Subjective measures of relaxation: what would you add?

How do you know you’re relaxed? I have a hunch that most people think they relax sometimes, but compared to people who’ve explored relaxation, they are not. Relaxing with a beer, with friends, in nature, on vacation, etc. is what comes to mind for a lot of people when they think of relaxation.

Yes, it’s different from working or feeling stressed, and yet the depth of relaxation can be so much more. It’s not about what you do, it’s what you experience in your body, and in your mind. 

My professional interest is helping people experience deeper relaxation (because that’s when our bodies have the resources to repair and heal — not when we’re stressed), and I’m personally interested in this topic and experience as well, having trauma, addiction, and much stress in my own history. Relaxation technically refers to activating the parasympathetic aspect of the autonomic nervous system — a state called “rest and digest” when the body repairs itself to the best of its ability.

I’m talking about being awake and conscious, yet deeply relaxed. We often pass through such a state as we’re falling asleep, where our minds seem to let go of rational reality (had you ever thought that it’s stressful to maintain rationality?) and irrational mental imagery may appear.

It might be called an “altered state,” although it happens regularly (although briefly, unless deliberate) without the need for substances and is entirely natural. But it is different from ordinary waking consciousness, when the default mode network in our brains is dominant.

Learning to relax deeply takes curiosity. How deeply can you relax and still be awake? If you were 100 percent relaxed and awake, what would that be like?

Some of the experiences I have had that indicate I’m in a state of deep relaxation include:

  • feeling a deep permeating sense of well-being
  • feeling completely detached from any sense of discomfort or pain (yes, it’s there, but I don’t care — and please note that it takes a lot of practice to experience this)
  • feeling my heart beating in my chest while at rest
  • hearing my heart beating while floating in a floatation tank
  • breathing without effort, as if I’m being breathed
  • breathing that doesn’t change when I notice it
  • noticing my head widen and narrow in a rhythmic manner
  • noticing a sensation of rising and falling in a column along my torso’s midline
  • a feeling of being immersed in deep slowly moving currents
  • experiencing a quiet mind, with an occasional thought passing like a bubble through my awareness
  • being deeply and completely at peace
  • feeling one with everything
  • being centered in my whole body and not in my head
  • feeling a sense of resetting and renewal

I want to add that this is what meditation is for, and that I’ve meditated fairly regularly for 11 years, including some 10-day silent meditations.

What would you add to this?

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