True relaxation is far more than just resting the body but an integrated act that ensures every aspect of your being is rejuvenated and returned to its own exquisite equilibrium. No matter what is happening in your personal adventure, instead of allowing any stress to overwhelm you, which always hampers with your creativity, choose to sample a technique or few from the ancients.
It’s easy to feel a decrease in motivation for your creative projects if you never stop to consciously unwind. Engaging in these simple but effective practices can help you make the transition from your working day to your evening with renewed clarity and peacefulness. In turn, the creative conduit through which all your expression radiates can yield far more finer offerings because you are relaxed, your mind at ease, and your spirit restored to calm.
Relaxation and Creativity
Whether you work full-time in a creative profession or create outside of this time, after a hard day it’s natural to want to make yourself feel better and disconnect from work but if your body is stressed, it’s far easier to opt for less nourishing activities, like slumping in front of the television or eating unhealthy foods instead of doing something that actually helps you de-stress.
Yet winding down in tranquillity and calm at the end of your working day provides the perfect conditions for those gems of inspiration to incubate. Often it is only when we are truly relaxed that our mind and spirit at ease that we frequently find the creative solutions we are searching for.
Whether it’s a missing link in your plot, a new quirk for a character, or a gleaming new concept for a story. Artists and musicians alike find their inspiration awakened when their body is most relaxed and mind unfettered by the distractions of a busy life.
Soothing your mind and body can also result in some real – and beneficial – physiological benefits, such as improving your metabolism and decreasing the aging effects of vascular inflammation. Over the last decade research has shown that when we relax the changes do not only occur at a cellular level but within our genes. The relaxation response actually changes the way genes express themselves.
Whether you use these practices just after you finish work to chill you out, or following a before-bed ritual to help you sleep soundly, these relaxation techniques have been soothing people for millennia and are beneficial to your entire being.
One of the easiest, most accessible yet underused techniques for relaxation is simplicity itself, using the breath. Not breathing deeply can lead to a restriction of the connective and muscular tissue in the chest resulting in a decrease range of motion of the chest wall, which doesn’t expand as much as it would with slower, deeper breaths.
You can find out whether you are a chest breather by placing your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your abdomen. As you breathe, see which hand rises more. If your right hand rises more, you are a chest breather. If your left hand rises more, you are an abdomen breather.
Rapid or shallow chest breathing leads to less oxygen in your blood leading to poor delivery of nutrients to the tissues so is inefficient as the greatest amount of blood flow occurs in the lower lobes of the lungs. However, you can train the body to improve its breathing technique. With regular practice you will breathe from the abdomen, even as you sleep.
Spend a few minutes focusing on your breath. Mindful breathing counteracts stress and brings the body and mind back into balance. and allows the rest of your body to relax and is a beautiful way to rebalance.
- Lie on your back.
- Slowly relax your body.
- Begin to inhale slowly through your nose if possible. Fill the lower part of your chest first, then the middle and top part of your chest and lungs. Be sure to do this slowly, over 8 to 10 seconds.
- Hold your breath for a second or two.
- Then quietly and easily relax and let the air out.
- Wait a few seconds and repeat this cycle.
- If you find yourself getting dizzy, then you are overdoing it. Slow down.
- You can also imagine yourself in a peaceful situation such as on a warm, gentle ocean. Imagine that you rise on the gentle swells of the water as you inhale and sink down into the waves as you exhale.
- Continue this breathing technique until you feel calm or it can be used before you fall asleep to ease insomnia.
Pranayama is the yoga of breathing. This ancient simple technique is a powerful healer. A report in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that breathing techniques (pranayama) such as breathing through one nostril can affect a huge range of bodily responses, from cardiovascular activity to hormone balance to shifts in the nervous system, affecting your ability to deal with stress far more effectively, or even be so serene all traces of stress drop away, no matter how constricting your circumstance.
In the yoga tradition, the ancient texts referred to the in-breath and the out-breath as being like two reins that can guide and tame the wild horse of the mind, much like in Zen and Taoism the breath is used to calm the ‘monkey mind’. In Sanskrit, pran means life and ayama means control, way, or in some translations extending or stretching, together pranayama means life-force.
Although many different pranayama techniques exist, alternate nostril breathing or Nadhi sodhana is perhaps one of the most restorative and relaxing as it calms your nervous system, ideal before you sleep but also very relaxing if your day has been a stressful one. Practicing Nadhi Sodhana increases the amount of oxygen taken into your body, which is thought to purify the blood, calm the mind, reduce stress, and promote concentration, according to the Ayurvedic healing.
How to do it: Nadhi sodhana can be done seated or lying down. If you sit, ensure your spine is straight with your shoulders relaxed.
- Empty all the air from your lungs with an exhalation.
- The mudra (hand position) is traditionally done with the right hand but you can use your left if that is your dominant hand. Fold the index finger and middle finger down to touch the palm (see image).
- Then using the thumb of your dominant hand, block your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril only.
- Make sure that you inhale deep into your belly, not your chest. When you feel ‘full’ of breath, seal your left nostril with the ring finger of the same hand, and keeping your right nostril closed, hold the breath for a moment.
- Release your thumb as you exhale through your right nostril only.
- Exhale all the breath out of the right side then pause before inhaling again through the same side.
- Seal both nostrils once you’ve inhaled on the right side and exhaled through the left side.
- Do a four-count inhale, holding your breath for four to eight counts, then exhale for four counts. A complete cycle of breath includes an inhalation and exhalation through both nostrils.
Practice up to ten cycles and notice how your body relaxes in the process and mind feels a new clarity that dispels any anxieties or tension built-up during the day. It is also a lovely practice to do early in the morning as well as just before sleep.
Yoga is one of the most blissful and calming practices there is. It can alleviate stress and help you chill out, while lengthening your body and breathing deep into your muscles reduces physical tension and pain. Yoga also helps you be present, turn inward and quiet your mind, allowing you to reconnect with your true nature. Creativity arises naturally in states of stillness and presence but these can be elusive when we are distracted or scattered in our thoughts, which is one of many reasons yoga is such a gift for the artist. These asanas can be performed in a sequence for greater benefit.
Legs up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani) – This gentle inversion has many benefits from relieving pain and tension to helping the respiratory and circulatory systems, even slowing down ageing according to the ancient Hindi scriptures it can even banish death, for now though it’s ideal to help you relax. See Legs Up the Wall Pose | Restorative Yoga | Yoga Therapy | Rodney Yee | Gaiam Life. It can also be used to relieve headaches, reduce anxiety about your creative work, relieve tired, achy feet and legs, as well as lessen backache from a long stint at the computer.
Child pose (Balasana) – A wonderful stress-reliever, this asana can be calming when overwhelmed and in need of a moment of calm and stillness. There’s something magical and simultaneously soothing about gently resting your head on the earth. It also relieves back and neck pain when done with head and torso supported.
Corpse Pose (Savasana) – Shavasana literally means “corpse pose”, with the nature of this asana being to completely let go of everything as if you were dead. Breath gently and allow conscious relaxation and calm awareness. Shavasana is considered by some to be one of the most important asanas but in spite of its seemingly simple nature, a very powerful pose too. It can also reduce depression, fatigue, and stress headaches.
Winding down twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana) is ideal for just before you sleep:
- Sit cross-legged on the bed.
- Exhale as you place your right hand on your left knee and left hand on the bed behind your tailbone.
- Gently twist your torso to the left.
- Allow your gaze to follow, looking over your left shoulder. Breathe deeply, and then return to centre and repeat on opposite side. You can also practice a lying-down version of this asana where you cross one leg over the other, open your arms and turn to focus (dristi) to the opposite side. It’s incredibly relaxing.
Of all the many benefits of meditation, relaxation and stress-relief are frequently the reason so many choose to practice it today. Studies on the brain activity of Buddhist Monks have shown that they are some of the most relaxed people in the world. Though meditation offers writers and artists far more than relaxation. Many different types of meditation exist, but all involve focusing the mind in order to develop states that are calmer, clearer and more peaceful.
Meditation on the White Swan (also called Hunsani meditation) is often recommended to quieten the mind in order to fall asleep. The more you use it before bed, the more accustomed your body becomes to this process of physically settling down. Once it’s part of your routine, it can soothe your entire body to fall asleep faster. Follow this link for how to practice this soothing meditation.
You will reach a state of complete relaxation when you surrender all the mind’s busy thoughts and all of the body’s tensions over to someone or something else. You can also try this lying down. Whether you prefer guidance or to just to sit in stillness, meditation is an exquisite practice a one of the finest ways to unwind.
Yet many people learning to meditate find focus difficult, especially if they’ve never done anything like it before. If you feel this way, opt for a relaxing visualisation. It is a simple, effective and a wonderful way to escape from the day and find calm.
How to do it: When you feel completely relaxed, count yourself down from ten to one, breathing slowly and deeply. Visualise yourself on a beautiful beach. It can either be somewhere you have visited that is special to you, or just imaginary. Let all your senses become alive; smell the sea air, listen to the rustling of the palm leaves behind you, look at the deep turquoise water glisten in the sun-light and feel the warmth on your skin. How do you feel? Is there any tension in your body? Let it all flow out of you down into your feet and let the sea take it away. Think to yourself: I am now relaxed and at peace. When you are ready, slowly count yourself back up, repeating the affirmation, from one to ten.
If you are feeling stressed-out, confused or overwhelmed this sequence swiftly delivers you to a place of stillness, refreshing your spirit and quieting your thoughts. It can also be used when you finish your writing and creative work to allow you to make the transition from working to relaxing at the end of your day, which is especially useful if you freelance or write and create from home.
You can also use Shen Meng or the Spirit Gate, which is a heart point that brings you back into yourself. It can be veryuseful in emergency situations but equally the perfect point to gently calm your spirit and soothe you if displaced or overwhelmed. Shen Meng also is wonderful for banishing insomnia. Press into the point (see image) and find the hollow just below the creases on your wrist. It feels like a small dip that makes your hand feel a little numb when pressed. Hold for two minutes on each side for serene stillness and harmony.
Have an Ancient Bath with Essential Oils
Using essential oils in a bath can take you to a new level of relaxation. Public baths formed a huge part of life and community in many ancient cultures. From the elaborate luxury of Roman baths – that included everything from a theatre to hedonistic food feasts – to the hammam baths of Turkey and Morocco or the mountain bathing of northern India, bathing has always been seen a nurturing and relaxing practice.
The ancient Egyptians bathed to purify themselves before prayer. While in Japan a bath ritual was believed to be vital in maintaining connection with nature. The cleansing of the mind and spirit was considered more important than physical cleansing, which was instead considered to be a happy consequence. In Ayurveda bathing is also used as a therapeutic activity.
Bathing not only relaxes and cleans the body but cleanses the spirit too. A peaceful bath relaxes tense muscles, restores moisture to the tissues, soothes your soul and calms you to the core. Indulge your senses with an ancient bath: fill the room with tea-lights, listen to some calming music and add a handful of Dead Sea salts or Himalayan salts. Both are rich in magnesium and other micro minerals that relax your muscles and may help the body detoxify. Add one of the following aromatherapy blends for unrivalled relaxation.
Aromatherapy for if you’re…
- Tense – add 3 drops of clary sage, 2 of cypress and 1 of lavender
- Restless – add 3 drops of frankincense and 2 of geranium; joyless – add 3 drops of jasmine and 1 of ylang ylang
- Exhausted – add 2 drops of geranium, 2 of sandalwood and 1 of jasmine
Before you jump in, try body brushing to unblock pores so your skin can eliminate toxins more efficiently. It is also a great way to kick-start a sluggish lymphatic system, stimulate poor circulation and help banish cellulite.
- Begin by brushing each foot, working up the legs, always brushing towards the heart.
- Then brush the hands and up the arms.
- Working in a clockwise direction around the belly.
- Finally do your glutials and lower back. Avoid the neck and face, as these areas are too sensitive.
- After your bath massage your skin with a rich body lotion, wrap up in your dressing gown and chill.
After a long stint at the computer perhaps the last thing you want to do is another activity but these age-old techniques can rebalance you after a working day – leaving you revived instead of exhausted – so you can enjoy your evening instead of seeing it racing by with you unrefreshed for the new day tomorrow. Making a practice of purposefully winding down releases any tension built-up during the day and also prepares your body for rest.
These techniques can calm internal chatter and help alleviate anxieties and unease so you can spend the last of your day unencumbered by external concerns. You can also combine these techniques to create a mini routine for the last half an hour before bed. Over time, you’ll find you are more resilient, relaxed and calm. People who regularly engage in these ancient practices are less reactionary, more compassionate and mindful too.