The media and relaxation experts get the blame for this one. In the media we see images of people asleep, in hamocks, beaches, and blissed out alongside articles on relaxation methods. So there it is: if you do this, you will get that. Experts play up the most dramatic effects of relaxation.
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In reality, relaxation covers a broad territory of bodily and mental effects. It can: calm the body but cause the mind to be alert; it can calm the mind and the body; it can calm the emotions and leave the mind and body energized; it can calm the body and leave the mind and emotions aroused. Also, there are many levels of relaxation. The levels include: just taking the edge off, mildly calming, moderately relaxed, to profoundly relaxed-out. Some will leave a person sleepy, but many levels and effects are not in that direction at all.
Truth: Relaxation techniques can be used both to increase alertness and to decrease alertness
Pro athletes, pro performers, military special forces use relaxation techniques to stay focused in the midst of the action. They use simple methods that can be quickly brought up but provide profound actions in the body and mind. Others, who suffer from sleeplessness or anxiety, can use the same techniques to reduce their problems.
Truth: Relaxation can chase away dullness and sleepiness
Some of our fatigue and dullness comes from holding too tight of focus on our external and internal lives. We get stuck in this mode and relaxation can open us back up to a broader vision. In doing so, our fatigue can lift nearly instantly and we are able to see, think, and do like we never thought we could just moments before.
Truth: Relaxation frequently doesn’t cause dullness and sleepiness, chronic tiredness does
Relaxation techniques often get the blame for knocking people out but it is our choices that do that. If we don’t get adequate sleep, don’t set aside time for rest and recovery, don’t take time to go inside our own skin to find out what’s going on and what we truly need, we are in a chronic state of tiredness. We may not feel it all the time but it is there. Jacking ourselves up with caffeine, rush here/rush there activities, and the desire to be highly active can mask some of this tiredness (for awhile), but it is there.
A well-rested person can enjoy and actually be perked up by most relaxation techniques. A chronically tired person is going to start to doze off or at least become dull the moment they are given a chance to slow down, be in a quiet place that is not for frantic activity. In fact, one of the earliest tests for sleep deprivation was having a person recline in a darkened room and the length of time that passed without them falling asleep was recorded. This testing wasn’t in the middle of the night, but in broad daylight, on a typical day for the person to be tested. The chronically tired person konked out in minutes; a non-chronically sleep deprived could sail through the full test period of 20 minutes without going off into sleep land.
Truth: Relaxation can be scaled to provide reduced stress but not dullness/sleepiness
When we actually become skilled at relaxation, we end up applying min-doses of de-stressing throughout our regular daily activities. A bit of dosing cuts the edge of impatience, confusion, and anxiety. A small dose does not lead to the profound change of mindset that comes from applying the same technique for longer time periods or under conditions when a person can let go (i.e. during meditation sessions). The technique is skillfully used just to the level the person wants and no more.