IMAGINE YOU ARE ON A BEACH …
In another life LBC (long before Covid) I used to teach relaxation. For those of you who know me, that’s probably hard to believe!
I was a NCT (National Childbirth Trust) antenatal (prenatal to my American readers) teacher. In addition to teaching expectant couples about the realities of parenthood plus practical skills for childbirth, my remit was also to teach relaxation and breathing. They call it hypnobirthing now.
One evening a week after I’d cooked dinner from scratch for five, tidied up the living room and kitchen, cleaned the loo, bathed three children, read bedtime stories and put the kids to bed, I would then rearrange the furniture in our living room to create more space and get out all the paraphernalia for the class. This included a number of the huge relaxation cushions we called “wedges”, books about pregnancy, labour and breastfeeding, a plastic pelvis, a “baby” (a floppy doll someone had made that even had a removable umbilical cord) and a birth chart. I also prepared twelve cups and saucers in readiness for the class coffee break. All the while, of course, having to run up and down the stairs a few times to settle the children. Then at 8pm, just when I was about ready to drop, my class of six couples would eagerly arrive and I would teach them how to relax! Yes, I thought it was amusing even then.
A RELAXATION TECHNIQUE TO TRY (or not – in which case skip the next three paragraphs)
Get yourself comfortable. You can lie down anywhere but make sure your back is well supported. Close your eyes. Start by listening to your breathing. Breathe in deeply through your nose and out through your mouth. Do this for a while. Now listen to the sounds you can hear outside your home. Nowadays it’s probably desperately quiet but BC (Before Covid) you might have heard the sound of traffic, aeroplanes, trains in the distance and maybe also the chatter of passers by. Now you may be able to hear the sound of birds singing. Just concentrate on what you hear, all the while keeping your breathing slow and steady. Now switch to listening to the indoor sounds. Perhaps you can hear the humming of household appliances or the creaking of floorboards. Focus on those sounds. If you are in bed you might be able to hear the sound of your partner snoring. Rather than letting it annoy you, just continue focusing on your deep, relaxed breathing. In through your nose and out through your mouth.
Think about a place where you felt happy and relaxed. Some people find it helpful to imagine they are lying on a beach or floating in the sea. Carry on with the breathing. Now starting with your right foot, clench your toes on the in breath and relax them on the out breath. Do the same with the other foot. Then tighten and relax each leg in turn. On the in breath, tighten your buttocks. And then relax them. If you know how to exercise your pelvic floor, tighten it and then relax. Always tighten when you breathe in and relax when you breathe out. In this way, work through your entire body – stomach, back, arms, hands (clench each one and then relax it), shoulders (lift up to chin and then back down) and finally your face. Screw up your whole face tightly and then – on the out breath – let go. Continue with your deep relaxed breathing. If you feel any part of you tightening up, just repeat the process.
If you’re in bed you may even find that you fall asleep before you reach the end of the exercise! I’d be interested in your feedback as to how you get on – feel free to comment below.
This simple relaxation technique worked so well for me that for many years I was able to have fillings (and other treatment) at the dentist without the need for injections. I just used to relax in the dental chair and do my breathing. Returning to work after twelve years at home bringing up children, I used the relaxation and breathing for my job interview. I arrived early and remained in my car listening to Mozart’s clarinet quintet and doing my relaxation breathing. Later, after I had succeeded in getting the position, I used the relaxation and breathing with my postgraduate students to help them in preparation for major presentations in front of clients. Or should that be presentations in front of major clients?
One day they were all lying on the floor relaxing, really into their breathing, when the classroom door burst open and in walked the college principal accompanied by two of the governors! I don’t know who felt more embarrassed – they or me! My students, to their credit, did not stir – some may even have fallen asleep. It felt like a scene from “The Office” long before that sitcom had ever been dreamed up. I expected a rollicking after that – a “this is not what we pay you for” conversation – but nothing was ever said. Needless to say, I did not teach relaxation to my students again although I like to think that it might have proved useful to most of them at some stage in their advertising careers. Yes, I used to prepare students for a career in the advertising industry. Before digital media. In the days when ads were creative and exciting. Plug alert. My book, “How to Get into Advertising” (Cengage Learning), once hailed as “the advertising students’ bible”, is still available on Amazon.
Today, I’m astounded to see ads on TV for river cruises and other totally inappropriate products and services. I know the ads are made many months in advance but can’t some bright spark quickly come up with ideas for ads more suitable for the Covid era? What’s more, do you, like me, also find it weird to see people in plays and films linking arms, shaking hands, kissing and hugging? I want to shout out, “Keep your distance! Be careful!”
How odd it is that we have now become so wary and mindful of other human beings. Ah, that’s where I came in. Mindful. Mindfulness.
Try some of my relaxation tips when you’re attempting to sleep tonight. Or, better still, do what I now do and have a glass of wine (or two) instead.