Easy Ways to Relax Your Mind and Body
Between commitments to work, family and friends, the round-the-clock demands on our time can feel relentless. In fact, American culture seems to prize being overbooked and exhausted to the point that it's become a status symbol to not practice self-care. No wonder "figure out how to relax and be happy" is often the last bullet point on our never-ending to-do lists.
It's all too easy to keep chugging along until you're suddenly in deep need of stress relief: your muscles are begging for a massage, your brain is fried and, to quote the wise Shakira, you're starting to feel just a little abused, like a coffee machine in an office. As wonderful as a wellness retreat or a resort getaway sounds, most of us can rarely find the money and time off required to do it. And even if you're working from home, it can be challenging to set boundaries and sign off for some quality me-time.
But, there's no reason to give your anxiety full reign over your brain. Making small lifestyle changes and adding a few new habits can help you find some inner peace and relaxation, whether you've got a day, an hour, or just a few minutes. Here are our best expert-approved tips on how to relax your mind and body—before bed, or right now this minute—using some tried-and-true methods.
Accepting that you deserve to unwind is the first step.
"The biggest barrier most people face when it comes to relaxing is their mindset about what 'relaxation' really is," says Lisa Kaplin, psychologist and women's empowerment coach.
Making time to chill out can be especially challenging for women, according to Kaplin, "because they often have so many things on their plates, including the emotional labor of running a home. A woman will sit down to relax and her mind will be spinning about all of the things that need to be done. If she believes she can't relax until all of that is complete, she never will."
In case you need a reminder: The world won't end if you do press pause once in a while, and your body has ways of letting you know it's actually a need, not a luxury. Kaplin says the true key is developing "a mindset of, 'I can relax whenever and however I choose.' Then comes "getting present in the moment and choosing one's form of relaxation."
Don't forget to breathe: Meditation really works.
"So much of our day is spent in anxiety producing thoughts, either reliving that horrible conversation you already had or fantasizing about how you're going to get your way in the future," says Lodro Rinzler, author and co-founder of MNDFL meditation centers in New York City. "Mindfulness invites us to rest in what is happening right now. We can relax the body and mind to the extent we realize that, in this moment, we are basically okay."
To those who are new to meditation, Rinzler suggests practicing a simple 10-minute exercise: Just breathe.
"Sit in a relaxed but uplifted posture, extending upward through the spine. Rest your hands on your lap to offer extra back support. Tuck in the chin slightly and relax the muscles in your face. Then simply tune into the natural flow of your body breathing."
If you find your mind wandering, that doesn't mean you're bad at meditating. "Simply acknowledge you drifted off, which happens to everyone, and bring your focus back to the breath."
It's not about perfection, Rinzler says, but practicing how to stay present. "The more we do that on the meditation seat, the more we'll be able to notice when we're triggered by stress and instead choose to relax into whatever is currently occurring—be it a meal, or a walk, in a much more thoughtful way."
If you'd like more guidance as you begin to practice mindfulness, help is just a download away. Check out OprahMag.com's list of best meditation apps out there right now, including one of Rinzler's favorites, Ten Percent Happier (which offers one-off sessions, full courses and a "coach" you can chat with).
Even a short yoga session will relax your body and mind.
Yoga's thought to help with everything from digestion to addiction recovery, and taking a class—or just breathing through some poses for a few minutes—can put you in a more relaxed mood.
"Any amount of practice will make a difference," says Keri Gans, registered dietitian nutritionist and yoga instructor. "The last thing you want to do is stress about how often you are going." Gans recommends trying different styles of yoga, as well as various instructors, until you find what works for you. Look to high-rated YouTube channels, or apps like 5 Minute Yoga.
Spend time in nature.
"In moments of uncertainty, just focusing on the stillness of a tree or the intricacy of a leaf can center me in the wholeness of all things," Oprah wrote in the February 2017 issue of O, the Oprah Magazine. Research backs the restorative power of spending time in nature: One such study from the University of British Columbia, published in the Journal of Positive Psychology in 2016, compared the reported emotions of those who observed and photographed nature for two weeks to those who did the same with "human-built objects." The researchers found that people who spent time observing nature reported a significantly higher "general sense of connectedness (to other people, to nature and to life as a whole)" than those who didn't.
And you don't need to isolate yourself for a week on Walden Pond for nature to work its magic on you, either.
"This wasn't about spending hours outdoors or going for long walks in the wilderness," lead researcher Holli-Anne Passmore told the UBC News. "This is about the tree at a bus stop in the middle of a city and the positive effect that one tree can have on people."
Eat your way to less stress.
Opening a bottle of merlot is a popular way to loosen up, but a longer-term strategy starts with your plate, not your wine glass. "The first step for combatting stress is to make sure you're consuming a well-balanced diet," Gans says. "Complex carbohydrates, such as oatmeal, barley and whole wheat pasta, and foods rich in antioxidants, omega-3s and B vitamins have been shown to possibly have a calming effect."
Not only is a great way to get back in touch with what turns you on—leading to all-around better sex—experts say masturbation can help with stress release. Try not to worry about whether or not you have an orgasm, and just enjoy the journey. Need some toy recommendations? Here are some good vibrators for beginners, and the quietest ones we've found.
Once you've identified your go-to relaxation techniques, honor yourself by actually doing them.
Whether it's a walk in the park, a luxurious bath with a book and a beverage, a little self-love, or rewatching your favorite rom-coms, it's all about scheduling an unbreakable appointment with yourself.
"I tell women to look for small opportunities for relaxation. Fifteen minutes at lunch, an hour before bedtime, a few hours on the weekend," Kaplin says. "It's the 'pay ourselves first' concept. If we relax and take care of ourselves first, the rest will easily fall into place. If not, we won't show up the way we want to and we will never feel rested."
View the original story on OprahMag.com: Easy Ways to Relax Your Mind and Body.