It was twice last Wednesday, from two different people that I heard these words:
You need to relax.
Followed up by….
You might want to try yoga.
Followed up by the name of a yoga studio specializing in fixing people like me through detox cleanses, meditation, acupuncture, book groups, fasts.
If you want to paint the picture of my personal hell, it would include all of the things mentioned above.
Yet once again the prescription was relax. How many times a day, a week am I told to relax. I’ve lost count. My athletes would say that even I had kept count there’s a good chance I would have added incorrectly anyways. But according to my sketchy at best calculations, I’ve been told to relax for years.
And I still haven’t mastered it.
What is it about some of us that relaxation completely eludes us? It’s like my blood type runs jittery and restless. Searching and at times discontent. Sure sometimes I need to slow down but in order to relax do I need to come to a dead stop? Can’t I multitask my way to relaxation? Or at least chew gum and relax at the same time?
Looking into relaxation, you find that it is often synonymous with slowing down. With stretching. Even sleeping. Napping? And everything I’ve read lately about stress and relaxation seems to include: yoga.
Allow me to describe my last foray into yoga. It was about 2 weeks ago when I attended yoga at my gym. It’s the Sunday afternoon class set during the perfect time of day. At this time of year, out the large windows you can watch the transition from day to night as you bend and twist yourself into a series of allegedly “relaxing” poses. The instructor talked about quieting the mind, to eliminate the monkey chatter that sets into our brains throughout daily life. Despite her convincing plea to focus on breath, focus on intent, my mind was chattering like a hyperactive monkey swinging from tree to tree throwing bananas at its friends.
A day later I woke up sore to the touch. The typically 75-minute yoga class had turned, somehow, into a 105 minute exercise in needling my arms through my legs and standing on one foot. It took four entire days for the soreness to go away. The entire experience was anything but relaxing. It was physically painful and left me feeling like less of a person because clearly I cannot relax. Plus my mind is a chattering primate.
Yoga seems to be the solution to everything. Stressed, sick, infertile? Try yoga. It’s like a dreamy escape made palpable with earthy tones, beautiful clothing and a secret language. I want to talk that language. I want to get in touch with my prana. I also like clothes made by the company Prana. I want to like yoga, I really do. But what if that doesn’t do it for me. What then? Where do people like me go? How in the hell are we supposed to relax?
When I find myself in need of practical advice, I turn to Facebook. Hear me out. I have over 600 friends and strangers with years of life experience. Someone is bound to know something I don’t. And so I asked: how do you relax?
The comments rolled in quickly, 30, 40, 50, over 60 comments on how to relax. Stepping back from the comments, I realized that our relaxation tends to fall into predictable patterns:
Warm Fuzzies. These are things like sit around in pajamas, read a good back, drink a hot cup of tea. Ah the warm fuzzies. Reminds me of high school when they were trying to teach us about drug prevention. Each student was given ball of yarn loosely tied together. You were supposed to pull off a piece, hand it to your friend and tell them something nice. I like your white Keds (side note: doesn’t it scare you when you see an adult wearing Keds?). The idea was to give them a warm fuzzy rather than drugs. Problem is that drugs may or may not be more exciting than a piece of yarn especially when set to the soundtrack of Pink Floyd’s Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun. The bigger problem is nothing warm and fuzzy appeals to me. I sit around in my pajamas all day long working from home. I don’t like tea and fiction scares me. It’s like reading someone’s conversation with their imaginary friends. Of which I had two when I was growing up: Lassie and Manny, they went with me everywhere. Perhaps I should relax by writing their memoirs. Speaking of friends, what about connecting with old friends? That sent me straight into a fit of ha ha ha. Let’s leave high school in the grave where it belongs, shall we? Four years of awkwardly out of place gawky weirdness? The thought of going back stresses me out. Warm fuzzy stuff just doesn’t relax me. It’s too passive and when I get too warm I get night sweats.
Fluff. Fluff is just that. Massage, hair cut, manicure, pedicure. Not only does the salon scare me but it stresses me out. It’s exorbitantly priced and I still end up going home, washing my hair and fixing it every time. Let me tell you about the last time I had a manicure. It was the day before my wedding. I told the nail technician that I was getting my nails done for a wedding. She asked me whose wedding. I said “mine”. She looked at me, eyes wide, mouth dropped and said WITH THESE NAILS? Yes, I know. To think that someone would marry me with these nails. And therein lies the problem. The problem with prettiness. Relaxing by way of salon, to me, is defeating yourself to the idea embedded into our culture that the woman’s main job is to be pretty. And if you’re not worried about being pretty or working at it, you are less of a woman. You’re not doing your job. So spend hundreds of dollars on make up, product (it’s shampoo, for crying out loud, why do you insist on calling it PRODUCT), and accessories. THIS is relaxing? Every trip to the salon is a larger than life reminder of my inadequateness and sloppiness reflected back at me by way of the oversized mirrors and stark lighting that I am convinced highlights only your bad features. Reminders like this are anything but relaxing.
Things Men Do To Relax. This is an entirely separate category. Ask a man how he relaxes and he will quickly generate a dozen things. Video games, beer, watching sports, building things and my personal favorite comment – whittling. My father in the law is the master of relaxation. He always has a project. To me starting a project begs for completion. To him, there is no stress. The outcome is not the goal, it’s the process, the problem solving of how to get the garden railway tracks to fit together in the backyard. To my husband, it’s getting lost in the levels of a complex video game and not emerging from the basement until it’s won. True a man has stresses and expectations, but they are the product of what he does – not who he is. It’s hard to relax as a woman; be pretty, dress nice, put on make up, don’t be a bitch, make babies. What if I’m not pretty, I’m most comfortable in Lycra, I’m sometimes a bitch and I can’t make babies? How do you relax when you are all of that? In my next life I either want to come back as my dog or a man.
Working out. This one is a bit tricky. You see, working out is my business. All day long I talk about, read about and think about working out for my athletes. Sometimes when I finally go to work out, I find it hard to separate it from being “work”. Working out is good when it’s good. But what about when you’re injured, sick or resting? Then you can’t use working out to relax. Working out used to be my outlet when I worked outside of the home. It was my escape from the daily bullshit of management, meetings, deadlines. But now that my work is working out – to some extent – it’s hard to use it as an escape. Especially when you want to have goals with working out – the very nature of relaxation is to let go of goals. So I’m trying to expand my horizons of things I do for relaxation.
Warm fuzzies, fluff, manly things, yoga, working out…true these things are relaxing to most people but…not to me. And I know I’m not alone. But I also know that I need to relax. For many reasons. The signs are everywhere. I opened up a fortune cookie last week and know what it said?
Take time out for yourself
I get it. I GET IT! Loud and clear. Relax. NOW. Imperative. WARNINGWARNINGWARNING all systems at risk for massive shutdown unless you unwind and relax.
I need to relax about relaxing.
Like most complicated problems, I sat down, stared into space, talked to my dog, and hit the internet.
www.google.com : How To Relax
This should be titled how to crack yourself up in one page or less. An abundance of sites popped up with suggestions in what I am starting to call canned relaxation. Take deep breaths! (then what?) Go shopping! (if I shopped ‘til I was relaxed, I be broke!) Do something for yourself (…like what!?!) And, my favorite….TRY YOGA!
The internet let me down.
So I turned to a friend. She, like me, is wound tight, a little too introspective and sometimes trapped in thought. We connect well because we’re alike and sometimes all you need for a connection is finding that someone else shares your weaknesses. Or what you think are your weaknesses. Do you ever feel like there is this illusion in the world that you need to find things like tea, pajamas, yoga, phone calls relaxing and if you don’t, you’re the square peg? Like the rest of the world exists in a state of loosy goosy footy pajamas and you’re the psycho running laps around them on a broken leash while they dunk their green tea bags? The fact of the matter is that each person is wired differently. And because I don’t like the passively sit, stare and mediate myself into relaxation doesn’t mean that I’m broken or wrong. It just means I march to a different beat. And I’ve realized in life that at times that beat is psychotically staccato but ultimately it has a rhythm. That rhythm is me.
But I agree that the rhythm needs to slow down at times. So I talk to the friend and suggest we both go on a mission to relax. Spend a month actively trying to relax ourselves and see what the outcome is. Maybe we haven’t given yoga enough of a chance. Maybe we need to join a book club. Maybe watch more Oprah. Drink wine on a Wednesday night (which I’ve tried, found relaxing for a few hours until you wake up on Thursday thinking to yourself dear god what have I done to myself). I don’t know what it will take to relax but I’m willing to find out.
Together, the friend and I threw out some ideas. From the purely ridiculous to those that actually might work. Everything from body rolling to laughter yoga.
And if you don’t know what laughter yoga is, I suggest you Google it, watch the You Tube and proceed to laugh your ass off – and the best part? You’re laughing for no reason at all.
Perhaps in our journey we will find what relaxation means. Perhaps we will become more satisfied with ourselves. Perhaps we will learn something new. Or perhaps we will become even more stressed. In any event, it’s worth a try. So here’s what I need: I want your ideas on how to relax. Anything and everything. If you think I need to sit on a carpet square in my closet for 10 minutes a day writing in a gratitude journal while licking a copy of Oprah’s magazine, I will give it a whirl. Is there a book I need to read? A yoga I need to try? A tea I should drink? Help me out here. Because I’m like a ball of dark roast fury when it comes to unwinding. Sometimes I just don’t know how.
But I'm convinced that all hope is not lost. If I find myself still pent up I can always turn to whittling. Or help Mr. Tom build his garden railway tracks.