Muscle Relaxation – Samantha Keener

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Samantha Keener – @SKeener0924

After continuous days of hard training, we’ve all felt the onset of sore muscles. That seemingly never-ending cycle of sore muscles, to mobility work, to stretching and back to heavy training, just to feel the pain of your training once again. Foam rollers, massages and other well-known therapies tend to relieve us of this muscle pain; but this isn’t the only muscle pain you need to be worrying about.

Unfortunately, most of the population will work a typical 9-5 job and endure the common stressors within that job, as well as other stressors after work. These can happen within relationships, finances or even random encounters like the guy that just cut you off on the highway and it took everything in your power not to scream every profanity that you’ve ever heard. It’s okay, we all do it. These stresses I’m referring to have extremely negative side-effects on your body and, chances are, you may not even know the half of it.

The side effect I’d like to focus this article on is stress-induced muscle tension and how to relax it. One of the body’s reactions to fear and anxiety is muscle tension. This can result in feeling ‘tense’, or can lead to muscle aches and pains, as well as leaving some people feeling exhausted. Think about how you respond to anxiety. Do you ‘tense up’ when you’re feeling anxious? Muscle relaxation can be particularly helpful in cases where anxiety is especially associated to muscle tension.  An example of this might be someone who consistently clenches their jaw, balls their fists or flexes muscles throughout their body without consciously doing so. The common solution to these problems would be to workout. Chances are, since you’re reading this article, you don’t have this problem. You’re a regular at your gym, but you still can’t seem to get a grip on the situation. I may have the solution you probably didn’t know you’ve been looking for.

Practicing things such as meditation, breathing techniques or progressive muscle relaxation are just a few of the many ways you can help yourself to reduce unwanted tension in your muscles. There are many avenues you can take when choosing the platform to practice these. Yoga offers a phenomenal workout, with the opportunity to “lose yourself” throughout the session. By this I simply mean that it is encouraged that you leave your day-to-day nonsense at the door and allow yourself to focus on each movement as they happen. Really tuning yourself into each muscle as you feel them work. Each of these classes ends with a few minutes of mindful meditation. Meditation is another great way to help yourself reduce daily stressors. A great way to get started meditating is to download an app called Headspace. This is an app that I use regularly and find that it is extremely user friendly. The app starts you off slow, allowing for you to really get a feel for what it’s like to meditate without discouraging you by asking you to start with an unrealistic amount of time. As you progress daily, you will find that making the time to dedicate to yourself becomes easier and the art of shutting down your mind becomes effortless. When practicing yoga or meditating, you will find that performing proper breathing techniques is crucial to the practice. The app mentioned previously will teach you how to properly breath through each meditation session. I also know from experience, when you start taking yoga classes, instructors emphasize the importance of breathing and will guide you through it properly. Progressive muscle relaxation is a practice that guides the person through phases of tensing up specific muscles in a specific order and then releasing them. The idea behind this method is that after some practice, you become familiar with how each muscle group feels as you’re tensing them, that when you do encounter a stressful situation, you’re able to release the tension in that moment. Reaching a mindful state is something that a lot of people never achieve. It is easy to skate through the day, thinking about your next chore or meal or anything other than giving your mind a break. Achieving a state of mindfulness doesn’t need to take up a lot of space in your day, in fact, you only need a few minutes of this a day to really make a difference in your life. Give it a shot, what else do you have to lose?

Regardless of the method you choose to incorporate into your day, the goal is the same. We should be striving to live a healthier, stress-free life. Not one of us is exempt from the stress that the world throws our way, so make it a habit to better yourself, not only at the gym, but at home as well. Through practice you can become more aware of your muscles, how they respond with tension, and how you can relax them. Training your body to respond differently to stress is like any training—practicing consistently is the key.

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