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“Letting go” is a favorite phrase of mine.
In order to make the changes we want, we need to let go of bad habits that keep us from accomplishing those goals. Letting go is where we learn to relax, release tension, and reduce the stress in our life.
Letting go might seem terrifying at first.
We are action-oriented and want to be in control of everything. Relaxing can be construed by our conscious mind as laying down all our defenses and opening ourselves up to being vulnerable.
From early childhood we learn to keep our defenses up to protect ourselves. While this may protect us from the arrows and barbs thrown our way, these defenses, if too rigid, can keep us from relaxing, enjoying our world, and allowing great relationships to build.
Letting down our guard may feel as though we are risking our sense of control. If I make myself so vulnerable, won’t others take advantage of me? How will I know when to defend myself?
Letting go means accepting yourself
Letting go is acceptance of self just as we are, with all the complexities, negative and positive sides of us, the traits that are developed and those that are yet to be discovered, and the exciting potential of our hopes, wishes, and dreams.
It doesn’t mean we stop working to improve our lives; instead, it excites us to new possibilities.
When you are willing to let go, recognize your vulnerabilities, and accept them as part of who you are, you will not feel so vulnerable to others.
You put aside the facades and find strength in your own acceptance. Letting go is a nonjudgmental position. It is gradually becoming comfortable with who you are. You can just “be.”
Learning to relax
Every day, we will be challenged with more and more things requiring our attention. We are able to adjust at first, but gradually, these demands create more and more pressure and strain, wearing us down. As we become burdened with what has to be done within a limited timeframe, and tension increases, our need to reduce that tension becomes vital.
Earlier in my career, I worked with Kaiser Permanente in producing a relaxation tape for a class they were giving on chronic pain. Later, I produced my own Relaxation audio with a good friend. I wrote and recorded the script while he composed special music for the background.
The downloadable MP3 audio is available for purchase on my website. It takes you through the steps to relax, let go, and visualize a different outcome.
Learning to relax on our own is often difficult because we try to “make” it happen instead of “allowing” it to happen. Here is where listening, relaxing, and following can be so beneficial.
Learning to relax begins with stopping and becoming aware of how you breathe. Our breathing is typically shallow, and when we’re stressed, it becomes rapid and hurried.
To relax, we want to shift from shallow breathing to slow, even, deep breathing. Relaxation techniques, including deep breathing, when learned, can be applied any time we feel pressure and tension building.
To become familiar with this breathing technique, sit comfortably in a chair and with your eyes either open or closed. Slowly take in a breath of air, expanding the stomach area as you do.
Then gradually exhale. Put your hand on your stomach and feel it expand when breathing in and then feel it release as you exhale.
Count to four as you take in that breath, hold it for 4 counts, then release it slowly on 4 counts. Rest. Then take in another breath.
As you continue to do this often throughout the day, you will soon notice how this simple breathing exercise helps you release tension.
When you have become accustomed to slow, calm, even breathing, you can extend that exercise. With your eyes closed, begin breathing slowly and evenly. As you do, imagine that with each breath, you are “letting go” of tension.
As you breathe in and out, say to yourself, “I am letting go.”
Continue the exercise, releasing tension throughout the body. Start by focusing on your face – breathe in, let go, and feel the tension drain away. Continue down your body – neck and shoulders, abdomen and lower back, legs, and feet.
As you experience the tension draining away, imagine replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.
The benefits of the “Relaxation Response”
The term “Relaxation Response” was coined by Dr. Herbert Benson and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School in the early 1970s. What Dr. Benson discovered in his research was that the relaxation response actually counters the stress response.
While the stress response gears the body up to run or fight, the relaxation response brings the body back to a restful state.
When practiced daily, blood pressure, heart rate, breath rate, and oxygen consumption all can be lowered. With long-term practice, even the body’s response to adrenalin could be altered.
People reported a decrease in anxiety and depression as well as an improvement in their ability to cope with the stresses in their life.
Initiating the Relaxation Response is not the same as “relaxing” with a book, watching TV, or listening to music. While the Relaxation Response is a natural response for the body, it often requires training and practice.
We can initiate the Relaxation Response in many ways, such as by focusing on a word or phrase that we repeat over and over (mantra) or by breathing slower and more evenly.
You maximize the Relaxation Response when, with your breathing, you focus on letting go of tension in each area of the body.
Adding visualization can increase healing as well as relaxing. I will cover more on this next week.