by Achim Nowak

How to Navigate the Relaxation Paradox

March 21, 2021

I want to yell at the dental assistant.

Mariana is taking an x-ray. My mouth is stretched open wide, a metal contraption wedged into the space between upper and lower teeth, an x-ray chip pressing into my gums.

Just relax, Mariana says with firm authority

Just relax! Nothing about this is relaxing!!!

That same week I was coaching Eduardo, a speaker who is rehearsing a presentation to his CEO. Eduardo is a rising corporate star. I sensed his anxiety about his presentation as we talk. The more Eduardo speaks, the more tense he seems.

Just relax, I want to say to him.

And I realize it’s not that easy.

Pretty much every task is accomplished with more ease and greater impact when we relax.

How do we relax when circumstances conspire against relaxation?

Relaxation is the art of letting go."

Dan Brulé

This is the relaxation paradox:

Relaxation occurs in the body. The deep breath we take. The physical stretch. The intentional muscle movement we make. Our conscious exhale.

We know that. And yet, our mind stubbornly inhibits relaxation.

It has a ferocious fling with fear-inducing thoughts. It forgets to send relaxation commands to the body. And it does so with alarming vehemence.

This is the old mind/body connection. And the old mind-over-matter hierarchy where the mind over-rides what the body longs to do and does best.

Here’s how we navigate the relaxation paradox.

Consider these your two relaxation allies.

1. Go on Mind Watch

  • Be in your mind and be out of your mind, all at once. Have your thoughts and observe your thoughts.
  • Notice when your mind is persistently taking you to the dark side. We cannot change what we do not notice. We cannot notice if we do not start observing our thoughts.
  • Switch to a thought that affirms assets over liabilities. I can easily overcome temporary physical discomfort. I am a vibrant public speaker who knows his stuff.
  • Direct your focus from your mind to your body. Tell your body what you would like it to do. Your body will follow your commands. That’s the power of a clear and focused command.

2. Develop Relaxation Cruise Control

  • Turn relaxation behaviors into reflexive activities. When you do, your body is more likely to drop into relaxed states without a mental command. It “remembers” to do so.
  • Practice behaviors that induce relaxation. Practice them often. Practice them with purposeful intent.
  • Practices that foster deeper states of relaxation: Deep breathing. Yoga. Swimming. Chi Gong. Tai Chi. Walking Meditation. This is not an exclusive list.
  • Even when your thought goes haywire and abandons you, your body has learned to self-adjust with the habits ingrained in the above practices. It has developed muscle memory. It takes itself to a relaxed state in spite of your mental contortions.
  • Hint: Choose practices that bring you joy. They develop your muscle memory faster.

Just relax.

Yes, it’s not that easy. Yet exceptional everyday behavior doesn’t happen without it.

Dan Brulé is the world's foremost expert in breathwork, the author of “Just Breathe,” and a renowned pioneer in the worldwide Spiritual Breathing movement. He served in the United States Navy as a medical deep-sea diver during the Vietnam era and completed his master's degree in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Dan trains people all over the world to use the power of breath and breathing to relax and energize their body as well as focus and expand their mind.

Relaxation IS the art of letting go, Dan says. Yup. In my two decades of coaching executives for high-stakes presentations, my guidance, in the end, is always the same:

Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. And let it go.

And when you let it go, Dan Brulé affirms, everything happens for you. You vibrate differently, and the world changes.

That’s the woo-woo part. Trust it. Know that it’s mind over matter, and that at its very finest, muscle memory will outfox the mind. It’s how we began to manage the relaxation paradox.

Powerful. And so liberating.

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