Just as tensing muscles first helps adults ;earn to relax (see yesterday's post), it also helps kids learn to relax more than they would by just thinking relaxing thoughts. To keep the exercise interesting enough to keep kids engaged, a little creativity is needed. You don't want your kid acting out more to avoid a boring activity! In my practice, I provide parents with a script to use every night with their kids. They tense their muscles by doing fun exercises like pretending to squeeze lemonade from lemons, stretching like cats, and chewing jawbreakers. Another blogger has written about a creative spin on a similar script: relaxation flip-books for kids. She provides images and instructions for turning the script into portable flip-books so you can not only teach your child muscle relaxation, but also have a fun reminder on the go!
Because many of us are so used to carrying around tension, it can be difficult to recognize when our muscles are tense. Even when we scan our bodies for tension, we may overlook it because it feels "normal." In order to increase your awareness of tension, you have to learn to recognize it. Try intentionally tensing a muscle for 5-7 seconds and then quickly releasing the tension while paying close attention to the sensations of tension and then relaxation. Relax each muscle for about 30 seconds. (This is best done lying down so you don't have to rely on your muscles to support your posture). By doing this with each of our muscle groups, we can learn to more easily identify and release unnecessary tension throughout the day.
Not sure how to tense a certain muscle group? Check out this chart.
Watching television may seem like a good way to relax, but it may actually have a negative impact on your physical and psychological health. Try rating your mood before and after watching television. Compare this to your mood before and after engaging in other relaxing activities, such as reading, talking to friends, taking a walk, or taking a bath. How does the effect of watching television compare to these other activities?
Help children breathe slower by coaching them through the process. As they breathe, say, "Breathe in...2...3...4...and out...2...3..4..." Repeat several times.
Deep breathing works better when it's done slowly. Slow your breaths down by counting slowly to four as you inhale and again as you exhale. To slow your breaths even more, hold for an additional count of four between in and out breaths.
Children can benefit from deep breathing, too. Teach your child how to breathe deeply by having him lie on his back with a toy on his stomach and practice making the toy rise with each deep breath.
Deep breathing is a great way to trigger your body's relaxation response, but it can take practice to do effectively. Try putting one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach and take a deep breath. Which hand rises when you breathe in? Most people find that the hand on their chest rises. Chest breathing is not the best way to relax. To deep breathe for relaxation, breathe so that the hand on your stomach rises and falls with each breath. This is also known as belly-breathing or diaphragmatic breathing.
People often "forget" to breathe when the are stressed or upset; they hold their breaths or breathe shallowly, reducing their blood-oxygen level. This can increase feelings of anxiety and tension and make it more difficult to manage the situation effectively. Next time you're faced with a stressful or upsetting situation, check to make sure you're not "forgetting" to breathe.
Most people carry around more tension than they realize, which can lead to physical complaints such as headaches, muscle aches, and difficulty sleeping. The neck, shoulders, and jaw are common areas of the body to hold tension. A few times a day, mentally scan your body for tension (paying particular attention to those areas that carry tension most often), and try to intentionally let go of any extra tension you're holding. Notice the difference in how you feel once the tension is released.