Sometimes you need to relax when you’re out and about and it’s not convenient to take twenty minutes to lie down and relax totally: maybe on your way to a crucial appointment, in an interview, giving a presentation, or any other situation normally regarded as highly stressful. Here are five ways to relax that my clients have found work for them, and that you can use to relax anywhere.
1. Peripheral vision
Look at the wall opposite you and find a point which is straight ahead and a little above eye level. Continue to look at this point in soft focus throughout this exercise. After a while you may find that as you concentrate on this point the rest of the room goes a little dark, or vague, or fuzzy, and you develop a kind of tunnel vision. We use this tunnel vision a lot in modern society – watching TV or using a computer, we only see the screen; when we read or write, we are focused on the words; even when we talk to someone, we often only look at their eyes or their face and ignore the rest of them. This tunnel vision goes with a kind of inner ‘tunnel vision’, where we get obsessed or fixated on things, and it goes with worry, adrenaline, rushing around, stress…
But there is another way of looking at things, and I’d like you to experience that now. Keeping your eyes on that point, begin to broaden your field of vision and notice more and more of what’s either side of that point, so that soon you’re paying attention to what you can see out of the corners of your eyes on each side. And you can take your awareness even further around behind you than that; all the way round, 360 degrees; of course I’m not suggesting that you can see behind you, but you can use your sense of hearing or spatial awareness to be aware of what’s behind you as well.
As you stay in peripheral vision, you may notice that your breathing has moved lower down in your chest and maybe slowed down or become deeper; that the muscles of your face have relaxed, perhaps especially your jaw muscles, and you can help those along to relax even more; and it’s probably too soon for this to have happened just yet, but if you were to stay in peripheral vision for any length of time, you might find your hands begin to get warm; or even your feet. But it’s probably a bit soon for that to have happened just yet.
The interesting thing is that when you go into peripheral vision you seem to activate the parasympathetic nervous system; the part of your nervous system that calms you down, and slows you down, and lets your mind, and body and emotions come back into balance.
So begin to come back by letting your field of vision return to normal. Peripheral vision is particularly useful when speaking in public; not only does it calm your nerves, but you can see the whole audience, and you are much more aware of any little movements they make, so you can gauge how they are reacting. You only need to go into peripheral vision a little way to contact that deep reserve of peace and tranquillity that exists in each one of us.
If you’re the kind of person who normally has a lot of internal dialogue or commentary, what happened to it while you were in peripheral vision? Many people find it slows down or stops altogether.
2. Focus on your breathing
Just close your eyes and focus on your breathing. And you don’t have to change your breathing in any way at all…although you may find that after a while your breathing shifts by itself. And any time you find your attention wandering, just return it to focus on your breathing. If you have any tension in any part of your body, let go of the tension by imagining you are breathing into that part.
Because breathing is normally unconscious, but you can control it consciously, changing your breathing, or just becoming aware of it, is an easy way to change your physiological state.
Where you put your attention in your body has a big effect on how you feel, and even on how strong you are. This is recognised in the ancient traditions of yoga and the martial arts.
Just pay attention to a point which is a few inches below your navel, and half way between the front of you and the back of you – in the centre of your body. At the same time look straight ahead and go into peripheral vision. Let your body relax, and make sure your knees aren’t locked. You can maintain this focus on your central point all the time, whatever you are doing. If you’re really focused on this point, your body can’t feel anxiety, so it’s useful for confrontations and pressure situations.
4. Project an ‘energy bubble’
Imagine that you have a bubble of energy projecting out from your central point and surrounding you like a sort of science fiction force-field. Everything stressful that happens outside this bubble just bounces off and away from you, leaving you calm and still inside the bubble. So the more stressful it is outside, the calmer you are inside…
Now I’m not suggesting that there really is a bubble of energy around you, but your unconscious mind doesn’t distinguish between imagination and “reality”. So if you imagine that you are shielded from stress, you will be! This is another good one for pressure situations, but you don’t just have to use it as a shield. When you give a presentation, extend your energy bubble all the way out to the back and side walls of the room, and then pull it in slightly to embrace and include your whole audience. They will notice the difference!
5. Float up above yourself
Sometimes in emotionally fraught situations it can be a good idea to detach yourself so that you can calm down and get things in perspective. A good way to do this is to float up above the situation. Try it now.
Imagine that you are floating out of your body, higher and higher, and looking down at yourself. Float up until you reach a height at which you are completely comfortable. You’ll notice that the higher up you float, the more detached you feel.
You can do this with memories or with imagined future situations as well. If the memory involves other people, float up above the memory of yourself as you interact with them. Observe the scene as a whole system – notice how they react to what you do and say, and how you react to what they do and say. What do you learn from this new perspective?
With a bit of practice you’ll be able to do this in a situation as it happens.
Let us know how you get on with these techniques and which one works best for you by leaving a comment below!
(Note: this article dates back to 2005 – it disappeared off my web site a couple of platform migrations ago, but I thought it was worth bringing back)