27 May Unlocking the Most Powerful Relaxation Technique

-Dr. Shanthi Lakshmi,Ph.D. Bangalore

Relaxation is very important for our mental health and wellbeing.  If we know how to relax, and make an effort to actually relax when we need to, it can be a great coping strategy to help when we’re stressed out. For many of us, relaxation means zoning out in front of the TV or checking Facebook, or browsing. Remember, it does not help us to reduce stress or overcome any other problem, it is simply making our mind shift the focus.

To effectively combat stress and other problems like anger, anxiety, and depression, we need to activate the body’s natural relaxation response. You can do this by practicing relaxation techniques. A variety of different relaxation techniques can help you bring your nervous system back into balance by producing the relaxation response. The relaxation response is not lying on the couch or sleeping, but a mentally active process that leaves the body relaxed, calm, and focused.

Visualization is considered as one of the most powerful relaxation techniques. It is the cognitive process of purposefully generating visual mental imagery, with eyes open or closed. This process will recondition the mind by re-creating the visual perception of the past memories or the future events. By maintaining, inspecting, and transforming those images repeatedly, will modify the existing emotions or feelings, thereby prepare the mind and the body to make the visualizing event or feelings to come true.

By repeating the technique in the mind will modify the associated emotions or feelings, and experience a subsequent beneficial physiological, psychological, or social effect, such as expediting the healing of wounds to the body, minimizing physical pain, alleviating psychological pain, including anxiety, sadness, and low mood, improving self-esteem or self-confidence, and enhancing the capacity to cope when interacting with others.

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Recreate and Strengthen the Neural Circuits

Sports stars and great musicians, commonly rehearse the difficult part of the shot, and musical passages, by performing them in their mind. It’s thought that the mental rehearsal activates the motor, somatosensory, auditory, and emotional circuits, as playing actual game or the instrument.  

Mind Power to Muscle Power

Surprisingly, visualization can even strengthen muscles. Simply imaging you’re lifting weights in the gym can increase muscle strength by up to half as much as if you’re actually doing it. The visualizing brain sends electrical signals to the muscles, which makes them stronger, even if you’re not moving.

This type of virtual workout is being used by Dr. Guang Yue and his team at Kessler Foundation to help improve muscle strength in the people undergoing rehabilitation, “Accumulating evidence suggests that mental training without physical or muscle exercise can improve voluntary muscle strength,” explains Yue. “This finding could have significant application in rehabilitation medicine because numerous weak patients or frail older adults who find it difficult or unsafe to participate in conventional strength training, such as weightlifting programs, may now be able to strengthen their muscles by using their mind.”

Internal vs. external imagery

Research by Dr. Yue and others describes two types of mental imagery. Using internal imagery (also known as kinesthetic or first-person imagery), you’d imagine or mentally create the physical feeling of performing the exercise from within your body. In contrast, using external imagery (or third-person visual imagery), you’d see or visualize yourself performing the task from outside your body—similar to watching yourself in a movie.

Internal imagery generates significantly more physiological responses such as changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate compared to doing external imagery. Yue’s team has shown that internal rather than external imagery is required to increase muscle strength. “We suggest that this process might reinforce the neural circuitry and send stronger signals to the target muscle,” says Yue.

 

For the beginners, who is not exposed to visualization technique, it will take a time to recreate the scene, but committing to do this several times over. Your brain will only remember the scene playing out as you have re-created it, and the uncomfortable memories of the actual event will fade away.

 

References

 

  1. Isaac, A. R., and Marks, D. F. (1994) Individual differences in mental imagery experience: Developmental changes and specialization. British Journal of Psychology, Vol. 85, pp479–500.
  2. McAvinue, L. P., and Robertson, I. H. (2007) Measuring visual imagery ability: A review. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, Vol. 26, No. 3,  pp191–211.
  3. Wientjes, K. A. (2002) Mind-body techniques in wound healing. Ostomy/wound management, Vol 48, 11, pp62-67.
  4. Syrjala, K. L., Donaldson, G. W., Davis, M. W., Kippes, M. E., and Carr, J. E. (1995) Relaxation and imagery and cognitive-behavioral training reduce pain during cancer treatment: a controlled clinical trial. Pain, Vol. 63, No. 2,  pp 189-198.
  5. Margolin, I., Pierce, J., and Wiley, A. (2011). Wellness Through a Creative Lens: Mediation and Visualization. Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought, Vol 30, No. 3, pp 234-252.
  6. Holmes, E. A., and Mathews, A. (2010) Mental imagery in emotion and emotional disorders. Clinical Psychology Review, Vol. 30, No. 3, pp 349–362.
  7. Ranganathan VK1, Siemionow V, Liu JZ, Sahgal V, Yue GH. (2004) From mental power to muscle power–gaining strength by using the mind. Neuropsychologia, 42(7): 944-56.
  8. https://www.activememory.com/news/2015/mind-over-muscle-the-power-of-visualisation

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