Time to Relax and Restore

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The Christmas and New Year period, however fun and wonderful, can be very stressful too. The expectations to celebrate in harmony with family and friends, and to be relaxed and happy, sometimes highlight a not so perfect reality. The fun and peace at home are not always exactly like one of those Christmas advertisements…

And that is fine. We are always able to do our best within our own circumstances. As Judi Dench’ character says in the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: “We get up in the morning, and we do our best.” I like the simplicity of this.

Today I have a relaxation exercise for you, because in order to do our best, in order to know what the situation really demands, we need to regularly take a step back. We can take a break by going for a walk in nature or having a yoga, sports or meditation session. Of course going on a holiday is wonderful, but not always possible or frequent enough. Luckily, instead of yearning for the next holiday, it is possible to “refresh” in daily life. I know that whenever I haven’t done this for a while, it feels like I can barely keep my head above water. The deepest winter is a good time to turn our attention inward: the darker days and colder weather invite us to pause and reflect.

A regular relaxation exercise, in which you focus on your breath and your body, allows you to stop your thoughts for a few moments and gain more clarity afterwards. It may reenergize the body and through the breath calm your whole being. The result is as if you step back from a painting you were watching from too close by: suddenly the whole painting becomes more apparent.

Try this relaxation every day, for about 10 minutes. With practice you will find that your breath becomes like a friend, something that is always there and you can count on.

Make yourself comfortable, preferably lying on a carpet or yoga mat, with a cushion and a blanket, in an aligned position. If your lower back bothers you sometimes, keep the legs bent and the feet hip-width apart on the floor. Place your hands on your abdomen or next to the body with the palms up. Encourage the chin to come a bit closer to the throat so that the back of your neck can lengthen and relax.

If you cannot lie on the floor then lie on a sofa or bed, or simply sit with a straight back on a chair.

Breathing visualization
The different sections of this breathing relaxation can be done separately, giving you a different image to use each day. If you are new to this way of relaxing, just take one element at a time – as they become more familiar you will start to combine them. You may find that the hardest discipline is to actually get down on the mat to do this practice. Once you are there, it is challenging to keep the attention focused. If the mind wanders, don’t be hard on yourself. Simply bring your attention back to the sensations in your body and the breath.

GROUND: feel the body on the floor, be aware of which parts of the body are touching the mat. How does your body feel today? Just observe without judging.

BREATHE out and allow the weight of the body to surrender to the pull of gravity: imagine the body getting heavier, softer and wider. With every exhalation, feel yourself relax a little more.

BREATHE and be aware of the movement of your abdomen when you breathe: it goes up slightly with the inhalation and down with the exhalation. Enjoy this beautiful rhythm inside your body. It is always there; you can always connect with it if you want more clarity and peace.

IMAGINE that you are empty inside. The inhalation enters this empty space and whirls around, cleans, heals and leaves the inner walls of your body softer and more pliable. Feel that this is a safe, expansive and happy space for the breath to move. As you breathe out, imagine the exhalation is removing all the tensions that you don’t need, all the thoughts and emotions that are not necessary right now.

To come up, roll over to one side, stay for a few moments and then use your arm to straighten yourself up to sitting.

Best wishes for peace, happiness and good health!

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