Apr 092008

Years ago, a ballet teacher taught our class a foolproof way to relax your entire body. What she taught us is a routine for relaxing your muscles groups one by one, starting with your feet and moving up through the top of your head. This routine can be used to prepare your body for sleep, or just to relax you enough to regroup and enjoy your evening.

I also taught it to my sons as a way to relax their muscles after football or basketball games.

Total Body Relaxation

To begin with, lie on your bed. You can also lie on pallet on the floor, if you like, but not if you’re using this as a pre-sleep routine.

Raise your arms above your head, and stretch, pointing your toes and pushing in one direction while reaching with outstretched fingers in the other direction. Hold for 10 seconds (but don’t hold your breath!). Release.

Bring your arms to your sides.

Start with your feet. Your feet always pay a big price by the end of a day, don’t they? They carry all the weight of everything you do, just by virtue of being on the bottom. That’s why they get to go first. Consciously relax the muscles in your feet and let them sink into the bed. As your muscles lose their resistance, you’ll be able to feel your heels and then your ankles pulled by gravity. Next. . .

Relax your calf muscles. Let them sink into the bed.

You can see where this is headed. You’ll move in progression through the major muscle groups, relaxing each and letting them sink into the bed (or pallet). Follow this order:

Knees. Visualize your kneecaps floating as they relax.

Thigh muscles: this is a big set of muscles, so I spend a few minutes letting them relax, front and back.

Rear end and Pelvic muscles (and pelvic floor for women): These groups of muscles are so closely related that I find it easy to relax the whole works at the same time. From the pelvis up through the stomach can be a very tense area of the body, so the release of these muscles is a powerful relief.

Stomach muscles: As above, an area that can get very tense. When you get to the point of consciously relaxing this muscle group, you may be surprised at how tense it is.

Back muscles: Relax your lower back muscles first and then move to. . .

Mid-back: Feel the middle of your back sinking into the bed.

Shoulders and chest: Again, a group of muscles so interconnected that I think of them as their own group. It’s easy for me to relax them together. Pay a little extra attention to relaxing the muscles between the shoulder blades. Next, you relax your. . .

Neck muscles and the inside of the throat: When the neck muscles are tense, the inside of your throat is effected. As you relax your neck muscles, think about opening up and relaxing your throat, as well. Then move on to . . .

The jaw muscles: This is another hot spot for stress. Clenching the jaw is a classic symptom of stress. And letting these muscles relax is a very liberating feeling. You’ll want to sing opera — but don’t just yet. Finish up your routine by relaxing the . . .

Face muscles and the top of the scalp: Again, simply a wonderful feeling to relax all the muscles around your face and head. Think of all the movements your face muscles make in a day — by the end, they’re exhaused. Spend a couple of minutes letting them loosen up.

Finally, once you’ve relaxed yourself, toe to head. . .

Let your mind free to wander. A lot of people will tell you that you need to keep your mind focused on relaxing, and try to keep your thoughts from turning to the daily issues that can stress you out. I think this is a mistake. It’s MORE stressful to try to control the path of your thoughts than to just them come. I’ve found that once I have my whole body relaxed, it’s safe to let my mind wander in whichever direction it needs to go. So, don’t worry about keeping your mind focused on relaxing once you complete this routine. It’s better to let your mind play. After all, there’s a reason for what your brain tells you.

If you’ve used this routine simply to rejuvenate before getting on with your evening, then enjoy the rest of your evening and don’t let anyone stress you out!