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Relaxation Whenever We Choose

Feb 29, 2008
Why do we so often find it so hard to switch off and relax? What is it that makes us feel tense and twitchy just when we need to sleep or recover from all that hard work and stress? It seems that our own bodies are working against us at times - and in a way, they sometimes are.

As part of our neural equipment, the autonomic nervous system, which controls organs such as the heart, stomach and intestines, is made up of two even more specialised sections. These are the sympathetic nervous system, which sounds friendly but is actually what causes us to become tense in times of danger, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls relaxation. The PNS causes your blood pressure to decrease, your heart to beat slower, and makes digestion easier. It sounds like a neat trick, but the trouble is that this auto-relaxer operates involuntarily, as an unconscious process - almost as if it has a mind of its own.

So, relaxing isn't just what happens when we're not tense, but is in fact a separate, active process. It's like what happens when you're driving a car and you take your foot off the accelerator - the car may slow down or not, depending on the slope of the road, but if you actually want to stop, you have to hit the brakes. That might explain why I've sometimes spent an evening sitting around doing very little but I haven't really felt more relaxed as a result - just leaving a gap in your activity isn't the same as actually relaxing.

So how does the parasympathetic nervous system work? Basically like all nervous activity: a mix of electrical and chemical messages brings a signal that tells the system to do something. In this case, it instructs specific muscles to let go and relax. It sounds simple, doesn't it? All we have to do is tell ourselves to relax and we have a little system that will make it happen. So why cant we then?

Well heres why. Firstly we must remember that stress originates in the mind so the PNS is half of the picture, stress it is a product of arousal in certain brain centers. The brain is made up of three main areas, the reptilian brain (our most ancient part), the limbic system and the frontal brain or neocortex.
It is in the first two that the action takes place with regards to stress. This is the famous 'fight or flight' area that is very primitive in it's nature. These two areas contain the glands and structures that react to stress and fear and fire us up and then keep us aroused. These main glands are the thalamus and the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland all of which are located in the limbic system.

In the reptilian brain, at the rear, is a small structure known as the 'locus ceruleus' which is also part of the brains stress response equipment. Further into the body itself are the adrenal glands which fire cortisol and adrenaline into your body when the afore mentioned structures notice stress looming. So in order to really reach a deep level of relaxation where our stress really is 'turned off' we have to switch off these structures somehow. How that is done is by simple visualization exercises that take you way past the superficial level of calmness that the traditional techniques do. You can literally learn to 'shut down' your minds stress centers at will. To know that this is possible when one is undergoing a stressful or anxious filled period in life can be extremely comforting and empowering. It is best to do the technique twice a day, once in the morning and once at night for maximum results.
About the Author
Lee Heather is a therapist specializing in anxiety issues and teaches clients stress management. His main approach is to show clients how to 'switch off' the brain stress centers for the most profound sense of deep relaxation they've ever experienced.

The most powerful relaxation technique ever!
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