On a recent trip to Southern Italy, I was able to experience for myself the health benefits of relaxing in a stunningly beautiful environment. I was able to clear my mind and calm much of the stress that had been weighing on my shoulders over the past several months. When I returned I was able to return to work with much more energy than I had before.
In hindsight, it seems strange that I had seriously considered cancelling the trip. Why? I was in the midst of starting a new job and closing down an acupuncture clinic I had ran for over a decade. My life was in upheaval and my mind had become poisoned by one nagging thought. “Should I really be taking time for myself right now?” It is the poison that plagues so many of us. We are a nation of workaholics. Nowhere was this more evident than in the laid-back atmosphere of Southern Italy.
The way I see it, relaxation is part of the three important “goods” when it comes to health; a good diet, good relationships and good attitude towards life. A workaholic, stressful life is not a healthy life. Relaxation has numerous physical, mental and spiritual health benefits. It relaxes our muscles (including the heart) and improves circulation, it improves immune function, gives us better mental clarity and a greater sense of well-being, and much more. Part of our good attitude towards life should be taking time to relax and savor the life that we have been given. In contrast, the stressful life that most of us live encourages us to eat poorly, not take time to relax and work ourselves to an early grave.
As an acupuncturist, I have many patients that come to me seeking to ease the stress they feel in their daily lives. To be sure, one of the great benefits of acupuncture is that it relaxes the body and calms the mind. It can quickly produce the same results that we would feel from a day of relaxing. This was the strangest discovery when I first started working as an acupuncturist. Acupuncture is deeply relaxing.
Unfortunately, acupuncture is not enough by itself. We must make relaxation part of our lives. That means we must plan to relax. As strange as it seems, relaxation often needs to be planned for, scheduled and kept to, just as if it were a business appointment. The health benefits are too great to let the days, weeks and months slip by with little or no “down time”. So what to do? Below are three recommendations from simple to more committed that will give you the down time you crave.
1) Take Time to Meditate
Give at least 40 minutes per week to meditation. In my experience it always takes at least twenty to thirty minutes to calm your mind and reap the benefits of meditation. These days you don’t even have to join a class, there are plenty of guided meditations on Youtube and other websites. I have included some links below for guided meditations. You need no expertise or experience to meditate. You just need to relax and breathe for 20 minutes at a time. I almost always feel more energized after meditation and that energy last for hours. It is well worth the time investment.
2) Give One Day a Month to do Nothing
By nothing, I mean no agenda, no plan, no people to meet with, or cook for, or to entertain. Absolutely no email or texting if you can avoid it. What should you do? Read a favorite book, have a long picnic with friends, take a hike. Whatever leaves you feeling more relaxed and energized. If a day seems impossible, try 4 or 8 hours.
3) Plan your Next Vacation and Take it
Start planning your next vacation; air flights, hotels, restaurants to visit, activities, whatever you want. Find out how much it would cost to go right now and start putting aside some “commitment money”. How committed are you to going? $5, $10, $20, $100, $1,000 per week. You pick your commitment level and how soon you want to go. Make sure that you plan for no interruptions while you are on vacation. Also, sign up for alerts from any of the places you researched. You may want to pull the trigger early on your vacation if a good deal shows up!
A few resources to get you started:
10 Health Benefits of Relaxation from Huffington Post
20 minute Yoga Nidra guided meditation
20 minute Mindfullness guided meditation