communicating With Spirit Guides

After a relaxation session, take a few seconds to notice how relaxed you feel. Try to maintain this state rather than immediately going back to "normal" out of habit. It can also be helpful to note your emotional state before you start these exercises and compare that to how you feel when in a deep state of relaxation and how you feel afterwards. If you feel that an emotional disturbance is lessened when in a deep state of relaxation, try to notice if and when the upset returns after the exercises.

Relaxation exercises do not just help you to relax at the time you do the exercises. They help you to develop the ability to relax as a skill, as a habit, that you carry with you throughout out the day. Then, over time, when you find yourself experiencing tension due to stress or strong emotional reactions, you will develop the skills and know how to relax and let go of the tension and emotions as they occur throughout the day.

Don't drive your car or operate dangerous equipment if you are not fully alert!

However you can take breaks during the day and spend a few minutes to become deeply relaxed. Use these breaks to help you maintain a calm, relaxed and unhurried attitude all day long. You may also start and/or end a meditation session by doing these relaxation exercises.

If you are especially anxious, nervous, or overly enthusiastic about something, you can use these techniques help calm yourself.

Start with rhythmic breathing and notice your heart rate. Your goal for the session will be to lower your heart rate. Use all the exercises and repeat the cycle of induction, visualization, and rhythmic breathing a few times until your heart rate goes down. At this point you should feel much more relaxed although you may still feel the effects of adrenalin.

The advantage to this system is that there is an objective measure of when you are relaxed: the heart rate. This is more reliable than just setting a fixed amount of time for doing a certain technique.


Recommended Reading

More information on relaxation can be found in meditation section of the Recommended Reading chapter.


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