Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Relax Yourself

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.

And decaf.

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. : 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.


Jenny Garrison said...

I have never found yoga relaxing? I thought it was more for a workout, go figure! Relaxing is going for a run on a cool sunny day.
You are hysterical.

stevegarfinkel said...

I find that you search on Youtube for stuff like "Laughing Babies", "quadruplet babies laughing", and one of my favorites "literal music video". I suggest Meatloaf "Anything for love", A-Ha "Take on me", the Creed one is funny as well. Always helps when I'm stressed or need some free time. Also on YouTube as a fun attempt you could just wander around youtube for a while just following suggested videos from the first video that you watched. Then after some time try to figure out what you started watching and then how you got there.

Erica said...

Disappear into the woods for awhile! No people, no pressure, no yoga - just the basics. Lots of activity but all in the name of the simple life!

Wytosk said...

First of all, you're pretty, brilliant and talented...and it's none of anyone's business.

Ok, here's my idea:

Painting. It's not a project. Whatever you create can change, as often as you like. There's no final loop, finishing stitch, or last button. There's nothing to frost, no oven required, no tv needed either. it's just you, time and color. but you do get to create. Just a thought. But for the record, this crap is annoying to me too. You're an achiever,not complacent and enjoy using your brain- the horror!

Erin in WI

Andrea said...

After getting to know you through your blog, coaching and meeting you, I have noticed that the following things seem to relax you:

* vanilla milk
* creating collages
* archery
* travel (or at least once you reach your destination)
* mountain biking

But maybe it's not so much that you need to relax as you are just bored??

Molly said...

Ugh, I have ALWAYS been told I need to relax - I guess it's that whole being-type-A thing. What worked better for me was just adding more activities to my life, not less (along the lines of the old adage "a tired dog is a good dog").

I'm not one to add those suggestions of how to relax because we're all so different but for something completely off the wall - maybe some activity or goal for you and Boss to get into? Because that would be a distraction of something completely different from anything else you've got going on, and hey what's better than spending time bonding with our dogs anyway!?

meredith said...

i had a pet prana years ago, named muscle. actually, he was Mr. Toms pet. if it isn't in your nature to relax, then you are being unnatural. anyhow, i thought i would try knitting....i need to unhyper myself as well. but kevin will probably end up having to pry knitting needles out of the ceiling were i to pick that 'relaxing' hobbie up.

Sara said...

My husband is ALWAYS telling me to relax....he says I'm the most twitchy & high strung person he knows.

I have found that to relax, I need to be doing something. Something where your mind can wander and you don't have to focus. Taking my dog for a hike always seems to help - he doesn't care how high strung I am & he's always ready to run!

Pedergraham said...

I tell myself that reading will relax me and I have stacks and stacks of newpapers and periodicals in my bedroom just glaring and staring at me. What a well-written post---I think you have really hit the nail on the head on everything. The one place that I truly relax and forget myself is in my daughter's kindergarten class, as much because it is such a wonderful age and they LOVE school and being with their new friends, but because they discover something new almost every day--how to count to ten, how to spell a word. Joy and laughter come so easily to them. And, it is okay among them to fart and cough and wiggle your body and to sit too close to other people and to ask inapropriate questions.

Stef said...

Yoga is not relaxing to me. It is another form of exercise that, when lead by the right instructor, can produce amazing results. For me. Mostly it helps me calm down and feel more in touch with my body which I love. It doesn't leave me sore to the touch after either. That sounds just heinous. That being said there is not a decent yoga teacher here in BC so I've not done it in quite some time. Like two years.

I have found the most success in "relaxing" comes from managing my negative thoughts and beliefs. They are ratting around inside all of our heads and those who are able to manage them do best. At whatever they choose to do.

That said I also have no problem sitting around doing nothing in fact I love it, to me that's so relaxing and I have to manage myself to not overdo that. I also tend to over think like crazy and I'm convinced that's neither healthy nor productive. That's where managing that, along with negative beliefs, really does it for me.

polar barb said...

Hi Elizabeth - I found your blog through Beth and I have been reading forever but I identified so much with this post that I just had to comment. Anyway I am so hyper also and I cannot really relax. So I decided that I will just act like I want, do what I want, and stop fighting it. I find that trying to relax makes me way more tense than being my own hyper self. So that is my advice. Anyway I love your blog, whatever you do to relax don't stop blogging please!


jennifer said...

Hi Elf. I love your blog! This post was hilarious. I went to a Hatha yoga class where we spent the first 30 minutes lying on our backs chanting "ohm," and it was all I could do not to run out of there screaming!

Here's a way to force yourself to relax: go for a 5-6 hour trail run. By yourself. If your endurance isn't ready for that, walk the uphills. If your endurance is super-charged, then make it an 8-hour trail run. As long as you carry enough food, salt, etc., so you don't bonk, you will happily spend the rest of the evening on the couch, body blissfully relaxed.

If that doesn't work, a movie, I guess? :)

Scottie said...

I agree with Sara, I have three dogs. I enjoy just taking them up on a our local little hill where we Mountain bike and trail run. It so nice to just be outside watching them run and not having to really worry about running into other dogs or people. They love it which makes me happy, because I love them.

jessica said...

Another perpetual lurker and non-relaxer here...

I was right there with the infertility advice a few years ago: obsessed with relaxing, but wanted to stab the next person to tell me "it's all in your head."

No secret advice (not that you're asking for it), but just wanted to say I've been there. For some reason, I eventually found it comforting that I wasn't so much a "freak" (well, not for that reason, at least), but rather that I was a "type." Yip-friggin-ee, there are other freaks too.

For what it's worth, I say screw relaxation, go for distraction .

E.L.F. said...

I love all of you. You're way better than my imaginary friends. Keep the suggestions coming.

Nicole said...

WOOOOSA....perpetual lurker here...maybe you shouldn't worry so much about finding something to do to relax...there's nothing wrong with perpetual motion, disdain for yoga, imaginary friends, PJs and long as it works for you!

Kristi said...

I love a good book...fiction especially. That and movies are my favorite brands of relaxation. Sadly, I'm more prone to hearing "you need to STOP relaxing" rather than the reverse. :)

Angela said...

Fluff? That's like wearing/buying high heels in order to relax. GAG!

My suggestion for relaxation: Climb a tree and watch the people below, although I've never actually tried this one. Good for only 15 minutes until you get bored.

TriEVIElon said...

Yoga is NOT relaxing. I think that is the consensus for most of us here. I am not a passive relaxer either though I can force myself sometimes.

Have you tried learning something new? Pick a subject, any subject, something that you've always wanted to learn but never had time. Something that doesn't focus on anything you take seriously.

Playing guitar, learning a language or culture, taking a class on quantum physics, I don't know but something that engages you without: competition, goals, split times, etc.

I pick a topic every winter to learn something more about. Maybe attend a seminar or class, maybe read or cruise the internet, maybe connect with other people who are interested in the same things.

At any rate, you end up smarter, engaged, enriched and ultimately distracted - the key to relaxation in my mind.

It's a random thought but hey, you never know. Maybe you'll be blogging about learning new cords or whether or not you think your bike is simultaneously in the basement on the trainer AND on the trail at the same time ;-). Ok, I'm geeking out here but you get the point.

Good luck! Relaxation isn't so much in the doing but in mindset and attitude you have while you are doing it (whatever "it" is). Relaxation like anything else involves a lot of plain old perception....

LizE said...

sex. therapy. wine. fro-yo. in that order.

Mary IronMatron said...

My guess is that it makes you anxious to "relax." So fuck relaxing. And anyway, who wants to sit around drinking tea in footie Pjs when there are so many cool things to do in this world?


Brandon said...

1. try to make the best Pad Thai dish you can. experiment by going "off recipe" if you want.

2. get a fish. name it something stupid. watch it. be mesmerized. (do not buy a betta)

3. make paper airplanes out of pages from Triathlete magazine. throw them at the park. let your dog attack them.

4. buy new socks. (this is NOT shopping. this is buying). wear the new socks.

5. skip rocks on calm water until your arm hurts.

let me know which one "fixed you." :)

Audrey said...

My husband has told me I don't know how to relax....One morning I made decaf and didn't figure it out till much later in the day..wondered why I was dragging my ass around the house..did a load of laundry..had a nap, thought about exercise..had another nap, watched leaves fall... had another nap. That was a relaxing day....!

I've tried Epsom salt baths, but I only last about 10 minutes, get fidgety and too hot and have to get out...

I think the only time I am truly relaxed is in the shower..I could stand there till the hot water runs out and often I will just sit and just let the water fall on me and I don't think of anything but the feel, the sound and the smell of the water on my skin and my head and revel in the pleasure that feeling gives me.

Then I go about the mad business of my day and if a snippett of "relax" (like everyone leaves the house and I can take a 30 minute sweet!) should fall in my lap, I take it. It could be brushing the kitties, puttering around the kitchen making something new. Even cleaning my bike is relaxing.. Relaxing for me to do anything and at the same time let my mind wander....

Roo said...

People kept getting me to try yoga too. The long classes never worked, but I finally got some 20 minute Rodney Yee DVD's and they actually do the trick. Just enough to get your mind off stuff without making you too sore. Plus, the one wear he does the whole thing in a speedo makes me giggle and then I relax even more. Doing the videos at home works better for me too because then I'm not stressing about looking like an idiot next to the yoga folks who can easily throw both legs behind their head and there's no farting in public stress either. (Not that I'm really worried that I'll fart, but just that someone will fart in class and I'll start laughing and get kicked out.)

Audrey said...

My husband says I need to learn how to relax. One day, last month, I unwittingly made decaf and didn't figure it out till the end of the day; I dragged my ass around all day...did a load of laundry..had a nap, thought about training..had a nap, watched leaves fall..had yet another nap.I was seriously worried that I had some nasty illness. Not very relaxing!

I have tried hot baths with scented stuff and candles. Last about 10 minutes before I get too hot.

What I do find relaxing is the shower. I could stand there till the hot water tank runs out. I have even been known to sit...just to enjoy the sound, the smell, and the feel of the water on my head, my face, my skin. I think about nothing but the pleasure and joy of that moment.

I guess I grab snippets of "relax" when I can. It can be brushing the kitties, puttering in the kitchen preparing a new recipe, a nap when everyone is out of the house and sometimes having goal-less, unplanned days. "Relax" to me is not an all day event, but moments that present themselves throughout each day. And I can choose whether or not to take them. And they are definitely more pleasurable with caffeine. And wine.

Eisparklz said...

You mentioned this yourself not too long ago - mountain biking. Forces you to focus on nothing but what you are doing in that moment. You can also always pick a slightly different trail and never map it out or look at your watch because the time and distance don't matter. Finish it off with a peanut butter cup or breakfast with a friend. :) Let us know what works - you're not the only one wound too tight. And only kundalini yoga has worked for me - no crazy hurty poses, although I do fall asleep in every class!

Fred (aka ace) said...

A couple of thoughts. After reading the comments, I think there are some really good suggestions already posted. I like the idea of not fighting your nature and would look at things you already do, but from a different perspective. I especially like the 5hr trail run idea but I would add the nuance of taking a camera and anytime you saw something remotely interesting, take a picture. Or more to the point, start the camera, trail running with a question like, "How can I relax, run and take pictures?"

I think the thing is like so many have said, and you've said yourself, you are unique so, canned solutions like yoga, candles, and baths aren't going to work for you. But hey, that's probably why you've created the life you have anyway. Personally, I think we need to learn to find peace and relaxation in the lives we have versus based on someone else's definitions.

As for your experience of yoga, I can understand why you had the reaction you did. I teach yoga classes for triathletes and runners exactly because of what happened to you. Most yoga classes are designed for people not using their bodies to the extent endurance athletes do. Combine that with the competitive nature we posses, and pain and unfortunately injury are common outcomes.

Yoga can be very beneficial in training athletes how to gain greater muscular "access" which can aid in producing things like more running economy, core strength, and even comfort and better position on the bike. Relaxation can be a byproduct of yoga, but as you and so many others found, that is not its primary function. At its core Yoga, like all original martial arts is to prepare the body so you can ultimately, "just sit still" for extended periods. Then the real work begins. But style and the experience of the teacher can vary greatly from class to class. You might see if you can find a yoga teacher that does triathlons, rides, or runs. That might provide a better experience of yoga and prove beneficial to you and your athletes.

Good luck, and I really enjoy reading your blog.

wiley said...

How about volunteering at an elementary school nearby???? I'm not sure what you are really looking for is relaxation. You are a wonderful writer and could make a difference by helping out in someones classroom for an hour or two a week.