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  • Writer's pictureStarr Luu

10 tips for relaxation and happiness

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

When "Just Breathe" doesn't always help.

Welcome to my blog. My name is Starr, owner of Bodhi Treatment Center in Denver, Colorado. I am an #acupuncturist, #herbalist, #foodie, wife, and annoying daughter to my mischievous mom.

I've decided to make this inaugural blog entry about different ways to find #relaxation, mentally and physically. Throughout my experience, patients have come to see me with a variety of chief complaints, including pain, insomnia, and digestion, among many other issues...however, invariably the one issue that I see most commonly that contributes to many health issues, is high stress and/or inability to relax.

In today's society, there are several common stress inducing realities. These include constant exposure to the negative media reports, the expectations and pressure from social media, traumatic life events, and building a career. This constant stress causes our bodies to continuously engage in the sympathetic nervous response. The body is constantly working in overdrive, where it stays in a fight or flight response. It's similar to the feeling of having five cups of coffee at once (not recommended), and that feeling lasting all day. Eventually, health conditions start to arise. At the beginning, it can be minor symptoms, such as occasional headaches, periods of insomnia, random aches and pain in the body, and irritability. These symptoms can be temporarily treated or ignored; but over time, the symptoms become more severe, conditions become chronic, and the treatments can be challenging.

The sympathetic nervous system is analogous to yang in Traditional Chinese Medicine, whereas yin is like the parasympathetic nervous system. This "yin" system is about resting, relaxation, and digestion. There needs to be a balance between both the #yin and #yang in our systems to be harmonized, and prevent illness and injury. According to Dr. Arielle Schwartz, when the parasympathetic system is in "defensive mode", it leads to symptoms of dizziness, fatigue, or depression. A balance of both systems is important.

The treatment of balancing both systems can be quite complex, and is determined on a case by case basis. Everyone has their own level of stress and resulting issues. This post is about reminding you to check back in with yourself and find ways to #relax and be happy.

“It's all about finding the calm in the chaos.” ~Donna Karan

Here are 10 tips for #relaxation and finding ways to make yourself #happy.

1. Turn your phone and electronics off for 15 minutes and just sit in a room.

Just like you're about to take-off or land on an airplane, turn your electronics off and enjoy the moment. When I have a free moment, I catch myself grabbing my phone to play some Candy Crush or check in on social media to see which friends' kid learned how to potty train, or to ponder the latest "vague"-post...then 40 minutes later, I'm still on the dang device! This challenge is for you to turn your phone off, sit in the room, and relax. You can close your eyes or leave them open. There will be many thoughts flying through your mind; know that they're there, but also know you have control to not let the racing thoughts stay.

Next, monitor your respiration. Are you breathing deeply into your abdomen or are you chest breathing? We want diaphragmatic breathing: your abdomen should expand and contract with each breath, not your chest. A good way to monitor the breathing is to place a pillow, your hand, or something light on your abdomen and watch it raise up and down through each inhalation and exhalation. Here's a link from Harvard University that teaches you how to abdominal breathe. Humor me and do this for a few minutes a day, a few days a week. Your body deserves that time of peace. Don't even look at the clock, its not a competition, you're just doing this for yourself.

2. Listen to music that makes your heart happy; even better, sing along!

There are so many ways to access music nowadays, whether it's steaming from companies like Spotify or Apple music, listening to the radio, or just searching for music online and YouTube. Make a playlist of songs that vibrate with your spirit; listen and sing with it! I'm definitely a tone-deaf individual (ask my brother), but who cares? There's nothing better than belching your favorite childhood song, like it's no one's business. According to an article written in the Medical News Today, music can help lower blood pressure and circulate blood thoroughly throughout the body. Generally, this pertains to softer music...the type that promotes calm and relaxation.

One of my favorite covers of a classic song....

3. Read a book, draw something, journal your thoughts and feelings, or do something crafty and expressive.

One of my late teachers once said, the biggest "Nation" in the world is your "imagiNation." He would say it to me when I was stressed and trying to solve a school-work problem. He once made me stop what I was doing and had me build something with the supplies in the classroom. At that time, I thought it was an annoying interruption to my work...but I soon realized the benefit of being creative. Engaging in creative activity is like exercise for your mind...and exercise is a proven reliever of stress. Take the time to be creative on a regular basis, and you will decrease stress while developing a sense of accomplishment.

4. Go outside for a walk or put your hands on a tree.

Hold on hold on, don't roll your eyes at me yet. I promise I'm not trying to be ridiculous or promote naked forest bathing, although I hear it's beneficial. Physical activity helps move qi (energy) in the body. Without it, qi can become constrained, causing stuckness and irritability. Getting outside where there's fresh air can help the body to create oxygenated red blood cells for circulation, so things can move through.

Okay as far as the tree thing Chinese medicine, the energetic liver (not your physical liver) is a wood element. When there's stuckness, irritability, or stress, it's that energetic liver's fault. My Qi Gong teacher, Dr. Jack Schaefer, taught a liver cleansing Qi Gong exercise in which you put one of your feet on a tree or wooden object. Taking a deep breath, using your hands and mind, picture yourself clearing your stress, sickness, or any negative issues from the top of your head down through your body and out to the tree/wooden object. Mantak Chia demonstrates this process in a video. I do a simpler version of it. Firstly, I always ask for permission from the tree (the tree is a living thing). I place both hands on the tree, with my feet planted to the ground. I then do a breathing exercise in which I picture in my mind, or actually tell the tree, to please remove any stress, sadness, or illness from my body, and to please give me loving energy. Whether or not you believe in the spiritual nature of this process, it is beneficial as a form of meditative therapy. It will reduce stress, and promote a calm state of mind. Try it!

5. Help someone out.

An article in Healthline, written by Rachel Raypole, discusses how acts of kindness and helping others can release endorphins. Endorphins are a type of neurochemical released by the body to help deal with stress and pain. Endorphins are known as the "happy hormone". Not only do random acts of kindness allow you to build a more positive community, it can benefit your personal health. Additionally, your kindness can contagious; the people you help may pay it forward.

6. Indulge in dark chocolate.

According to an article written by the Harvard School of Public Health, dark chocolate contains flavanols which can help protect the heart. However, before you go to the grocery store and start stockpiling dark chocolate, its benefits are best realized in moderate consumption. Dark chocolate is high in cholesterol, and is relatively high in saturated fat. So then how can it help you with relaxation and happiness? A study by the Center for Human Pharmacology at Swineburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, found some chemical components in chocolate that help the body to relax, be happy, and create a pleasurable high. Some of these chemical components found in the study were tryptophan, phenylethylalanine, and theobromine. Additionally, eating is comforting and creates happiness. Who wouldn't be happy and relaxed eating delicious dark chocolate and watching the next episode of the Bachelor??

7. Take a nap.

This might be my favorite activity for relaxation. A 30-minute nap is a wonderful way for your body to take a break from your daily frenzy. It gives your mind a break, can improve your mood, and restores alertness. The caveat is that you should not nap longer than 20-30 minutes because it can make you groggy. Albert Einstein famously took daily scheduled naps.

8. Find laughter in your life.

Watch a slapstick comedy, call one of your funny friends, go to a comedy club. Laughter can help stimulate internal organs, according to the Mayo Clinic. In the Chinese medical context, it can help move qi, preventing stagnation that causes irritability and stress. Laughing can help relieve stress, decrease heart rate, and loosen tension in the body. So the next time you're feeling like you're in a funk, go watch some Ali Wong, George Lopez, Amy Schumer, or whatever makes your belly laugh.

9. Get an acupuncture treatment.(Not biased, promise)

This may seem like shameless promotion, but it's still true. A journal article written by the Neuroscience Research Institute details a study that shows the effect acupuncture has on releasing endorphins into the body. The research shows that acupuncture is effective to treat pain, which can lower anxiety. Acupuncture treatments help the patient's parasympathetic nervous system return. This allows the patient to relax and feel happy.

10. Find what works for you.

You may have gone through all nine suggestions, and found that none of them work for you. That's okay...I suggest you sit down and ask yourself, "What makes me happy? How does my body relax? What makes me feel at ease?" This exercise itself is therapeutic and can work to lower your stress.

Overall, the list above contains suggestions; it is a small list relative to all the possible activities that can effectively reduce stress. There is no limit to trying to find happiness and relaxation. The worst thing you can do is not take action towards happiness, and/or remain in a stressful state all of the time. Your body deserves self-compassion and self-care...your long term health will greatly benefit from it!

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