This is the 4th in a series on the 7 skills of Inner Excellence.
How to relax
- Relaxation is ultimately about self-forgetfulness: the pursuit of mastery through selflessness and surrender over success and acceptance (which, ironically, is the best way to get both).
- Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.
- Some tools to help you relax include Heartmath’s Inner Balance (a breath work guide that connects to your phone), sensory deprivation float tanks, and the Oura ring to track your sleep and HRV (heart rate variability).
If you ever experience an Inner Excellence retreat, you’ll learn that every human heart has five deep needs (identity, community, purpose, integrity, and growth). Most of what we do is done in an effort to meet one or more of those needs. What if we had all those needs met? Then we could go into the world with strength (filled with love, wisdom, and courage), rather than needing to be “successful” so we can be accepted and loved.
When you look back on your life, how often have you performed or worked in order to gain acceptance or love? What if no one would ever know what you accomplished, would your motivation have been different?
To fully relax is to completely let go of self-protection, to have faith that everything will work out for your good, and that it currently is working out exactly as it should—even if your circumstances are painful or inconsistent with your goals and dreams. So often we haven’t had peace because we’re trying to control what we can’t control, or trying to be acceptable when, perhaps, we’re unacceptable.
Consider the ideal path of ego mastery: to become unembarrassable, unoffendable, and unirritable. It’s a selfless journey that frees you from worry, since most worry is what will happen to you or your family or your career. This is why love is so powerful—it’s completely selfless (frees you from self-concern) and present (frees you from fear, which is based on the future).
One thing I used to do is try to multi-task and hurry, so I could get more done, in order to relax. Unknowingly, it was doing the opposite. Hurry was the cause of much of my stress, not the solution. I used to hurry because I felt it was all up to me, and with so much out of my control, it was stressful. Now I affirm to myself every day that I walk by faith and not by sight, and ruthlessly eliminate hurry from my life. Remember this: God has not given you a life that you don’t have time for.
Covid-19 has allowed all of us to examine our lives. What have you found? What do you need to do so you can trust more and let go of what’s been holding you back?
Here’s a tool you can use:
1. Take a long, slow, deep inhale through the nose, while counting backwards from 10 to 7 (count of 4).
2. Take a longer exhale, counting from 6 to 1 (count of 6). This keeps the mind focused, and ensures the exhale is longer than the inhale, which is very helpful for the relaxation response (if your inhale is longer than your exhale, you may feel the opposite of relaxation). While exhaling, relax the jaw and facial muscles, letting go of all attachments and concerns.
Notes and resources
- Relaxation has 4 levels: mid-performance, between sets/shots/plays, not performing, and sleep.
- Brain waves and heart rate are two major factors in relaxation: the slowest brain waves (delta) are during sleep, and the fastest ones (high beta) are when you’re anxious. Brain waves and heart rate can be (mostly) controlled by deep breathing, and interestingly, letting go of control. Here’s an article explaining the different brain waves.
- Heartmath has some helpful tools to relax, like the Inner Balance, which is a tool to shift and replace emotional stress with emotional balance.
- The Oura Ring is a tool I use to monitor my sleep and heart rate variability (HRV), which is an indicator of overall health (and overtraining). Initially I tried the Whoop, after talking with Dr. Duncan French, head of athletic performance at Notre Dame. He has since moved to the UFC headquarters, and also uses the Oura ring with his athletes. The Whoop is a band for your wrist (without keeping time), not a ring. When I was trying out the Whoop, I ran into Michael Phelps in the player’s lounge at a PGA Tour event. I knew he had promoted the Whoop at one time and asked him his thoughts. His endorsement was minimal, but I’d love to hear if you’ve tried either (or a competitor), and what your experience has been.
- Another great tool to relax is a sensory deprivation float tank. Here’s an article if you’re not familiar. When I think of the float tank, I think of a tool to use regularly to clear your mind of all the clutter that builds up from being immersed in a culture of constant media bombardment.
Note: I have no affiliation with these products and receive no income if you purchase. Thank you to Dr. Gaston Cordova in Chicago for teaching me countdown breathing.