Achieving Relaxation

As I cradled a bowling ball and tried to look confident, my teacher reminded me to extend my arm forward, then smoothly move it down, back, and forward again in rhythm with my steps, maintaining eye contact with my selected point throughout, and releasing the ball at the optimum moment. He then added, “And relax; don’t forget to relax.”

Did he really think I could relax while remembering his instructions, coordinating my appendages, and worrying about the rear view I’d offer to fellow bowlers and innocent bystanders alike?

Doctors advise me to breathe deeply and relax as much as possible before beginning an invasive, unpleasant, or embarrassing procedure witnessed by a nurse, an anesthesiologist, two student interns, and three anatomical charts. Might as well tell a lobster in boiling water to sing an aria.

I’m also told to relax when stretching. Lithe exercise instructors twist their willowy bodies into pretzels while informing their students that stretching requires relaxation.

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Obviously, this is not a self portrait: no frowning face, no quivering limbs.

I sprawl on my back, lift a leg, clutch it above the knee, and pull desperately, trying to stretch the inflexible limb toward my body while pointing my toes as instructed.

“Doesn’t that feel wonderful?” the teacher croons as my leg muscles — tense from my heroic efforts to relax —quiver, twitch, and spasm.

I’ve heard that a relaxed gait helps when hiking. I used to hike with a friend who floated up the intimidating mountains of Colorado with a serene expression on her face and a glide to her steps, every muscle loose. I, on the other hand, grabbed my climbing pole in a death grip, staggered like Lurch, and told myself if I took twenty more steps, I could sit down and think of ways to hurt my slithering friend.

14'ner lake

Trying to look relaxed, but achieving only a grimace: I still have to hike back down.

When trying to teach me to ski, my former husband told me to tighten this, tighten that, then relax and go. How the hell do you simultaneously tighten and relax?

Of all those who’ve said I need to relax, only one has told me how to do so. During a stress-reduction class, the teacher suggested that when sleep eluded me, I should take a deep breath through my nose, fill my lungs completely, then exhale through my mouth so forcefully the escaping air whooshed and whistled. After five repetitions, the optimist promised, I’d relax and fall asleep like a model in a sleeping-pill ad.

Filled with hope, I tried deep breathing the next night. I didn’t drift off with a smile on my face and a giant butterfly floating around my head; but I did alarm Joel, who thought we’d been invaded by a troop of whistle pigs.

My dad developed a relaxation procedure that helped him fall sleep during the years his shifts alternated around the clock and his children battled outside his bedroom. When I complained to him after a night during which I fidgeted and fumed, he divulged his secret: “I relax every muscle in my body, one after the other, starting with my ears and working down; so far, I’ve fallen asleep before I had to loosen up my toes.”

Relaxed ears? Loose toes?

I’ll just go on whistling.

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54 thoughts on “Achieving Relaxation

  1. Great post! I can usually relax until, as you pointed out, someone tells me to relax. Then things just keep getting tighter. I fall asleep pretty easily though. Your description of bowling reminds me of my father. He managed a bowling alley for many years and he would always give me those instructions that seemed impossible to remember and then add “and be relaxed” which was impossible.

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  2. Unfortunately, when I am wakeful in the middle of the night, I don’t remember any of the techniques for getting back to sleep. My 2 AM brain is not very helpful. You gave me a laugh at the bowling image. I remember a blind date on an Air Force Base in 1970. I was 20. I’d worn a stylish and very short dress with tights not knowing that we would be going bowling, of all things. I gracefully dipped my way down the lane each time, trying NOT to give the ever-growing crowd behind us more of a view than was absolutely necessary. Thank goodness for the tights.

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  3. It DOES get easier. You just need to keep at it. Yoga works wonders. Not at first, but over time. It has changed me in a lot of subtle ways. I’m more patient, and more flexible (mentally and physically). Good luck. Just keep pressing your navel to your spine!

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  4. It’s amazing how we humans have trained ourselves to be such high-achieving-mutitasking experts that we’ve forgotten how to do the most vital task to our existence — Relaxing!

    I am guilty of this and trying desperately to make ammends since my body was no longer going along with my insane expectations. It ordered me to RELAX OR ELSE! Crippled in bed one day with severe back pain months ago, I was forced to listen. The consequences were becoming evident.

    I’ve since had to do physical therapy, now I’m at the gym to continue the healing, and I’ve since reduced my workload a bit, and napping when I can. Relaxing takes work when one is so used to being on overdrive but the benefits are immeasurable. My body is loose, a lot more fit and I’ve lost a few pounds. All in all its been a win-win!

    Best wishes on your relaxation techniques. Love your body and it will live you back. Seeing this first hand!

    I always enjoy your posts. Hope you had a lovely weekend. Happy Monday ☺

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My 94 year old friend has the secret to falling asleep; two vodka drinks and she sleeps from 7 p.m. till 6 a.m. Still able to drive, clean her own house and some of the gardening while trying to catch several feral cats. I tend to think of all the things I need to do the next day, while picking up my book another time hoping it will do the trick. I laughed at your bowling lesson. Who in the world could relax while bowling?

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    • I’m surprised at how many of the comments on this post have mentioned the bowling bit. It must be a universal experience. While striving to be like your friend, I am afraid my approach is more like yours — reading as the cure for insomnia.

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  6. Oh yes I have so been there, I have experienced all of you scenarios. I find it had to relax too even my scalp is tight, relax says the hairdresser…….
    The Dee breathing does help when I stop rushing around and do it. Since I retired things are a little better but I still push myself too hard as for the comment above from Shirley re pushing your naval to your spine we’ll never been able to manage that one …… 😍😉

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    • I try the navel-spine technique, Lynne, and though they never touch, I give myself points for trying. Your tight scalp made me laugh. You have me beat with that one; my hairdresser has never told me to relax — except a time or two when I’ve first gazed at what she just did to me.

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  7. We were told, back in school to relax while learning the sport of “Curling” I flung the rock, relaxed as could be, fell on my chin, wet my pants, went home and never returned. The dentist is good at preaching relax. In the sun on that mountain side, fed and watered, that is relax. Great post, thanks Janet.

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  8. Aunt Beulah, I am still laughing about the lobster in boiling water singing an aria’ I will think of that when I go in to have my colonoscopy next month. I wonder if anyone ever masters the act of relaxing. Maybe tuck ouselves away and become Tibetan Monks, no communication with the reality of the real world, just meditate and chant all day without a worry in the world…If you have a life, which usually means family, work, friends, appointments, deadlines, a husband how can one ever relax. Your blogs always engage me and I just want to have a conversation with you..your Dad’s toes must have always been tired from lack of sleep..happy days Aunt Beulah from Annie in Australia
    🌞 🌴 🌊

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, Annie, I loved this detailed, funny comment. I’m so glad we’ve met.I’m pleased that I will be able to help you relax during your next colonoscopy; and, no, I don’t want to be a Tibetan Monk, so I suppose I’ll just continue to have tense times. I’m also happy that you enjoyed the bit about my dad’s toes. He was so funny in an understated way; and I think his humor, and my mom’s, had an impact on both my outlook and writing.

      PS I like the way you sign off. It makes my wish I were Jannie from Jakarta.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Baahahaha!!!!! That is so funny Aunt Beulah….Jannie from Jakarta !!
        My Mum and Dad were also very funny people, especially Dad, oh my word I have some wonderful stories about him!!!
        Thankyou for your friendship Aunt Beulah (alias Jannie from Jakarta)…

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  9. “I, on the other hand, grabbed my climbing pole in a death grip”–made me laugh out loud:). I could picture it and the look you must have been throwing your friend’s way. I, too, am stymied when I try to better a golf swing and am told to do 50 things–but loosen up and relax. Huh?

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  10. I experienced the same problem while learning to play the banjo. Since speed is the essence of good bluegrass banjo, I asked my instructor how to achieve more speed in my picking. His response was to relax. That is just impossible at this stage of the game.

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    • Good to hear from you, Troy. I suppose the theory is that once we’ve mastered the basics, the relaxation will come; but I find my coaches and instructors often overestimate my mastery of the basics.

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  11. Un hun…I was just thinking that THIS would be a great post when I finished my “chair yoga class” last week. You, dear friend, wrote it much better than I, though. I still may take a crack at writing my version of this at another time and add my “twist” to it. As usual, your writing brings a smile to both my face and heart……I soooo appreciate your talent.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. You know EXACTLY how to relax… There’s a reason I exercise on a treadmill, where I can walk while reading a book. 🙂 Rather antisocial (but for my equally obsessive reader buddy, Heather, at the YMCA), and guaranteed to be relaxing – at least until you have to stop for the day amid the book’s climax.

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    • You’re so right, Carolyn. I can always relax with a book. In fact I did so quite nicely this afternoon with a wonderful book, A Man Called Ove. Have you heard of it? It’s a runaway best seller in Europe. I think you would love it.

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  13. Janet, I so enjoyed sitting and talking with you last Friday morning. “Downtown Books” was the perfect venue!

    I also enjoyed this post—a wonderful mixture of truth and humor. I’ve tried relaxing every muscle from the forehead on down, as your father did. I’ve also tried deep breathing. Both techniques to no avail. If you ever discover a surefire method for relaxation, please let me know!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had a good time as well, Rita; let’s do it again sometime when you’re in town. We seem to have lots to talk about. About relaxing and falling asleep: with the advice of a friend, Joel and I bought a memory-foam mattress and are both sleeping better than we have for years. I know. We couldn’t believe it either.

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  14. I wonder how our two cats and one dog—who sleep on the bed with us—would like a memory foam mattress? Hmmmm, wait, maybe it’s our pets who are preventing us from achieving relaxation!
    But I still think that memory foam might be worth a try.
    Thanks for the tip, Janet!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I can guarantee two things: my tension increases when told to relax and my frown deepens when told to smile.
    Descriptions of your efforts, trying to relax, make me laugh.
    (Not trying to sound like a commercial, I love my memory foam mattress. Two years of misery-induced insomnia from a painful hip were relieved within two weeks.)
    .

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m surprised how many fellows I have in the matter of forced relaxation. Now I discover you are another. I hadn’t thought about the smiling thing; I don’t think I frown, but my smile becomes incredibly wooden and forced. Wonderfully, you advised me about memory foam right after you started sleeping on it. Joel and I finally bought a memory-foam mattress last fall. We’re both sleeping better than we have in years. Thank you, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I think there are those of us who can relax and those of us who can’t and I’m one of the latter! (Though a chocolate cookie gets me fairly close… distraction works well or me if it has a munchy component.) Don’t suppose most exercise instructors would be very supportive of taking a cookie to a workout, though.

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    • Actually, Val, I think a cookie at an exercise class might be frowned on by the mighty few, but most of us would look at you with envy and wish we had thought of it. The best cake recipe I have came from a lovely lady who brought the cake and recipes to share after our exercise class. We laughed at the ridiculousness of our actions and ate every crumb.

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