Relaxation is who you are. Learning to relax.

I shared this quote a while ago in my Facebook Group Seeking Slow and it seemed to resonate with lots of you… ”Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” ~ Chinese Proverb

I therefore thought it would be useful to unpick this concept a little more, and a good starting point is learning to recognise how we physically hold tension in our body.

We need to understand the difference between tension and relaxation and understand how to navigate from one to the other.

Lots of us walk about holding tension in our body without even realising it. Sometimes tension becomes so habitual that we always ‘hold’ our body that way, it then feels completely normal to us. It’s only when we give our bodies the space and time to deeply relax that we can realise what released feels like. And by comparison, we can know what tension is. They are at the opposite ends of the spectrum and in some ways one allows the other. 

It’s vital that we are able to sit in a place of relaxation and stillness and have that feeling be familiar to us in order to take ourselves back there. We must also recognise that sometimes we think we know what rest and relaxation is but actually there are deeper layers of peace to discover.

In terms of releasing any physical tension that our body holds, sometimes it simply takes an external acknowledgment for us to be able to let that tension go. As an example, we can be holding tension in our shoulders, and the simple act of glancing in a mirror and noticing that we are holding our shoulders up around our ears helps us to release that tension. Or someone places supportive hands on your shoulders, and again this helps you begin to soften that tension and relax.

It’s also important to remember that there will always be phases of tension and stress in our lives, and perhaps we need periods of stress in order to change and grow. However, as I get older I use tension more and more as a guide of things to avoid.

Next, we need to acknowledge that it’s a fundamental life skill to really ‘know’ our bodies, yet it’s something a lot of people neglect to do. In my new online course Power of Slow (out later this year) there is a whole module dedicated to knowing your body and why it’s so important. It looks at how we can get to understand our body better by techniques like body scanning and body mapping.

We have all heard people say things like; “My gut’s telling me…” or “I went with my heart and decided to…”, “I think my head knows best this time…”. They are all different components of our body, but how do we know which one to listen to and what our truth is?

We often do all our thinking with our minds but our bodies have inherent intelligence too and it’s really important to honour this.

Once we have learnt to listen to our body and learnt how to understand what tension and relaxation feels like in our body, how do we use those skills to help us navigate through life and find our happiness and joy?

We have all been in situations or relationships where it just feels a bit off, a bit like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Sometimes we want things to turn out a certain way but it just doesn’t make sense. It’s wonderfully freeing to acknowledge that most of life is out of our control. If we can cultivate the grace to accept life for what it is, then suddenly things feel lighter and we can focus on enjoying the simple things.

Most important of all is learning to accept who you are (imperfections and all) as this automatically helps you find a deeper sense of relaxation and peace. Imagine consciously letting go of any preconceived ideas about what you ‘should’ be doing or where you ‘should’ be. Realising that you need no-ones approval or validation is wonderfully liberating.

When we fight against our truth and who we really are – that’s where tension can arise. There is great freedom to surrendering and letting go and finding joy in just being you.

It’s easier to write down than actually do, but finally as I get nearer to my forties I have found new layers of peace and acceptance within myself and I am less worried about being liked and pleasing people than ever before. I wish I could pass some of this wisdom onto my twenty-something self…  instead I will try to pass it onto my daughter… I think she might have to learn the lessons of life in her own time though.

How aware of tension and relaxation are you? Do you feel connected to your body? Or does it feel like a separate vessel… would love to know.

Melanie Barnes