TENSION IS A PROBLEM
I try to stay away from the word stress, which has become a confusing cliché. What is true though is that for most of us, life winds us up. We experience this mentally as our mind moving too fast or perhaps as anxiety. Physically, we tighten up or clench. One of the reasons that health problems can result from chronic tension is that we are capable of clenching parts of our body that we don’t even think about. We give ourselves headaches, raise our blood pressure and create muscle spasm through clenching. Chronic tension compromises the immune system in a big way and tires us out. Over time chronic tightening up lowers our comfort level and promotes disease.
Tension is related to our fight or flight reaction. Our nervous system has a built in switch. When the switch is on one side, your body is trying to cope with what it interprets as a threatening situation. This is called sympathetic arousal. It is designed to protect us from bodily harm. It short circuits the thinking part of our brain and prepares us to fight or flee.
When the switch is on the other side, you have what physiologists refer to as a relaxation response. This is called parasympathetic arousal. We need to spend most of our time in this lower tension mode if we are to be healthy and comfortable. If you can learn to create a relaxation response, it will switch you out of the clenched mode. Many of us don’t know how to do that and get stuck with the tension. The systems of our body do not work well when we get keep moving in and out of low level fight and flight. It promotes illness and pain.
Understanding how to move the switch is our salvation. Just as when “shit happens” it nudges the switch towards fight, flight, you can learn how to keep pushing the switch back towards relaxation. The ability to create a relaxation response is a very valuable life skill.
The paradox of relaxation is that you cannot achieve it by trying harder. Putting out more effort is not relaxing. Relaxation occurs when you stop putting out effort, particularly effort that isn’t achieving anything. In a word relaxation is letting go of where you have been tensing. Learning to identify what part of you is tense is very helpful.
There are numerous routes to letting go of tension. Many methods incorporate breathing in some way. Breathing is like the friend that you’ve taken for granted. It can help you if you will put a little effort into learning how to use it. Focused diaphragmatic breathing is a very practical tool to dispel tension. You can probably learn to do it in a short time.
The many tools that I can teach to achieve a lower tension level all have one thing in common. That common element is the reaching of a point where you have experienced a state of lowered tension that you can use as a reference point. However you get there, you then learn how to access or reproduce that state and to put yourself into it frequently enough that it counteracts the winding up effects of living life