The Subtle Art of Relaxation

I gaze at my candle, at my sacred images and objects, a mishmash of cultures and references that are all significant to me. There’s a quote from the Little Prince, my recent Osho card drawn from my deck, a photo of me when I’m four years old laughing over something which was obviously hilarious. There’s a heartfelt letter from me to me up there too (more on writing letters to self coming soon!). And there are other important objects present on the simple, wooden platform that serves as my alter. A Ganesha button from my yoga teacher training, a beautiful rock with purple crystals from Senegal gifted to me by my best friend. A maple leaf coaster lies underneath the candle and incense gently snakes its way around it all while filling the room with the bitter sweet fragrance of palo santo. Kora music plays from one of my favourite Youtube recordings (check it out here, especially the piece that unfolds starting at 38:38!).

I feel myself smiling, relaxing and breathing deeper. Finally, the stresses and overstimulation of the day melt away. Much like the candle flame is slowly melting away the wax.

And I take a moment to muse about the subtle art of relaxation.

So normal for some of us, and so foreign to others. As anything, it is a question of practice.
In my travels I have found that in general (and yes, this is a major generalization), the people and cultures of the South (I’m thinking latinos, the Caribbean, Africans) are far more relaxed than their colder, Northern counterparts. In some ways they are also further along the Zen path of simply being and accepting what is (and goodness do I admire folks like that!) Granted, the heat has something to do with that, because, let’s face it: when it’s hot all you want to do is lie next to (or in) a pool and sip sweet drinks with umbrellas sticking out of them. But what about when we find ourselves far from a pool, in the cool of winter, and in our “daily grind” and with no time or thought allotted to relaxation?

I truly believe that relaxation is as essential to our well-being as good, nutritious food, quality sleep and loving relationships. And yet, how many of us really work at honing this art of relaxation? How many of us can afford to take a moment to breathe deeply, settle into the here and now and enjoy the sights, smells and sounds (and thoughts!) that soothe our souls?

We talk about experimenting with different diets to see what feels good in our bodies. We’ve opened up the dialogue sexually to explore what brings pleasure to ourselves and to our partners.

But what about when it’s just you, and you have some time, even if it’s only 15 minutes, and you want to relax and unwind. Are you able to do so? Honestly, sometimes watching yet another movie or TV show just doesn’t feel right. Certainly, perusing my phone for the 30th time that day and opening Instagram does not feel relaxing at all. Not when something essential inside is prodding me to take time for me, truly to be with me, and to relax and ease my way into an evening.

You may tell me that you are too busy for this. That relaxation is a luxury reserved for few. And indeed, our high-speed modernity has turned anything time consuming and enjoyable into a sought after commodity. Yet, I argue that relaxation, and its art of enjoyment, has its place in our wellness regimen also.

As this on-point article about slowing down to reduce stress from Psychology Today points out: “Many people live in a constant state of high alert and high anxiety—sympathetic nervous system arousal—even though there’s no immediate threat. Three of the recognized causes for this are our fast-paced, never-enough-time-to-do-everything lifestyle; sensory overload (exacerbated by multitasking); and the media’s distorted but relentless suggestion that danger lurks around every corner. The parasympathetic nervous system—the system that produces a calm and relaxed state—is underactive. By stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, we can restore the balance. With that balance restored, we naturally slow down our pace of life.”

Relaxation does encourage us to slow down. It doesn’t mean that if we slow down we’re going to suddenly do everything slower. Fear not, your go-go energizer bunny self can still re-emerge the following day. But in order for bunny to keep giving.. give it a chance to unwind, to breathe deeper, and to allow your whole system – body, mind and soul – to recharge.

Can you visualize that whirling download spiral that spins around when you’re downloading a large file? The one you gaze at absentmindedly while waiting for your document/video/zip file to save into Downloads. Yup, that one. Take a moment to recognize that your system – your mind and body – are also downloading and processing everything that you’ve been thinking and doing and the people you’ve been interacting with during this past day and week. It takes time, you need some time. Ask yourself if you can give yourself permission to slow down, even if just a little.

–> Recognize that every time you take time for you, and for your own self-care, you are also serving the other people around you, those that you take care of,  that look up to you, the ones that need you. <–

Relax. Breathe deep…and start honing the subtle art of your own relaxation practice. Please also take the time to report back and let us know how it goes!

p.s. want to hear about one of the amazing side-effects of slowing down and relaxing? When practiced regularly it opens up space inside of you and welcomes in creativity. Creativity is much like water.. it needs some space and room to flow and move. Relaxation provides that necessary space. While relaxing you may find yourself reaching for your pencil crayons and doodling. Your hips may move involuntarily as you begin to dance. You may want to sing a song. You may reach for your notebook and write down some new ideas for that work project you’ve been stuck on.

Or, lo and behold…

you may reach for your laptop and start writing… which, in case you were wondering, is exactly how this post came to be! 🙂

*** image courtesy of


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