Not long ago, we lived our lives according to the sun. We adapted to the change of the seasons and relied on our finely tuned senses to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature. We honored the primal and cyclical nature of our bodies which was to awaken with the sun, perform daily activities until dusk, settle in for the night, sleep, and once again awaken with the sun. Contrast this to today where we are no longer limited by the hours of the sun. Long work hours, variable sleep cycles, daily sensory overload, and high stress permeate our daily lives, completely disassociating us from our natural rhythms.
The Time to UnwindAs nature intended, evening should be a time of a quieting and settling down in preparation for a good night’s sleep. If you’ve ever gone camping or spent time outdoors you’ve probably noticed a difference in your psyche after the sun sets. There’s a feeling of wanting to relax and get comfortable; you may even find yourself getting sleepy earlier. Living in a metropolitan area, it’s easy for this time of day to go by without notice. You may carry the business and stress from your day straight to bed. It’s no surprise that this can lead to insomnia, which is a huge problem in today’s society. For the sake of your health, it’s worth it to begin the process of shifting your schedule to include a winding-down routine.
If the thought of taking time to relax each day is itself stressful, ease yourself into it by choosing a time toward the end of the day—it can be 15 minutes, a half hour, or one hour where you will explore one or all of the following approaches to help you de-stress and relax. Schedule this into your day as you would an important appointment as a way of affirming your commitment.
1. Turn it OffCreate a space that invokes a feeling of relaxation and peace. Turn off the technological signals vying for your attention such as the TV and computer. Set your smartphone to silent and place it out of the way. Change into comfortable clothing, dim the lights, and perhaps play soothing music to begin letting your body and mind know that your busy day is over and it’s time to relax.
2. Stretch OutYour body reacts to stress by tightening and constricting. The long-term effects of this can lead to health issues later in life. Simple exercises such as yoga or basic stretching help to release residual tension in the body. You may find that the benefits of this practice are immediate. To get you started, you can try chair yoga or incorporate some restorative yoga. Take your time with each stretch and relish the idea of stress leaving your body.
3. Take a BreathYour body knows how to align itself to the rhythms of nature. The problem is you may have forgotten how to listen. In order to become aware of your body’s signals it’s important to know how to find peace amid the chaos. One way is through the power of breath.
Start by closing your eyes and taking note of your breathing—is it deep or is it shallow? Do you feel it in your chest or belly? A typical stress response is to take shallow breaths, which deprives your body of much-needed oxygen. Controlled breathing techniques help promote relaxation and reduce the effects of stress. Try breathing exercises to help calm the mind and promote the body’s return to a more balanced state.
If you enjoy aromatherapy, this would be the perfect time to put a few dabs of your favorite essential oil such as lavender or peppermint on your wrists or earlobes. As you inhale, the added aroma can help guide you toward a space of quiet serenity.
4. Walk in NatureTo help shift your mind off your hectic schedule and to-do list, take a walk outdoors and focus on the journey, not the end goal. This is a mindful practice, which requires the use of your senses. As you walk, notice the feeling of the ocean spray on your skin, the sound of birds chirping, the expansiveness of the sky, the smell of the earth. Perhaps take it a step further by smiling as you walk. This exercise might feel awkward at first, but with time you’ll walk with ease, and peace will take over where there was once worry and anxiety.
5. Practice GratitudeIt’s easy to get swept up focusing on the negative aspects of life. You regret the things you did or didn’t do during the day. Perhaps you struggle with a lack of fulfillment in life, which can lead to depressive energy and thoughts.
But as the saying goes, “Where thoughts go, energy flows.” This is where gratitude comes into action. There is scientific proof of the emotional and physical health benefits that come from focusing on gratitude. It’s best to practice this at the end of your winding-down routine. Sit a few moments with your eyes closed and then slowly begin to think about what you’re grateful for—it can be anything from having a roof over your head, to your heart that beats, to that one person who smiled at you at the grocery store.
Try keeping a gratitude journal and write down 1 to 2 things you’re grateful for each day. Thoughts of gratitude help to place your attention on the present moment. As you go through your day and think about what you’re grateful for, you begin to invite more lightness, joy, and peace into every aspect of your being.
The key to creating change is to keep it simple and try one or two of these exercises each day. This will set the trajectory for transformation that will be more sustaining than reaching for that glass of wine after a long, hard day. The only side effects from performing this routine are good sleep, waking up feeling fresh and alive, and living a life with purpose.
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