Carrying out relaxation techniques can help generate a feeling of peace and calm. Learning some simple exercises and making time to practise them can bring many health benefits. Especially if you live with MS.
Regular relaxation can help decrease tension in your muscles. It can lower your blood pressure and slow your heart rate. You can use relaxation techniques to reduce your stress levels. They can also help with fatigue by promoting good sleep patterns and by increasing any gains from rest periods during the day.
Relaxation is an active skill that requires practise. It requires both mental and physical rest, and so differs from passive activities such as watching television or reading. It’s also not the same as sleeping. But like sleeping, you can’t force a state of relaxation.
Types of relaxation
There’s a wide range of relaxation techniques. You may find different techniques work better for specific situations. Deep breathing might help you relax before sleeping. But a visualisation technique may be more beneficial if you want to boost your energy levels during the day. Everyone is different. Learning what works best for you may take time.
The following list contains a few examples you could try, but there are many more.
Most of the time we don’t think about our breathing. But focusing on your breath and creating a slow, deep and even pattern can help you feel calmer and more relaxed. It can also distract you from any stresses or worries you may have.
There are a variety of different breathing exercises you could try.
Deep breathing – count your breaths as you inhale (breathe in) slowly through the nose and exhale (breathe out) slowly through your mouth or nose.
Lengthening the exhale – try breathing in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 5. This can help slow your heart rate and a racing mind. If it feels comfortable you could try to increase the inhale and exhale for longer.
Belly breathing – place a hand on your stomach and feel your belly push out as you breathe in and flatten as you breathe out.
Box breathing – inhale for 4 counts, hold the breath for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts and then hold the breath for 4 counts before inhaling again. It can be helpful to visualise a square and tracing from one corner to the next in your mind as you do this exercise. You can decrease or increase the count if 4 seems too long or too short.
Alternate nostril breathing – sit upright, straighten your spine and relax your shoulders. Close your right nostril with your right thumb and breathe in through your left nostril. Pause. Close your left nostril with your first finger and release your thumb to open the right nostril. Breathe out through your right nostril. Leave your fingers where they are and breathe in through your right nostril. Pause. Close off the right nostril with your thumb and release your first finger. Exhale through your left nostril. Repeat the cycle.
Once you’ve finished any breathing exercise return your breathing to its natural rhythm.
Visualisation involves using your imagination to go to a relaxing place. It could be somewhere you’ve visited, seen on the television or in a magazine. Or it might be somewhere imaginary. Then you focus your senses to experience what you can see, hear, smell, taste and feel within your chosen scene.
You may find it helpful to use gentle background music or photos of places with happy memories. If you’re not sure how to start, there are lots of resources that can guide you through relaxing scenes. Including apps, videos, audiobooks, podcasts or CDs. Finding the right combination of voice, music and scenario may take some experimentation.
Muscle relaxation techniques
These techniques focus on relaxing various muscle groups in your body. This can help you feel calm and relaxed, whilst identifying areas of your body which are particularly tense. There are many resources that explain techniques and exercises in more detail. But the basics are usually the same.
Set aside some quiet time to concentrate on the exercises.
Find somewhere comfortable to sit or lie down. You could play some relaxing music.
Spend time concentrating on your breathing.
Working down your body, tense one muscle at a time, hold for around 10 seconds and then relax.
Notice how different a relaxed muscle feels. Enjoy that feeling.
If you experience spasticity or stiffness, speak to a health professional before trying a muscle relaxation technique.
Massage can relax your muscles and relieve tension. It also provides the soothing benefits of touch. Massage can be through a trained professional. Or resources are available for partners or friends to learn basic techniques. Massage can be combined with aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy uses essential oils to promote health and wellbeing. Some oils have relaxing effects, such as lavender. Oils can be used in a bath (if heat sensitivity is not an issue), as a steam inhalation, in an oil burner or during a massage.
Alromatherapy oils are usually used with no problems. But some people are allergic to certain
fragrances and some oils may cause a rash when applied to the skin. So, it’s best to seek advice before starting aromatherapy.
Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates
Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates exercises focus on breathing, movement, posture and meditation. Check for local classes or group sessions. Or there are plenty of books, DVDs, videos and apps available to help you practise on your own.
Reflexology is a complementary therapy where gentle pressure is applied to the soles of your feet. Some people find that it helps them to feel more relaxed, eases their anxiety and reduces their fatigue.