Press pause: the forgotten art of everyday relaxation
The art of relaxation isn't a skill limited to planning nights out or long weekends and holidays. It also involves the ability to pause frequently throughout the day.
Are you one of the many busy people who can't kick the habit of always being on the go? You are not alone. Many of us have forgotten how to slow down and feel guilt when snatching a break during quiet periods. Over stimulated and worn out by trying to fit everything in, this is the road to burnout.
You can prevent being caught in this trap by learning how to press pause several times during each day. Pausing can clear your mind, reduce some of your chronic tensions and help you make more efficient use of your time and energy. Pauses can happen anywhere. You can choose practices that need last only a few seconds, or you can invest more time.
Here are some ideas to try that provide a range of options. Experiment with what works for you and see if you can add your own 'press pause' practices.
Appreciate the world around you. Stop and look around you. Even in the busiest of times, it is possible to recognise and appreciate something about the world that lifts your spirits and makes you glad. Maybe you can hear a bird singing. Perhaps you notice the shape and colour of the leaves on a tree. Or a beautiful sunrise or sunset or even an item of clothing someone is wearing.
As we rush to get to work, we often forget to look at the street scene. As you walk, try to notice your surroundings. Some aspects will appeal to you; others might repel you. Be interested in the feelings that arise rather than become absorbed by them. Then return to observe the shapes, colours and textures of the street scene before you. You may find that you notice things that had previously slid past your busy mind.
Take a break from the chatter. The world is full of noise. We are constantly bombarded with chatter from social media, TV, announcements in public places and talk in the workplace. It can be exhausting to compete for attention. Make sure you are in a safe environment then give yourself a break by tuning out for a few moments to do a mind scan. What do you notice going on in your head? What thoughts and feelings arise? Do so without judgment or self-criticism. Be interested in what you observe then let it go. Breath into the moment, stretch and roll your shoulders forward and back. Return to whatever you are doing with a sense of calm and feeling grounded.
If you commute for work, why not try one of the mindfulness apps such as Headspace or Buddhify to help you relax before heading into the office. Perhaps schedule a 10-minute break in your diary once or twice a day when you can go for a walk. Maybe combine this with a guided mindfulness exercise. Your mind will benefit from taking a break from busy thoughts while your body will enjoy the physical activity.
Stimulate your senses. A simple way to centre yourself in the here and now is to open the senses which, depending on your capacity, include taste, hearing, sight, smell and touch. Try breathing in the fragrance of your morning beverage before drinking. As you shower, take a moment to notice the soft feel of the water on your skin and smell of the soap. When you get home, kick off your shoes and stretch and scrunch your toes into the carpet. If you have a garden, try walking barefoot and notice the warmth, coolness or wetness of the grass.
A technique that is used widely throughout mindfulness courses is called the Raisin Meditation, but the approach could apply to any food or drink. It works because it magnifies the senses and encourages you to capture the unique quality of ordinary activities. As you attempt this, you may become conscious of feeling impatient or wanting to rush the experience. This feeling is natural. Be patient with yourself. Take a deep breath - in and out -then gently draw your attention back to the process set out below:
- Touching - Take a single raisin (or any other small piece of food that you enjoy). Observe it as if you have never seen an object like this before. Turn it over and explore every part of it. Gently explore the texture. How does it feel?
- Seeing – Now let your eyes run over and look at every part of it. What shapes and colours do you observe?
- Smelling - Holding the raisin beneath your nose. Breath in any aroma that may arise, noticing as you do this the sensations in your mouth or stomach.
- Placing – Next place the raisin in the mouth, without chewing, noticing how it gets into the mouth in the first place. Spend a few moments exploring the sensations of having it in your mouth, exploring it with your tongue.
- Tasting - When you are ready, prepare to chew the raisin slowly. Take a bite into it and notice what happens. What sensations do you feel as you continue chewing?
- Swallowing - When you feel ready to swallow the raisin, do so consciously. Finally, spend a few moments reflecting on what you have experienced.
Completing this exercise might only take a minute or so. Take a moment to reflect on the power of being entirely in the present while tapping into the full range of your senses. How can you get a little more of this feeling into your daily life?
Practice fully listening. Conversations can become needlessly competitive. It is tempting to hear a story then interrupt with a better anecdote. Turning talk into a performance can create unnecessary tension and make it hard to relax in company. Permit yourself to pause the urge to jump in by paying full attention to someone when they speak to you.
Remember that listening is not the same as hearing. Listening is about focusing entirely on not only what is said, but also the language used, the intonation, the body language and facial expression. Begin by being curious without evaluating or judging. Listen to understand rather than to formulate your response. Listening at this level can deepen relationships as it encourages understanding and builds rapport.
Try to fit several pause points into your day. Don't become a 'back-to-back' meeting martyr. Schedule breaks in your diary between meetings. Plan ahead for the longer ones such as mindfulness practice. Practice natural 'press pause' moments such as observing your surroundings, taking time to breathe fully and deeply and stepping back to appreciate what is working well for you in life. You will find it easier to summon the energy for the next phase of work and be able to enjoy your personal time fully.