How do you relax? Tailor-made relaxation

Rest and relaxation

Everyone rests and relaxes in their own way. This can easily be observed in the workplace: some people enjoy the sun during their lunchbreaks, others pull on their running shoes and go for a jog. Still others focus on good food. The way different people rest and relax in the evenings after work or a day with the family can also vary hugely.

However, rest is something that can be described; it is a compensatory phase in which you recoup physical and mental strength. While you rest, both physical and mental stresses are alleviated. The body regains its strength and recharges its energy. If you disregard the resting phase, the body loses equilibrium. This can result in insomnia, fatigue or even exhaustion. This means that you will never be sufficiently rested without de-stressing, alternating your stressors or taking a break, which may happen if, for example, you work uninterruptedly, have too many deadlines one after another, or you need to revise for and pass exams. Even if you enjoy all this and don’t necessarily see it as stress, it makes unilateral demands on your system. Rest and demands or stress are always connected to each other and influence each other.

How do stress and rest interact in the body?

In the body, the parasympathetic nervous system, or “sloth mode”, is responsible for the resting phase. Sloth mode is a part of the vegetative nervous system, which operates automatically and harmonises the individual functions of your organs with each other. In addition, it adjusts these functions to the body’s changing needs. The vegetative nervous system works wonderfully all by itself. Did you ever need to be reminded to breathe, or tell your heart to beat?

When we’re in sloth mode, we are calm and lazy, just like the animal. But sometimes it’s good to be lazy. Your digestion is active, you breathe more deeply and your pulse is calm. In this phase, we can rest and recover, and literally recharge our batteries. We build up energy reserves by taking in food.

The sympathetic nervous system is another part of the vegetative nervous system or, figuratively speaking, “sabre-tooth tiger mode”. Sabre-tooth tiger mode is sloth mode’s opposite number. It ensures that our bodies are ready to act, and that all our energy is available so that our bodies can respond instantly. At this moment, the cardiovascular system is stimulated, breathing speeds up and our attention becomes focused. Conversely, digestion is put on hold. We tap into the energy reserves that we were building up beforehand.
This interplay between sabre-tooth tiger mode and sloth mode is both normal and necessary for our bodies. But it is important that the two systems are harmonised and that neither of them is predominate or inactive.
If your stress levels remain high for a long time without planned breaks, you get stuck in sabre-tooth tiger mode. This means that you are tense and ready to act or react at any time. Sloth mode, the resting phase, loses out. So what can we do to harmonise the two systems and to consciously activate the resting phase?

What is the recipe for success?

Everyone is different, which is why there is no basic recipe for the resting phase. For some people, it’s sport. For others, however, it may be painting, walking the dog, social contact with others or taking a breather in the forest. But the vegetative nervous system with sabre-tooth tiger mode and sloth mode affects everyone subconsciously. Although this system is independent and acts unnoticed, there is a simple way to influence it: breathing.

The special thing about breathing is that we can consciously control it. For example, we can deliberately hold our breaths for a short period, or take very deep breaths. This means that we can ourselves affect breathing, a basic bodily function, without having to think about it the entire time.
So there are two exciting initial positions:

  • We can deliberately influence our breathing.
  • Breathing is automatically controlled by the vegetative nervous system.

We can consciously affect the vegetative nervous system, sabre-tooth tiger mode or sloth mode, using the breath. If you breathe deeply into your belly, the circulation is stimulated in your internal organs. If you repeat this a few times, sloth mode is activated and the resting phase commences. Prolonged exhalation will also boost relaxation. The breath is an amazing tool that everyone possesses! It’s only waiting for you to use it.

For example, you can use your breath as a tool in your daily life by doing targeted breathing exercises. You can use breathing exercises to harmonise your body and, at the same time, they are good for your health. Here’s an example of a great breathing exercise for your daily life:

  • Start by standing up. As you breathe in, raise your arms to the sides then over your head.
  • Bring your palms together as you breathe in fully and hold your breath for three seconds.
  • As you breathe out, slowly lower your arms, palms still pressed together, in front of your face, then down.
  • Your breathing rhythm will determine the speed of the exercise.
  • Repeat five times.

If you want to look at this exercise in detail, you can find a video of the instructions, step by step.

Breathing can be connected with rest and relaxation in the best way for you and it aids the relaxation process. Try this awesome tool out now and monitor what happens.

Or would you prefer to combine movement and breathing exercise, but you don’t know exactly where to start? Then the Lungenliga breathing tour is the right thing for you. The breathing tour combines a walk in the fresh air with breathing exercises.

In addition, do you know about the Lung Self-Check? It’s a three-week programme in which you learn more about breathing and how you can use the breath for yourself and your health. You can take the plunge anywhere, at any time, with the handy workbook and animated step-by-step instructions. You can order the workbook for CHF 49.00 here. This article was written by our partner organisation Lungenliga Central Switzerland. Many thanks to Nadia Mutti and Carmen Wicki, the authors, for this interesting post.

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