Relax

Keep calm & carry on.

Exploring the gentle power of guided relaxation

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Need some calm? Try listening to a guided relaxation. Shutterstock
2min 47sec : Sample three-minute guided relaxation by Joanne D'Amico

When Joanne D'Amico is hard at work, she's making sure you're not. "Stress can really take a toll on our health and well-being, especially when experienced for long periods of time," she says. "It is extremely important to interrupt those long periods of stress with some deep relaxation."

For 13 years, D'Amico worked as a registered nurse, primarily as a general surgical nurse. "Having a medical background has helped me understand the impact that long-term stress can have on our health and well-being, especially in terms of the physiological reactions that occur with both stress and relaxation," D'Amico explains. "Not only have I personally experienced the negative effects of stress, but I have also seen the damaging effects that stress has had with many of my own patients and clients."

Helping people to relax became so important to D'Amico that she's made it her career. She sought further education to become a licensed, registered massage therapist, and later, she began teaching weekly guided-relaxation classes in her community in the Niagara region of southern Ontario, Canada. Some of the people in the class began to request D'Amico record sessions that could be listened to at home. That eventually led to D'Amico publishing her recordings to the web and to YouTube, where she now has nearly 20,000 subscribers.

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Joanne D'Amico is an RN (no longer practicing), RMT and guided-relaxation voiceover artist. provided photo

D'Amico says there are many health benefits to guided relaxation, such as slowing down the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, reducing muscle tension and headaches, improving sleep, and improved mood and temperament. "Because of this, I really believe that guided relaxation is the true antidote to stress," D'Amico says, noting that guided relaxation should not be a substitute for standard medical care. "This awareness not only encourages me to teach and share guided relaxation with others, but it inspires me to continue to practice for my own health and well-being."

To provide a sample of a guided relaxation, D'Amico recorded a three-minute guided relaxation session, which you can listen to using the audio player above. Shedding further light on what guided relaxation is and how it can be a helpful part of one's lifestyle, D'Amico answers these questions on the topic:

It seems guided relaxation comprises several forms. What types of guided relaxation are there?

Yes, there are several different types of guided relaxation. For instance, one type of guided relaxation involves "deep breathing." Deep breathing, as many of us already know, is one of the most effective ways to elicit relaxation, and this is because when we stop what we're doing and we take some slow deep breaths, this sends a signal to the part of our brain called the hypothalamus. When the stress response is triggered, our breathing automatically gets rapid and shallow. So, when the hypothalamus notices that the breath is slow and deep, it must mean that there are no threats, that everything is OK, and that it's safe to calm down and relax. And as a result, the release of stress hormones stops and the relaxation response is activated within the body. Deep breathing techniques can be used to elicit relaxation quickly and effectively.

Another type of guided relaxation is a technique known as "progressive muscle relaxation" or PMR. This type of guided exercise helps induce a profound state of physical relaxation. This is done by systematically tensing and then relaxing all the major muscle groups of the body from head to toe. When our muscles feel deeply relaxed, this relaxation leads to mental calmness and our relaxation further deepens. PMR has been well researched and is widely accepted by the medical profession for its effectiveness in relieving the symptoms of muscle tension, headaches, insomnia and anxiety.

Another guided relaxation technique is "guided imagery" and "visualization." In very simple terms, this technique uses the power of imagination to help you relax. The listener is guided to imagine peaceful images that help elicit feelings of relaxation. Because the body and mind are strongly connected, when you visualize a certain imagery in your mind's eye, the body will react as though what you're imagining is really happening. For instance, when you close your eyes and are guided to imagine in your mind's eye, say, a quiet peaceful beach — and by engaging all of your senses — you can imagine the feeling of the soft white sand between your toes, hear the rhythmic sound of the rolling waves, see the clear blue sky up above, feel the soothing warmth of the sun against your skin. Provided the beach is a place that represents relaxation for you, all this guided imagery can help elicit peaceful feelings.

Guided imagery can be used to help ease chronic pain and promote relaxation. It can also be used to help improve self-esteem and self-confidence. Many have used guided imagery to help reach goals such as losing weight or to help prepare for an athletic event or public speaking.

"The Peaceful Forest" guided imagery by Joanne D'Amico

For better results, how frequently is a guided relaxation recommended? How do you respond to those who say, "I don't have time for relaxation"?

For many of us, relaxation means zoning out in front of the TV at the end the day. But unfortunately, this activity doesn't counteract the damaging effects of stress. To effectively counteract the negative effects of stress, we need to activate the body's natural relaxation response. That can only be done with relaxation techniques like deep breathing, muscle relaxation, guided imagery and so forth. Guided relaxation is a skill — and like any other skill, the more we practice, the easier it becomes. A daily dose of practicing some sort of relaxation technique would be ideal. And if some one says to me, "I don't have time for relaxation," my response to that is, "The time to relax is when you think don't have time."

I always loved that quote because I think it's true!

How is guided relaxation better than self-directed relaxation techniques?

I feel that for most people, self-guided relaxation can be difficult at times because our mind is often busy and we can become easily distracted and sidetracked. Whereas with guided relaxation, the relaxation experience is led by a guide. If the person practicing the relaxation becomes distracted, or if their mind wanders, they can be gently redirected back to the technique by the teacher who is guiding the technique. This type of guidance can take place in a class setting with a teacher present or in the form of a CD or digital product such as an audio or video recording, or even YouTube.

For your guided relaxation with music, how do you select the music that accompanies the voiceover? Do you compose and create the music yourself? Do you have someone create it for you?

Unfortunately, I do not compose my own music — I wish! To have someone specifically create the music for me would be very expensive. So, I have had to resort to searching online for royalty free music.

Fortunately, some of the royalty- free music I have found is free of charge and is licensed under the Creative Commons License. For example, I often used royalty-free music by composer Kevin Macleod. His music is free, but he humbly accepts donations via PayPal to help him continue to create free music.

I have also purchased royalty-free music by composer Christopher Lloyd Clarke. I really love his music! It has a dreamy quality to it and it provides the perfect background music for some of my guided relaxations.

Beyond guided relaxation sessions, what music do you find relaxing?

I really enjoy world music, and a few of my most favorite music artists include Enya, Loreena McKennitt, Ima Galguén, as well as meditative spiritual new age singer Diva Premal. Their music and singing have a dreamy spiritual feel that I absolutely love! When I listen to any of these beautiful ladies sing, I seem to get transported far, far away.

As D'Amico makes clear, relaxation is important. When you don't have time for a fully immersive guided relaxation, YourClassical's Relax stream is always ready to provide the soundtrack.

Resources

Relax for a While - Joanne D'Amico's official site