We all know that it is the brain that stimulates muscles to move, i.e. contract, in order to move the joints of the body, so there is an understandable assumption that if one is not thinking about one’s body, then it will be relaxed. But in actuality it takes attention from the brain to make relaxation happen.
Rather morbidly, the proof of this is in rigor mortis when the mind’s attention finally leaves the body, and muscles contract, and continue to do so until they run out of energy.
Conscious attention is required for the brain to suppress muscle activity, without this signal, muscles will contract. When our attention is not in our bodies and our brain is distracted, our muscles become less relaxed. In this way the worst kind of mental distractions are worrying and anxiety issues which take the mind’s attention from the body as well as engaging the fight, flight or freeze mechanism of the autonomic nervous system which causes the body to be adrenalised and tense, even when no physical activity is required.
Problems caused by muscle tension include muscle straining, loss of range of movement, persistent compression of joints and exhaustion. There are certain areas of the body that are harder for the brain to relax than others and this patchiness of muscle tension can cause imbalances across joints, i.e. imbalances in the gluteal muscles are implicated in chronic hip issues.
One can learn to consciously bring one’s attention to one’s body and dissipate this tension. Like any other activity, relaxation takes practice. And as in fitness this needs to be continuing. It is possible to lose the ability to relax, i.e. the ability to focus the mind’s attention on one’s body.
Ways of bringing the mind’s attention back into the body in order to keep it relaxed include focused breathing, exercise, stretching, posture, sleep, mindfulness and meditation.
Breathing is a simple way to bring the mind’s attention back to the body, and when working as a chiropractor, asking a subject to breathe and relax will take all their concentration, so much so that when people’s minds wander for even a moment their bodies wiil tense. During my Chiropractic training I was told that chatting with clients during certain parts of the treatment was the best way to keep them relaxed, but have since found that actually the opposite is true. Even when talking about enjoyable, relaxing subjects, people will become more tense in their muscles, as the attention to their body wanes.
Ben Bridger is a Chiropractor at Gracelands Yard. For more information about his work please follow this link
We will post Part 2 of Ben’s Relaxation blog next week!