I woke up at 5:30 this morning for Crossfit. I didn’t want to leave my bed. I could have slept another hour or two. And maybe I should have? I have this argument with myself sometimes in the morning, in bed, or even after I’ve gotten out of bed, before I’ve fully woken up. Some days like that I go and end up being happy I went. Some days like that I sleep in (when I really know I need it), and end up being happy I did that. Today I went, and all I did was hurt myself in class. I hurt my shoulder on a snatch. I hurt my shin on a high box jump. We did dumbbell front squats, and my poor back, sore and weak from deadlifts yesterday, struggled through each one. I wasn’t happy. Well, everything was fine except the shoulder part. That was a real bummer. It made me angry. It made me sad.
After class I left and drove to the Eno river, where I now sit. I sit with the fear that maybe I always will be weak and vulnerable. Maybe my shoulder will always be hurt. Maybe I’ll be like my mom, who is still a badass but is limited by aches and pains and old injuries, as so many older people seem to be. I want to avoid that. I want to be healthy and vibrant my whole life.
Am I hurting myself because I drive myself too hard? I play with embracing my need for rest sometimes, and even that I tend to approach with a kind of intensity which… is counter to the healing process in general. It’s like trying to will a flower to grow. That’s a job for Nature, one that was never meant for us – but we can be a nurturer, a gardener; we can create the space where the flower will thrive, and plant the seed, and tend to it. I think healing is like that as well. It is a process that Nature takes care of for us, if we are able to create and protect the space for it.
It’s more than just time, more than just sleep. Sometimes when I try to give myself more rest time, I just give myself an extra block of time… but I enter that time with all the usual busy-ness in my mind. And when my mind doesn’t relax, my body can’t relax. If I don’t relax, holistically, healing doesn’t happen. What am I always holding onto? What is my poor shoulder holding onto so tightly?
This weekend my brothers were here. It was a very sweet visit; we did many fun things and spent a lot of quality time with each other. Yet there were moments of butting heads and strangeness, something I can write off and label as normal, but can also at least partially attribute to my own low-key state of stress. Stress is something I’m so used to that I forget it’s there, sometimes. It wasn’t until Sunday night, when we got home from dinner and just lied down on my bed together, that I finally let go of it. Some part of me gave up, gave in. And one of the cats came and hung out with us, and we relaxed. Truly relaxed. I didn’t know how much I needed it.
And the rest of the visit was great. I think that was the end of my weirdness, that I was more able to just be present with my sweet brothers while I had them with me. That’s what we want, isn’t it? Sure, we all have our different priorities, but damn if we can’t be actually present and relax with the people we love. If that isn’t number one, I don’t know what is.
I’m not the best at the relaxation thing, I’ll admit. But I do have some takeaways about it that I can offer.
1 – It’s necessary. Probably more necessary than we realize most of the time.
2 – It’s a drastic change of state from stress.
3 – Healing happens when we fully relax.
4 – When we are in a state of stress, we can know we need to relax – but we can’t relax by stressing about our need to relax
5 – In this way, stress is self-sustaining
6 – And… relaxation is a skill we need to actively learn.
It’s kind of like the flower-garden metaphor. Just as the gardener needs to learn a set of skills in order to facilitate the growth process, so too do we need to learn a set of skills to facilitate our own rest and healing process. And, similar to growing a garden, we don’t need to know how to do everything from the get-go. In fact, getting more knowledge about how to relax might just feed your own over-active, anxious brain. No, it’s more important to just show up, pay attention, and be willing to listen.
Things I’ve noticed help me relax:
- Getting my room really dark and lighting candles
- Taking a shower and getting in pajamas
- Listening to music and moving around
- Walking and talking with someone I love
Things that don’t seem to help me relax:
- Telling myself to relax
- Frequently checking my phone / social media / the clock
Relaxation is different for each of us. You’ll have to explore it for yourself, get curious, try things. And I hope you do, because it’s wonderful. When you find the relaxed state, you’ll realize it’s actually quite natural, and maybe a better way to be than stressed-out, as a baseline.
The relaxed state is a letting-go of something. A letting-go of the need to be anywhere or do anything in particular. Relaxation is a state of trust, knowing that I’m okay, I’m allowed to be right where I am, and I can actually just enjoy it. Relaxation is what happens when you are truly Present, letting go of anything besides being exactly where you are.
And actually, I think it’s possible to do a lot of things while in a state of relaxation. Sometimes when I put music on, I’ll be struck by a mood and start cleaning. And I’ll dance around and clean, all while in a state of mental relaxation, and it will feel so good. It makes all the obligatory cleaning I’ve forced myself to do seem like such a waste. Feasibly it could be fun like this all the time. Or more of the time.
Sometimes I am relaxed while I am at work. When that happens, it seems I don’t have to force myself to do things, I just make suggestions to myself and find myself more receptive to them. And I listen to myself more when I am relaxed, as well. If I need to get up from my desk and take a walk, I do it. I enjoy it. I get along better with my coworkers on my relaxed days. I am more free-flowing in conversation. I make jokes and laugh. Contrast that to the days when I’ve convinced myself I don’t want to be there, that my work is hard, when I feel I am forcing myself to show up and that it is a grind.
It’s all part of life, but I think we make ourselves stressed more often than we need to. And maybe it’s possible to live without that beast, to live entirely in the moment and trust where that will take us. Whatever is coming is coming no matter what. I’d rather be relaxed when it comes.
Two assignments for you today:
- When was the last time you felt completely relaxed? What’s one nice thing you can do for yourself today to help facilitate finding that state of being? Do it.
- Selfish request 🙂 Do me a favor and visualize my shoulders being totally healed, fully functional and mobile, without any tightness or pain.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a beautiful and relaxed day.