The Art of Relaxation

Mary Tweed
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One of the banes of modern life is that everyone is so stressed. Our lives are fast moving and there is so much pressure on everyone to succeed and meet ever increasing targets with the result that many people report feeling stressed on a regular basis. According to the Health and Safety Executive, 12.5 million working days were lost in 2016/17 in the UK, due to work related stress, depression or anxiety, which affected a whopping 526,000 workers.

Stress has a detrimental effect on the body, as well as the mind. It floods the body with hormones, which cause the heart to pound and muscles to tighten, resulting in tense shoulders, clenched jaws, and even head and back aches.

Advice given on combatting stress, includes becoming more active outdoors as well as focussing on relaxation techniques, the most simple of which involves deep breathing.

Benefits brought about by relaxation techniques include: Slowing heart rate Lower blood pressure improve digestion help maintain normal [blood sugar levels]( "") increase blood flow to major muscles reduce muscle tension and chronic pain improve concentration and mood improve sleep quality lower fatigue reduce anger & frustration boost confidence & ability to face problems.

Nordic Walking lends itself perfectly to serving as a de-stressing form of exercise. (My predictive text tried to alter the above to “a distressing form of exercise”, which is NOT the message that I am trying to get across!). Many clients report that the grip & release action is similar to playing with an executive stress ball and also the shoulder rotation leads to releasing tension from the neck and shoulders by continuously contracting and releasing the muscles in those areas.

If you can combine Nordic Walking with diaphragmatic deep breathing - inhaling slowly through the nose so that the tummy expands like a balloon, followed by exhaling slowly -you will reap the relaxing benefits of both activities. This deep breathing maximises the amount of oxygen entering the bloodstream and triggers the body’s normal relaxation response. Correct breathing also works muscles which are often overlooked, as most of us “shallow” breath into our chests, thus it improves cardio-respiratory fitness; respiratory muscle length; respiratory muscle strength and, as a bonus, improves singing performance!

Being outdoors as you Nordic Walk enables you to focus your awareness on each of your senses; another well known relaxation technique designed to take you to a calm, peaceful state of mind. What can you see, hear, smell, feel? Noticing the small changes as the seasons progress can help us relax and destress. Who knows, you may even be inspired to sing about the sounds of music you can hear in the nature around you, and, if you have been breathing correctly, you may just sound like Julie Andrews.

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