20 Sources of Relaxation*
or What you always wanted to Know About Relaxationm but were to tense to ask
By Michael Isaacs


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We all want to relax more.  But exactly what is relaxation, and how can we move towards this state?

This article will focus on twenty sources of relaxation together with a brief discussion.

They are exercise, bodywork, nutrition, herbs and supplements, sexuality, music, sleep, nature, hobbies, humor, miscellaneous techniques, human relationships, imagery, affirmations, breathing techniques, yoga, gratitude consciousness, meditation, wisdom, and spirituality.

To understand relaxation, three key concepts should be understood – letting go, slowing down, and moderation.

The importance of letting go is indicated in the “lax” in the word relaxation.  It comes from the Latin word “laxare”, to let go.  Physically, we need to let go of muscular tension lest we develop backaches, headaches, and neck stiffness.  Mentally, we need to let go of excessive preoccupation with past and future concerns.  To those on spiritual paths, they need to gradually replace human will with more of the divine will.

As to slowing down, to relax we want, in whatever way we are drawn to, to slow down body and mind.  Maybe we can learn a thing or two from the song “Feeling Groovy”, by Simon and Garfunkel:  “Slow down/you move too fast/Going to make the morning last…” Slowing down body and mind can be accomplished by modalities covered in this article such as yoga, breathing, and meditation.

Lastly, moderation is in order.  Among the 20 ways to relaxation covered in this article can be counter-productive if done in the extreme.  For example, excessive jogging can weaken the body by overstressing hips, feet, and knees.  Compulsive excess exercise can become one more onerous duty and energy drain – hardly relaxing.

There are two types of relaxation.  One I will call the “quiet relaxation response” (type 1).  The other I will designate as the “movement relaxation response” (type 2).  Both should be included in an ideal relaxation plan.

Type 1 relaxation is the state of well-being outlined by Dr. Herbert Benson in his 1974 book, The Relaxation Response.  This type is a physiological response marked by slower breathing, decreased heart rate, and more peaceful brain waves.  Deep breathing, yoga, and meditation are three activities that can bring on this type of relaxation.

Type 2 relaxation does not cause the physiological and mental responses mentioned above.  However, they can be relaxing because they are diverting and usually enjoyable.  So, for example, aerobic exercises are relaxing since bodily well-being is pleasurable.  Aerobic exercises do not have the advantage of slowing down body and mind while in progress, but can lead to a relaxed state thereafter when the body and mind settle down.

In my opinion an ideal would be for folks to include both type 1 and 2 relaxation modalities in their life.

This article can help you open up to consider and add one or more of the twenty paths to integrate more relaxation modalities discussed in  this article, and illustrated in the relaxation circle shown on the diagram on the first page
A few further comments about the diagram.  It can help you see that some of the avenues of relaxation are well known, others less so.  Some of these modalities overlap.  For example, yoga may include breathing, meditation, imagery, and affirmations.  Some of the paths may not interest you nor cause you to relax.  Some people may not take to imagery, but may like affirmations. And the subject of spirituality can include gratitude, meditation, yoga, and breathing.



Exercise is a popular avenue of relaxation.  It is well-known that those who exercise regularly can lessen anxiety and depression.

Jogging, walking, swimming, biking, tennis, and group sports as well

Exercise is type 2 relaxation response.  Though it does not initially elicit the relaxation response after the movement exercises where body and mind functions slow down. This is elicited right after the aerobic exercise by such rest in a deep sleep or relaxation in a steam room, sauna, jacuzzi, or massage table.

Exercise is only one side of the coin in a comprehensive body fitness program.  The other side of the coin is a modality that slows down bodily and mental processes evoking the quiet relaxation response.  Yoga and tai-chi are examples.

For many years I have combined aerobic swimming with yoga and meditation.  This type of balanced plan feels right to me.

Whether the exercise be type 1 or type 2, it is important to limber the lower back and upper cervical spine on a daily basis. For older people it is important to warm up the joints, included with a program of minimum exercises.


Bodywork involves the well-being of the body – movement, touch, or other sensory sensation and experience.

Examples of active bodywork include activities like yoga, tai-chi, dance, qi gong, or the martial arts.

Examples of passive bodywork include acupuncture, Alexander technique, chiropractic care, various massage therapies, rolfing, and reiki.

In passive bodywork we allow another to soothe, manipulate and heal the body. Passive bodywork is particularly effective in eliciting relaxation because touch offers an experience of connection and boding between one human being and another.  It is feeling relaxed in the warm glow of the healer’s hands and heart.


What we eat and drink are pivotal.  In India, food is broken down into three types.  Tamas food is hard to digest and decomposes quickly.  Rajas food stimulates body and mind.  Sattvic food calms body and mind.

The more attuned we are to our bodily and mental reactions, the more we will recognize whether the food we eat is tamas, rajas or sattvic.  Foods that can be associated with stress, tension, anxiety, and mood swings are coffee, alcohol, sugar, chocolate, nicotine, soda, and red meat.  Generally, foods that bring relaxation are juices, fruit, and complex carbohydrates with fiber such as whole wheat products and brown rice.  Sweets made with natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, barley or rice malt, and jellies made with pure fruit are relaxing.  For me, foods that relax are honey, milk, hot cereal, jello, and chicken soup.

We should watch the quantity of food that we eat.  Overeating is epidemic.  It makes us sluggish and drained.  Cumbersome weight on body and mind is not conducive to a relaxed state.  Overeating for an extended period of time can lean to serious physical problems.

Be aware of the speed and pace of eating.  Slow down to allow better digestion and to bring mindfulness to the present experience of eating.  The smell, taste, and touch of the food can then be truly appreciated.

Lastly, watch your mental state while eating; be as calm and peaceful as possible.  Avoid eating to calm the emotions.  If emotions are turbulent, it is better to pause, whenever practical, before or during the eating experience with deep breathing, prayer, gratitude consciousness, meditation or imagery to counter any disturbed emotional state.



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* Published by Quality Times, Bergen County, New Jersey

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