The 20th century was remarkable for discovering how preventive measures in agriculture, medicine, industry and a lot more caused serious illness in the body. At the same time, curative measures were discovered for formerly “big” illnesses like polio and epilepsy. The 20th century was also notable for the “discovery” of the mind-body-spirit connection. The medical and psychological world embraced ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic curative measures among other ancient knowledge. One discovery was how simple relaxation could benefit many serious illnesses. Before we discuss it, though, we should examine how mankind initially becomes seriously ill. We will then see how relaxing fits into the picture.
How Serious Illness Begins
What do fire-retardant baby sleepers, plastic food storage containers and non-stick pan coating have in common? The answer is that they were all lauded as being so convenient that we didn’t know how we survived without them. The answer also is fifty years on, mankind suddenly discovered these things caused severe illnesses in the human body. Unfortunately, once a great answer is found, it goes into everything. After all, if it’s good, then more of it is better, right?
That’s the kind of reasoning that gave us fluoridated water, plastic baby bottles (indeed, plastic everything bottles), as well as chlorine in our drinking water and heavy metals in our underarm deodorant and shampoos. Only years later have scientists found the chemicals leaching into our foods from plastics and non-stick coatings are slowly killing us. Only years later has science found the correlation between fluoride and crippling bone diseases in addition to some cancers. Oh, and it’s bad for the teeth in large quantities.
How Do These Things Make People Ill?
Here is a list of environmental toxins and their effects on the body. Please note that even naturally occurring heavy metals leach into the water supply from man-made water pipes, wood preservatives and building materials. These substances are not natural, so the body can’t process them. They are stored in the organs themselves until and if they can be passed by thoroughly detoxing the body. As they hang out awaiting cleansing, they turn off the immune system, foster heart disease and much more:
- Did you know that pesticides and PCBs are found in commercially raised meats and fish? They cause cancer, birth defects, nerve damage, brain damage and Parkinson’s, among other illnesses
- Phthalates are found in plastics of any shape, form or fashion. They cause damage to the endocrine system which includes the reproductive system, hormones and deals with diabetes
- Inorganic metals and chemicals are found in pipes and building materials, cement water containers, and are added to the water supply to kill bacteria and other contaminants. Unfortunately, when these chemicals mix with naturally occurring compounds in the wrong measure, mankind is unwittingly poisoning his own drinking water
- Then there are synthetic compounds, which are used in industry. These are noxious combinations of chemicals causing the body between 10 and 100 percent higher risk of cancer
How Can Relaxation Positively Affect These Illnesses?
We often see memes on social media and hear people repeat them, “Mind over matter: I don’t mind cuz it don’t matter” and “Be yourself because those who know you don’t mind and those who don’t know you don’t matter”. The power of the mind is an awesome thing to behold. We’ve all been amazed by the person who can talk themselves into an illness they saw reported on TV. We’ve been equally flabbergasted by those who can concentrate themselves out of a serious illness. We’ve all seen the power of the mind when prayer circles pray someone out of cancer, out of migraine headaches or out of a heart attack.
Relaxation is the art of talking the body out of stress or illness. This is done in several ways. The most popular is meditation. Other methods of relaxation are hypnosis, deep breathing exercises, biofeedback, art therapy and music therapy among others. The goal of the exercise is to trip the body’s natural relaxation mechanism. This triggers slower breathing, slower heartbeat, lowered blood pressure and a deep sense of well-being. It can be learned and performed without the intervention of medical professionals or naturopathic healers. The National Institutes of Health provide pages of instruction for those who can’t afford professional help. If you are into mindfulness, this practice includes relaxation techniques, also.
What is the Actual Effect?
Stress is something from which we can’t escape for long. It pervades our life in simple ways from nothing coming out of the toothpaste tube to someone blowing his horn unnecessarily in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It is a statistically proven fact that stress makes everything from a headache to a heart attack worse. Relaxation techniques toss stress to the curb, thereby allowing the body to get down to the nitty-gritty and heal serious illnesses:
- Heart rate is reduced
- Blood pressure is reduced
- Studies show that depression is aided by relaxation techniques
- Studies have proven that relaxation increases the immune system’s reaction to serious illnesses
- Part of brain activity involves gamma waves which deal with memory, learning, perception and attention. Relaxation techniques increase this brain wave activity for increased mental acuity
- Asthma, diabetes, obesity and stomach problems are all benefitted by relaxation
Tell Me about Relaxation Techniques
There are several ways a body can relax. We’ll discuss what you can do yourself in the privacy of your home or on your break at work. No need for medicine, doctors or coaches. In fact, the National Institutes of Health offers this advice on “guided imagery”:
Quiet your mind and concentrate on a picture or place that you love. It could be the night sky as seen through the leaves of trees, the ocean crashing onto a sandy beach, a quiet trail through the park or the woods, ducks swimming in a lake, a snowy landscape or perhaps even a pretty golf course. Focusing on these pleasant images, says the NIH, replaces negative feelings.
The NIH also advises that “progressive relaxation” helps. This is when you begin with your toes. Lengthen them, and then let them relax. Next, lengthen the foot, and then let it relax. Now stretch the calf. Let it relax. Stretch the thigh next. Let it relax. Lengthen the hips. Relax. Now stretch the stomach. Relax. Stretch the chest. Relax. Now lengthen the shoulders. Relax. Next stretch the neck. Relax. You have now stretched and relaxed the whole body. You should feel calm and serene literally from the toes to the nose.
The Harvard University Medical School has these thoughts on deep breathing for relaxation:
Sitting in a quiet place, take a breath. Feel how the chest expands. Now, breathing in through the nose, breathe to the bottom of the lungs. Your chest and upper abdomen should be expanding. Breathe out slowly through the nose or the mouth if that’s more comfortable for you. Once you’re comfortable with the sensation, breathe deep until you feel the rush of oxygen to the brain. The body will feel relaxed and calm. Imagery works with deep breathing exercises, too.
The University of Maryland Medical Center finds mindfulness meditation useful in relaxation. Mindfulness is the art of unconditionally and understandingly becoming aware of the body, mind and whatever assaults it from the outside such as stress:
Choose an item such as a coin or perhaps a cracker. Notice how the item feels in the palm of your hand. Are the edges ragged or smooth? Does the item take up much space in the palm? Is the item cool or warm to the touch? Now place the coin or cracker on the table or desk. How does the hand feel? Is it cool or warm from the presence of the item? The mind should be getting signals that this item is gone and the palm empty. Now pick up the item again. Is the mind cognizant of its presence? Is the mind unconditionally and unjudgingly aware of the item? How does it feel to the skin?
Congratulations! You have now practiced mindfulness. This method of relaxation teaches us awareness for its own sake. We are able to refract outside influences away from us, much like a shade in a window refracts the sun’s light back outside. True relaxation is feeling calm and serene deep inside us. This serenity benefits the mind-body-spirit connection down to the cellular basis of our bodies.
When we think of relaxation, we think of beds, of softness and comfort. When the bed consists of a mattress stuffed with good things, natural things, then our relaxation has gained a degree or two. For more information, please contact your local Urban Mattress store.