Is True Relaxation Mindless?

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Photo by Chris Thompson on Unsplash

Think back to a time where you were completely relaxed. What were you doing? Watching TV? Out exploring? At a spa? What makes you feel relaxed?

While the answer is dependent on individual preference, there is consistency with the feeling of relaxation. Let’s start there.

Relaxation, by definition, is the state of being free from tension and anxiety.

I’m not often in a state of relaxation. With a stressful job and responsibilities at home, this is close to impossible to achieve. But when thinking about a time in which I was completely relaxed, several experiences come to mind.

I’m relaxed when I make my annual trip to the spa.

I’m not a huge fan of massages. I am aware of their benefits but I can’t get myself to slow down enough to schedule a massage. Over the last couple of years, I have been going to a nearby spa annually with a friend. The spa has different kinds of baths, indoor and outdoor, saunas, massage and facial services. I usually pay the daily fee and enjoy the spas and saunas.

The relaxing part of the day is sitting in a hot mineral bath and having a conversation with a friend. That being said, if you took my friend out of the picture, the trip wouldn’t be as enjoyable. In this case, my relaxation stems from an experience with someone.

I’m relaxed when I go hiking.

Hiking is an activity that somehow washes all my worries away. The pure act of walking with my family or friends brings me joy. It removes my work stress and any other concerns I have for the time being. I always leave feeling refreshed, like I have given my mind the break it needs.

Is hiking a mindless activity? For me, it isn’t. My mind is working — it’s just not focused on the things it usually focuses on. It’s free. Relaxation, in this case, isn’t about engaging in a mindless activity, it’s giving my mind time to calm itself.

I’m relaxed when I train Jiu Jitsu.

As ironic as this sounds, it’s true. Sparring with someone may not seem relaxing but in the moment the only focus I have is on my, or my opponent’s, next move. Have you ever played a game and become so consumed by it that you forget where you are for the time being? That’s Jiu Jitsu for me. It’s also Rummikub. I have the game downloaded on my phone and when I feel anxiety over my to do list, taking a break to play a game helps calm me down.

With games and sport, relaxation comes from focusing on one particular thing for a point in time. Our minds are constantly racing. We think about things we have to do, our children’s activities, our parent’s health, our neighbors car being parked in our spot — whatever the concern is, we have many of them.

The average person has about 48.6 thoughts per minute, according to the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of Southern California. Can you believe that? That’s 70,000 thoughts a day! No wonder we are stressed. Engaging in an activity that allows you to slow your mind is essential to finding relaxation. Jiu Jitsu forces me to only think about the technique I’m learning. This allows me to temporarily slow my thoughts down. I end up leaving class relaxed.

We tend to confuse relaxation with mindless activities. After a long day of work, we come home and sit in front of the TV and scroll through Instagram. Do you get up feeling more relaxed? Usually not. The truth is you haven’t slowed your mind down to be able to feel relaxed. Going on a hike and to the spa are not reasonable options for me during weekday evenings but I do make time for a Jiu Jitsu class. It’s necessary for me to slow down and be myself.

There is a Chinese proverb that says “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”

There’s definitely truth to this. I put a lot of pressure on myself to excel at work, at home, as a mom, wife and in Jiu Jitsu. But the things that give me tension are usually attributed to concern for what other’s think. I’m relaxed when I’m engaging in an activity I actually want to do.

This mindset helps you know what to focus on. While you certainly can’t be relaxed all the time (and if you can — please give me your secret), it’s important to be able to find relaxation. Find activities that relax you. And most importantly, make time to do them.

Jill of all trades, master of none. I write about personal growth, life lessons, parenting and love.

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