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  • Why You Shouldn’t Try so Hard to Relax


    Before I became a massage therapist I was a stressed out mess. Seriously. The first time I got a professional massage, my therapist kept telling me to relax. It confused me because I was relaxed. Even though I was more relaxed than I could remember being since I was a small child, here she was telling me I wasn’t relaxed… or at least not relaxed enough. I tried to relax even further, but it didn’t work. The more I tried, the less relaxed I felt. Every time I tried to relax one area of my body, another one tensed up with the effort. It was frustrating.

    If you’re the super laid back type, you may not be able to relate, but I urge you to keep reading so you can learn how the other half lives.

    If you’re like me, you need to keep reading to find out how I eventually learned how to let go enough that massage therapists would no longer tell me to relax. Well, not that much anyway.

    There Is No Try

    Have you ever forgotten a word, fact, or name that you usually know? I’ll bet you have. I’ll also bet that you racked your brain trying to remember it. If you’re like most people, the harder you tried to remember the thing, the farther the thing slipped into the void. Then, in the middle of doing something later that day or several days later, you suddenly remembered and blurted it out at some completely random or inappropriate moment. It can be soooo frustrating.

    Maybe not as frustrating as having someone tell you that you’re not relaxed when you feel the most relaxed you’ve ever been, but then, little is that frustrating. Except when they argue with you. Yeah, I’ve had folks insist that I’m not relaxed while I’m insisting that I am. Sigh. It took me a while to figure out why there was such a disconnect between two people’s interpretation of the same body.

    Here’s what I came up with: It’s really of case of everything being relative. Relative to how you normally feel, you’re über relaxed. Relative to how they usually feel, you’re still wound tighter than a 13 day clock.

    So What’s A Body To Do?

    Here’s the deal: Trying to relax is like trying to remember that forgotten word; it’ll never work.

    With the word, the harder you try to remember it, the more stressed you get, the more stressed you get, the more resources your brain routes away from the critical thinking and communication areas of the brain – since you don’t need those to fight or flee – and into your arms and legs, which you do need for running and/or fighting. And… well… you know the results of that.

    With relaxation, the harder you try to relax the more stressed you get; especially if you were feeling pretty relaxed already. The more stressed you get, the more effort you put into relaxing (because more effort is our usual way of dealing with problems). Effort is work, and work is anything but relaxing; therefore trying to relax is doomed to fail.

    Instead, what you need to do is allow yourself to relax. I won’t lie, this is a lot easier said than done. You’re probably so used to striving, trying, doing, etc. that to you, relaxing is something you only do after a few adult beverages or when you’re asleep. You may not even fully do it then. If you’ve ever woken up clenching your teeth, you know what I mean.

    There are many situations where you might want to relax as much as possible, not just in a massage session, although massage is definitely the most important. But maybe I’m biased. Now, no two people are going to need the same conditions or even go about the allowing process exactly the same way. That said, there are several conditions that most people find important in order to relax:

    • Comfortable environment (i.e. temperature, decor, lighting, etc.)
    • Good rapport with other person or people near you
    • Quiet environment/ pleasant relaxing music/ no loud noises
    • Pleasant scent/ scent-free
    • Comfortable surface(s) for sitting and lying down

    So, if you’re an introvert who hates loud noises you’ll probably not want to go to a massage therapist whose office is in a gym or loud salon. If you’re sensitive to smells, you’ll probably want to avoid places like salons (stinky chemical hair treatments) and day spas (did someone bathe in their perfume?). You get the idea.

    Here are a few strategies that most people find helpful to get the most out of the right environment:

    • Get your to do list out of your head. Put it on paper, use the notes function of your phone, whatever you need to do to know that you don’t have to try to remember anything.
    • Focus on the things you enjoy. If you need to focus on something, focus on the parts of your experience that you like. If you’re meditating, focus on just one thing like the feel or sound of your breath.
    • Speak up. If you’re uncomfortable in any way and don’t have the power to change it, say something. This includes things like room temperature, pain, someone getting too close to your ta tas or hoo ha, or any other discomfort you may have but need assistance to remedy.
    • Be quiet. The less conversation you have, the more you’ll be able to relax.
    • Let your mind wander. Daydream, go to la la land, go to sleep. Let your mind go to whatever fun, relaxing place it wants to. I totally understand not wanting to miss a moment of your massage, but I can tell you from experience that the best massages I’ve ever had ended with me feeling slightly groggy or drunk as I was getting off the massage table.
    • Trust the provider, teacher, or whoever you’re with. You will never relax if you don’t trust the people around you. Trust has to build naturally over time, so if someone tries to force the process it’s best to view that as a red flag. If you don’t trust anyone, even if you have a good reason, please see a counselor. Learning how to build trust will make every aspect of your life more enjoyable. As someone who used to have major trust issues, I promise… life is better with a little trust.
    • Don’t work so hard. Let yourself sink into the massage table, yoga mat, meditation cushion. Feel how well it supports you. Let it do the holding work for you.
    • Visualize what you need. If you have a hard time not working so hard, visualize something that will do the work for you. For instance, when I’m sitting, sometimes I tend to slouch and other times I tend to overcorrect for that and hold myself too rigid. I often need to visualize a helium balloon attached to my head, pulling it upward, and a sandbag in my bottom, slowly pouring sand out and constantly refilling itself. The balloon and the sandbag do the work of keeping my spine straight but not rigid, while preventing me from slouching. Experiment with various visualizations to find the ones that work best for you.
    • Leave your need for full control at the door. This is a lot easier said than done, but you can start by deciding on one little thing that you’ll relinquish control of. Maybe today can be the day that you let your massage therapist pick up your arm instead of raising it for them.
    • Be open to new experiences. You may know your body better than anyone else, but chances are pretty good that you don’t know all the meditation techniques, yoga poses, massage moves, or whatever else it is that you’re paying someone to help you with. Give new techniques an honest-to-goodness try before deciding that you hate it or that it won’t work for you.

    So stop trying to relax. Make sure that conditions are conducive to allowing yourself to relax. Then just allow your body and mind to unwind and relax. It won’t happen overnight, but each time you allow yourself to relax a little bit more, you’ll get another dose of positive feedback that’ll keep you from giving up.

    What are your experiences with relaxing? Are you a “relax any time, any place” kinda person. Or are you more the type who says, “relax? What is relax.? I don’t  know what this word means.” Let me know in the comments below.

2 Responsesso far.

  1. Oooh, boy, Michelle. Great stuff here, and I wholly agree.

    The worst for me is when I’m having a PAP. Last time, the doctor told me too many time to relax – and i was already having a bit of anxiety to boot. Long story short, due to being told to relax too many times and dealing with the anxiety, I had to stop the exam. A few moment later I promptly passed out and woke up to emergency personnel. It was not one of my finer days, to say the least.

    So, yes, yes, yes, do not *try* to relax. I’m printing out your list and will use it (along with my other skills) as the days grow closer and closer for a PAP retry.

    Wish me luck! <3 😀 😉