Relaxation has a bad reputation - many people are afraid that if they relax they will become lazy, slow or sleepy and they will do less. They connect good performance with hard work.
But imagine buying a new car. Do you want to buy from a nervous salesman who desperately tries to persuade you to buy his product, or the one who is relaxed and confident in what he is selling? The relaxed salesman doesn't work so hard, but his results are better and everyone feels good around him as well - a win-win situation.
It's easy to understand why we perform better when relaxed if you look at the human energy system. Anyone who has experienced acupuncture will be aware that life energy (known as qi in Chinese) flows through our body via a system of channels called meridians. When we are tense our body contracts, constricting the meridians and reducing the flow of energy through the body. When we relax our body becomes softer and more expanded, the meridians open up and more energy is able to flow through.
A simple explanation of energy is that it is the difference between being dead and alive - it is what makes the body move, breathe, feel, smile and think. When we receive less energy (because of tension) we have less of that force that causes us to be lively, active, and productive. When we get more energy we literally have more life - more health, more ability to think, create and act. With more energy we stress less.
When we become tense we have to work harder to make up for the lack of energy. This in turn causes greater tension, further reduces the energy flow and a negative spiral is created. As we feel worse (and more tired from lack of energy), we tend to become emotionally negative as well. We complain about stress, worry about ourselves and other people and find it hard to let go of irritations. This negativity only adds to the tension and eventual energy starvation.
If on the other hand we relax and open up we have more energy, so we feel livelier and less tired. With increasing energy we can achieve more which makes us feel positive and even more relaxed. A virtuous spiral develops, whereby relaxed people can feel better and better and more and more positive and eventually they also achieve more and more.
If you find yourself collapsing, exhausted, at the weekend, or you are constantly looking forward to holidays so you can do nothing for a while, it may not be the case that you are overworking. You simply don't know how to relax properly. A relaxed person can handle working all day and still be full of energy for family and social life in the evening. The relaxed person achieves more with less effort. They may look like they do less than the busy person who is constantly proving themselves, but just compare the results.
Why do we often get our best ideas in the shower? - because we are relaxed and open. Imagine having that feeling all day - where nothing bothers you because you feel you have the health and capacity to solve any problem and more than enough energy to do whatever comes your way.
Relaxation doesn't mean watching television or reading a book. It is not having a beer or playing sport. Relaxation is not the same as sleep. It is a peaceful activity - the simple art of ‘doing nothing' - but ironically, doing nothing is one of the most difficult things of all to do well.
By Sarah McCrum MA, PGCE, Dip LC
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