Sunday, August 2, 2009

Actual Relaxation

I have a very hard time actually relaxing. By that I mean that I am hardly ever deeply, unequivocally relaxed. The kind of relaxed where your muscles and your mind feel soft, warm (I have to admit though that just describing relaxation is making me feel better). One of my dear friends from college pointed out to me that everything was always a "crisis" and he was right. But I find that knowing is less-than-half the battle.

One of my new year aspirations was to "un-round" my shoulders. I am finding the focus on this aspiration helpful but the actual achievement of it almost impossible. My right shoulder is particularly "frozen." For example, while waiting for my lunch to cook at work, I will stand against the wall and place my hands behind my waist, in the "small" of the back. When I do this, I can feel the right shoulder blade "pop" out, pushing painfully into the wall. I then work on rolling my shoulder up and back, which gets the shoulder blade more in place, but boy is that a difficult stretch. Clearly I have used my right shoulder differently than my left one for years. But I also believe some of my stress, fear, alertness, is stored in that shoulder. (It also has something to do with using my mouse with that hand!) I think I've mentioned before that I believe that our memories are stored in our bodies as well as our brains - as well as out there in that medieval "ether" - I am hoping that my efforts to loosen and "normalize" my shoulders will help me release old pain and step out of my constant alertness and tension. I'm also working on my calves - which are unusually tight partially due to some arthritis in my feet plus poorly healed injuries and partially because I store stress there, too. I know it's a weird place to store stress - just trust me on this.

In addition to stretching, I've also tried just watching my reactions and my energy state for the last couple of months to see what feelings provoke shoulder hunching. I have noticed that most of the time part of my mind is on some kind of alert. Probably a good thing from an evolutionary perspective but hazardous to my long-term health. It is good to be on the alert for danger - especially when you have one child who has no fear of strangers and another with no fear of falling - but I am also aware that constant stress can damage your circulatory system as well as undermining your mental health. I want to be able to activate my parasympathetic system and reach deep relaxation - but sometimes I wonder if I even have a parasympathetic system!

Shane and I took the kids and the dog to the mountains in Nevada last weekend and somehow that was actually relaxing for me. At one point the boys, Shane, and the dog were splashing in a stream and I was taking pictures of them and the wildflowers (which filled the valley and were just awesome) and it hit me - I'm not worried about anything. I'm just here, looking at the lovely flowers, listening to the water and the children, delighting in their and Sophie's delight in the moment, feeling the sun and breeze, smelling the mountain air. It was lovely. I hoped to maintain the feeling for a little while when I returned to work on Monday, and I did, but by Friday it was gone. So part of this weekend I have tried to "just be here," to just feel the life around me instead of constantly attempting to direct and shape the energy. Going with the flow is just simply tough for a marathon life swimmer like me.


  1. Gee, I have the same problem. I never live in the moment. I'm always worrying about something. I wonder who we get that from??? I've had to teach myself relaxation techniques over the years.

  2. This is a problem for me, too. I think it's a problem for a lot of women-- well, maybe men as well. My tension spot is my neck on the right side. When I wake up and can't turn my head, I know my stress level is out of control.

    Recovering from surgery is teaching me to live in the moment and notice bits of progress. I wonder how long the lesson will last. . .