A Key Step in Resilience Training is Learning Deep Relaxation

Highlights

“The point we are making here is that you can accomplish things that are now out of your reach if you commit yourself to mastering the art of deep relaxation. There are many methods for attaining these deep states, and we will start with one that is in particularly wide use for dealing with stress and fear. It is usually called “progressive relaxation”, and it is a good place to start for learning how to build your resilience through training. It is a starting place, and we will go far beyond it, but good training involves patiently going one step at a time.”

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So far we have talked about ways to increase resilience that are available to most people, without any special training. Yet there are many techniques that have been developed from experience going back to ancient times, or from scientific research. These techniques can take you far beyond where you can go with the methods familiar to most of us.

A few weeks ago, the daughter of a friend of ours ran the New York marathon. Debbie and I, along with a number of our brave runner’s other friends gathered to keep track of her progress. None of us could run a marathon. Probably even if we worked hard to prepare, few of us would get to the finish line.  Well at least I wouldn’t, though Debbie might.

Our friend’s daughter did what few of us could do, she finished the marathon. Yet, there were people in that race who finished a long time before she did.

We could say that those amazingly fast runners were, after all, physiologically gifted. But they also trained intensely, and probably with outstanding trainers.

Well-designed training can take us far beyond what we believe to be our limits. No matter what physiological gifts we have or don’t have, we can go far past what would be conceivable without skilled training.

A good illustration of this point can be found in a paper by cardiologists, Joel Dimsdale and Paul Mills. They were conducting a study of the effects on heartrate of a drug called Isoproterenol. This drug directly activates the bodily systems that speed up the heart. They were infusing it in the bloodstreams of volunteers in order to learn how increasing dosages affect heart-rate.

As expected, heart-rate increased as the dosage went up. But suddenly, the heartrate of one of the volunteers turned downward. This downward pattern continued until the heartrate was lower than it had been before the drug had been infused.

At the end of the procedure, they asked this person what had happened when the shift occurred. She answered that she had gotten bored and decided to meditate. She was well trained in meditation, and by using that training, she was able to block the effects of a drug that should directly accelerate the heart. The powers of the mind (or training) trumped a process that is “hard wired”.

The point we are making here is that you can accomplish things that are now out of your reach if you commit yourself to mastering the art of deep relaxation. There are many methods for attaining these deep states, and we will start with one that is in particularly wide use for dealing with stress and fear. It is usually called “progressive relaxation”, and it is a good place to start for learning how to build your resilience through training. It is a starting place, and we will go far beyond it, but good training involves patiently going one step at a time.

These are the main concepts behind progressive relaxation:

  • Without special training we have only a vague notion of the difference between muscular tension and relaxation.
  • It is important to become aware of muscular tension. People can train themselves to respond to an upsurge of tension the way they respond to the blaring of a car horn as they step into the street.
  • It is also important to learn how to turn off tension:

o       Tension is not doing. Muscles will relax if you do nothing. If you stop sending commands to tense from your brain to your muscles, the muscles relax completely. Trying inevitably involves muscular tension, so you have to just stop sending commands to your muscles.

o       When you think you are completely relaxed, almost certainly, you still have a long way to go. This is usually summed up in the statement that you can always relax below the zero point.

o       Once your muscles relax, your mind will also relax.

The best way to introduce you to progressive relaxation is to let you try it out. Debbie created a number of audios that we provide in our training program.  Give it a try by getting comfortable and  listening

or better yet, download the MP3 audio and find a comfortable place where you can relax with few distractions and listen.

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