Sometimes when I ask patients that are lying on the table what they’re noticing, they will tell me, “well, I’m trying to relax”. They tend to say this in a way that tells me that they think “relaxing” is what they’re supposed to do on the table; that that’s the outcome that we’re looking for. After all, if they could just learn to relax really well, they’d feel better, right?
To do the opposite doesn’t help either. The opposite in this case is the usual, default mode that we all tend to run in. This default mode involves the mind revving like a car engine, either in idle or in overdrive. This default mode is our baseline; it is our comfort zone; it is there to create certainty.
As a side note, it’s ironic how we will sacrifice a sense of peace for a sense of sameness. Many of us value certainty over anything else.
Anyways, back to relaxing. Most people think that to relax means to let the mind go blank, to let it drift. As we struggle with this, we struggle with “trying” to let the body relax and “let go” of the tension that we’re holding.
All we need to do is to pay attention. If this sounds like work and the opposite of relaxing, well it is. In order for you to access the parasympathetic nervous system, it takes a different kind of brain activity; different from the default mode. Paying attention to your body (your heart beat, your temperature, your tension, your position, your thoughts, your emotions and feelings), changes your brain activity from the default mode to something else.
It’s like when your brain is in its default mode, it can only hear one note of music, it can only see one part of the whole picture, it can only move in one direction. When the brain is able to switch out of default mode, it allows for the emergence of a new perception and as a result, new possibilities.
I think this is the basis of why some people experience a mid-life crisis. I believe that the mid-life crisis is the culmination of the brain/mind/body and spirit conspiring to force a change in the default mode of a person who is desperately trying to hold onto certainty and one repeating reality.
The bottom line is this: If you want to relax your mind and body, pay closer attention to the subtlety of life. This will switch your default mode, your nervous system will switch to the parasympathetic (rest/digest) mode and your body will naturally relax and become more peaceful. You don’t have to “try to relax”.
All of us want to have less pain and suffering. Paying closer attention will lead you to a more peaceful and richer and more fulfilling life.