Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fast relaxation techniques

I'd like to talk about the techniques I've developed for fast relaxation. They are very personl, in the sense that the most critical part is also the most difficult to explain or communicate to others.[note1]

Most modern societies don't encourage a siesta or nap after lunch, which is conducive to good health. Fortunately I happen to be working in a place where a short 10 to 30 minute break after lunch can be made use of for such a quick nap. To maximize the relaxation in this 20-minute (on average) nap break, I follow the following steps, not in strict order after the preparation:

(0) Preparation: Find a comfortable and relatively quiet place; lie down as comfortably as you feel; close eyes, preferably covered with a blindfold (I personally like to leave it on my eyes without tying, and so I have to lie down in supine position to keep it from falling off).

(1) Relax facial muscles to absolutely no facial expression. I'm sure you've seen pictures in advertisement featuring a pretty face of a person that seems to be enjoying a sweet sleep. But that's fake, because a person in deep sleep cannot have a pretty face; the complete loss of facial expressions is quite ugly by any culture's standard. During this phase, if you're truly relaxing your facial muscles, you'll feel a slight protruding and lowering movement of the muscles around your mouth (orbicularis oris), among other actions. There's also eye muscle relaxation, but I'll defer that to point (3).

(2) Relax your soft palate and uvula. The effect of this is obvious: you breathe more heavily. We all know people falling asleep at a meeting or in a classroom make breathing sound (not related to snoring). That's the sound you need to consciously mimic. But do not snore.

(3) This is the most critical step. For lack of a better phrase, I have to just call it "Relax your brain". Maybe the easiest way to come to this stage is to constantly "say", not actually speaking with your mouth but more like an incantation, to yourself, "I don't care", "Doesn't matter", "Not my business", "So much for today", "Finally, home sweet home" (as if you just came back from an exhausting trip and plunged yourself to bed) whenever the brain wants to drift toward any of the zillions of random thoughts. The "incantations" you repeat to yourselve serve as psychological suggestions to your brain not to bother with anything. If you practice that correctly, there's a very subtle effect you may be able to feel: the whole brain seems to be under slightly higher pressure, and it feels "heavier". There may be some benefit in thinking of something (ancient Chinese might have called it qi) going from the back of the brain (not head) toward the front, in a manner of internal massage.

Associated with this feeling, you'll have eyeballs' spontaneous upward movement toward the upper rims of the eye sockets (not vertically toward the sky), further increasing the brain pressure. Make sure you move your eyes up spontaneously, not voluntarily or intentionally, or rather, let them float up by themselves. (Have you ever forced open a sleeping person's eyes? You would see mostly the white of the eye (sclera), exactly because of this complete eye muscle relaxation, probably because the superior rectus muscle of the eye orbit natually contracts more than the inferior counterpart. Also see my earlier blog, "Heavy eyelids when tired, and upward eyeball movement".) Earlier I said I don't like to tie the blindfold. That's because it would interfere with this very slight eye movement. If you must sleep on the side, I suggest you tie the blindfold with one string even if it has two, or use a dark color lightweight towel instead.

To increase the effect of this brain relaxation, a prolonged exhalation relative to inhalation in a breathing cycle is needed. Actually, it's an added breath holding period after exhalation, not exhalation per se. Suppose you inhale with two beats of your heart, and exhale with two beats, you then can hold breath for another two or more beats, with a ratio of an apparent exhale-to-inhale duration 2:1 or higher. But the ratio itself is not  important, as long as you can comfortably tolerate the long exhalation phase. I surmise that this prolonged exhalation has a hypoxic "poisoning" effect on the brain, to more or less incapacitate it from engaging in any wandering thought. It's in this exhalation phase, the breath holding period in particular, that you relax the brain the most.

These brain relaxation techniques are as much as I can describe. I'm a strong opponent of any form of mysticism, and yet in explaining point (3), I have reached the limit of my language skills. But I have sucessfully used these techniques to maximize the short nap time and refresh myself before the long hours of afternoon work. I'm sure with practice, you'll be able to do the same too. These techniques can also be used to help initiate sleep at night (the only difference is no need for a blindfold).

Now a few comments on other similar techniques. In hypnosis or mesmerization, "hypnotic subjects are fully awake and are focusing attention" (from Wikipedia for "Hypnosis"). I don't think my techniques promote focused attention. Although during the process, you're still awake, the goal is to get to sleep, or at least a sleep-like state, not attention to anything. Similarly, meditation is "a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or as an end in itself" (from Wikipedia for "Meditation"). Again, some mode of consciousness is the goal, as opposed to my techniques which strive for the opposite, unconsciousness, although the process is inevitably passed through consciousness. Another important difference is in physical postures. Lying down, either in supine or prone position or on the side, as if to sleep, is preferred with my techniques, while most people practice meditation in an upright position. I can't think of any possibility that a sit-up position could relax your brain and body as much as you could while lying down.
[note1] This article has a Chinese version 快速放松的技巧.


enchyisle said...

很有趣! 想起以前住校的时候,晚上睡不着的话,会偷偷模仿睡着了的室友的呼吸频率,然后就渐渐地也困了。哈哈,得到了印证好开心。

Yong Huang said...

Thanks for your comment. I think it's helpful to others so let me translate part of it here: "I remember when I was in the boarding school, I couldn't fall asleep. I would quietly mimic the sleeping roommate's breathing and then get sleepy."