Glynda Cullen, LMT, LE

It’s a little known fact… relaxation is a learned skill. Why? Your body’s autonomic nervous system has two distinct branches: sympathetic and parasympathetic.

The ever-elusive nervous system balance – of work and rest – is one we all seek (or should). But, the ability to ‘let go’ of stress (that accumulates in your mind, body or spirit) is not a built-in human function or inherent talent.

So, how should you de-stress? Watching a movie on the sofa won’t help you to release the stress. However, a 5-10 minute relaxation ritual will help.

Why relaxation is so elusive

The sympathetic nervous system responds quickly and forcefully to any crisis we encounter. Unfortunately, the pace of modern life creates a low-grade fight or flight reaction within many of us all day long.

When this sympathetic activation persists, it creates chronic tension – you may even experience a host of ongoing stress symptoms such as headaches, racing heart, decreased respiration, and digestive and mood disorders.

Gracefully enter the parasympathetic nervous system: the fuzzy, calm, relaxed feeling you get when its finally your turn to lie down on the massage table or climb into a cozy bed at night. It should be easy to relax under these circumstances, right?

Well, you can’t just say to your body, “It’s time to relax!”

Successfully switching gears to the nourishing, restorative parasympathetic experience of your autonomic nervous system (ANS) is essential to your wellbeing.

Relaxation how-to in 10 steps…

Try incorporating a 5-10 minute relaxation ritual into your daily routine; doing so can greatly improve your stress symptoms. The simple meditation below is called Favorite Place.

  1. Lie down in a warm, calm and peaceful place in your home.
  2. Begin your relaxation ritual by extending the muscles in your arms and hands; stretch and create tension. When it feels right, release.
  3. Continue this systematic relaxation practice, by extending the muscles in your legsand feet; create tension and release.
  4. Open your mouth wide;maintain tension for a short time and release.
  5. Notice the sensation of ‘rest’ after you’ve worked your muscles; sink into this deeply restful feeling.
  6. Begin to do slow, even and smooth diaphragmatic breaths.
  7. Imagine a place you love…is it the beach or a forest?
  8. Begin to incorporate your senses:see the colors, hear the sounds, feel the textures. Can you hear the birds chirping or the gentle waves on the shore? Try to feel the sand.
  9. Open yourself to the feelings of peace within. Stay with this warm,calm sensation for several minutes.
  10. When you’re ready, stretch your arms and legs. Then,wiggle your fingers and toes and begin to bring your awareness back into your space.

* For an added boost to your atmosphere (before you begin), light a few candles and try diffusing your favorite essential oil. I love the comforting smell of Peace and Calming by Young Living, which we carry at CH.

** Listening to a guided meditation can be really helpful if you have trouble performing the above mediation on your own.

Now, take this feeling of balance with you throughout your day, and into your dreams at night.

It’s hard to believe maintaining a healthy nervous system can really be this simple: it is, and the positive effects are cumulative. It’ll take regular practice to retrain your sympathetic nervous system to let go of the chronic stress, but meditating for a few minutes each day can really make a difference.

After a couple weeks of practice, you’ll notice an ability to achieve a deep relaxation-state more quickly. Make the choice to let go of stress today, and embrace the joy in your life.


Glynda is a licensed Massage Therapist and a licensed Esthetician. She offers therapeutic massage and facial treatments (and after-hours appointments).