My planned first for the day was a line dancing lesson. As I wrapped up the day close to 7:00 pm, finishing up a showing with a delightful young couple, I knew that wasn’t going to happen! Deciding to save line dancing for another time, I now had to come up with a first, relatively late in the day. At home, browsing through possibilities, I realized my body was drawn toward deep rest. One thing I’ve learned during my journey these past few years is to listen to what my body is telling me. For my first today, I practiced intentional deep relaxation.
I regularly practice meditation and frequently include relaxation as a part of that practice. It is very easy to allow stress to build up in the body and settle into the muscles, creating tension and pain. When I’ve been overly busy, or have had too many long days and short nights, stress and tension accumulate in my neck and shoulder muscles. A painful stiff neck or shoulder is my signal to relax and meditate. Taking 15 to 20 minutes to consciously relax the muscles and allow stress to drain away restores and refreshes me physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Tonight I tried a deep relaxation technique suggested by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who writes and teaches about mindful living. He says that deep relaxation is an opportunity for our bodies to rest, heal and be restored. As we relax, we send love and care to each part of our bodies, holding that part in our awareness as we breathe in and out.
I wanted to be very intentional about relaxing, so I created an environment to support and encourage it. Candles were lit throughout my darkened bedroom. I combined dried lavender, white sage, sweet grass and a bay leaf to create a soothing and cleansing potpourri to burn on a small piece of charcoal. And I had 40 minutes of soft, meditative music playing on my phone. I was ready to relax!
I don’t normally lie down to meditate, as I will too easily slip beyond relaxation and into sleep. I decided this evening to get comfortable lying down and that if deep relaxation took me into slumber it was because my body needed that rest. Lying on my bed, snuggled beneath a heavy blanket, candlelight flickering and music playing, I closed my eyes and focused on taking long slow deep breaths. Beginning with my toes, I held them in my awareness and said, as breathed in and out:
Breathing in, I am aware of my toes
Breathing out, I smile to my toes
This is mindfulness. This is bringing my attention to myself and willing myself to relax my muscles. I moved my awareness up my body, mentally cradling each part, repeating the above statement about my knees, my liver, my arms, my heart, my shoulders, all the way to the top of my head. Sending love and care and gratitude to each part of me, smiling, spending a little extra time being mindful of any sore spot, I relaxed so deeply. Muscles unknotted, my breathing grew deeper and I felt myself sinking into sleep. I let go.
I didn’t sleep long, and waking slowly, I felt wonderful. I could have rolled over and slept until morning and will return to pick up where I left off shortly. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “When you direct the energy of your mindfulness to the part of your body that you are embracing with love and tenderness, you are doing exactly what your body needs.” This was exactly what I needed tonight and I’m grateful that I listened to my body. This was self care at a high level.