Purposeful Relaxation

mentalhealth relaxation stress

Rylee here, Well Sunday’s in-house yoga instructor, Kinesiologist and wellness enthusiast. The other day I was working from home when, like clockwork, the 3:00pm crash started to hit me. I saw the wall of exhaustion approaching and made my way to the bedroom to take a nap as I usually do. Just before collapsing face first into dreamworld, I paused and remembered the last nap I took a few days ago, which was intended to be a 20 minute refresher, and ended up being a 2 hour, nightmare-filled mistake. 

You have probably heard about the general rule of naps: according to our circadian rhythm, or sleep cycle, it is most effective to nap for only 20 minutes during the day, as anything longer interrupts our rhythm and doesn't end up being very restful.  It occurred to me that I’m not very good at taking effective naps. However, I was still dead on my feet and needed some type of reset in order to continue my day in a productive manner. I scanned my room and tried to think of ways to relax without falling asleep. 


This is what I came up with:

This is not an ad as Well Sunday has no affiliation with those brands, but let me tell you, I emerged from those 20 minutes feeling like a baby bird freshly hatched from an egg made of moonlight. I honestly couldn’t believe it took me this long to find a substitute for my poorly-executed nap routine, and I immediately made my partner lay down in the nest with earbuds in to give it a try. He agreed, this new routine is the answer to my afternoon fatigue. 

This little discovery had such an impact on me that I started looking into what I started to call, “Purposeful Relaxation”, as I was sure there had to be research on the topic. While my anecdotal evidence is compelling, if I do say so myself, here is some actual scientific evidence:


The Evidence

In an article titled, Purposeful Relaxation: Getting the Most out of Down Time, Texas-based therapist Iris Cahill Casiano details the difference between passive and purposeful relaxation. She states that passive relaxation is often more about distraction, and includes activities such as scrolling, watching TV, and napping (!!!). This type of relaxation generally doesn’t allow our bodies’ nervous systems to actually settle. In contrast, purposeful relaxation, including examples such as yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditative breathing allows the nervous system to calm down and our bodies to enter a recovery state.

A 2015 article published in the Nutrition in Clinical Practice describes stress, whether physical or psychological, as having a domino effect on a multitude of the body’s systems, including the gut and its microbiome. This includes the release of certain hormones, like corticotrophin-releasing hormone and adrenocorticotrophic hormone, leading to the production of cortisol. Alongside these hormones, stress also causes the release of catecholamines, such as noradrenaline and adrenaline. Your digestive system, and now we know, the bacteria in your gut, can feel the effects of stress and the substances released during stressful times. 


Take Homes

By practicing purposeful relaxation, we can reduce the negative effects of stress on our gut and the rest of the body and mind. If laying on a spiky mat listening to sound bowls in the dark doesn’t sound like your vibe, here are some other ideas to try:

  • Restorative Yoga (try attending a class or following a YouTube video at home)

  • Breathwork/Pranayama (try 4-Square Breath: Inhale for 8 seconds, hold for 8 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds, hold for 8 seconds, repeat)

  • Self massage (try alternately squeezing and releasing your trapezoids, the triangular muscles connecting your neck and shoulder)

  • Guided meditation (try this one!)

Whatever you choose, we at Well Sunday hope you are able to find some moments of peace this week in order to relax your nervous system and thereby boost your gut and overall health.

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