Surfing the brainwaves

But I can’t relax! I’m just a naturally stressed person. I tried relaxing before and it didn’t work”.

It’s all too easy to buy into the concept that you are an anxious or ‘highly strung’ type of person and go through life struggling to enjoy yourself. For may people, even though they say they’d like to change their life for the better – and are even shown the tools – they give it a half-hearted go and conclude that it’s just not for them.

I’d be willing to bet that you’ve had quite a few relaxed moments in your existence so far. Most of us listen to music, watch films, read books or go for walks. Everything slows down, you feel at peace. You may even lose your sense of time. Even if it was just momentary, your mind and body have relaxed before – and they can again. You just need to practise.

As they say in the face cream commercials – “now for the science bit”.

There are four different types of brainwaves, with varying degrees of activity. When you are awake, thinking and actively ‘doing’, the beta waves dominate. These are the fastest of the four. This is followed by alpha waves which come to the fore when you sit down and rest after a day at work, or engage in something slow paced such as gardening or going for a walk.

Have you ever driven home and not really been aware of the journey? Or talked with a friend but can’t recall much of the conversation? You were probably experiencing the effect of theta waves, which are active during lapses of concentration or connection.

Gamma, the slowest brainwaves, engage when we are deeply asleep. Our sleep cycle is typically 90 minutes long and cycles from beta, to alpha, to theta, to gamma, and then back again. This is why sometimes it is very hard to wake from a sleep, and other times you are alert the moment you open your eyes.

Research has shown that when practising relaxation or meditation we can learn to experience the benefits of theta and gamma waves. The key objective when we learn to relax is for our brain to recognise the difference between being relaxed and awake. Whenever we practice a relaxation exercise in the day, it’s important to close it properly. If you’re practising in the evening, you can always turn on your side and go to sleep (that’s if you haven’t already fallen asleep!).

Modern life demands that we engage our brains throughout the day and undertake several activities at once. This doesn’t leave much opportunity to recharge the batteries or slow down the hyperactive brain. For this reason I always recommend practising a short relaxation exercise (five or ten minutes) during the day, rather than waiting until the end of the day when it’s all too tempting to just collapse in a heap on the sofa.

Be aware that the mind will wander – but don’t worry, that’s what brains do. It doesn’t mean we can’t relax, simply that we just need to bring our attention back to the exercise. If we have to do it 100 times, that’s absolutely fine and all part of the process. Practice makes the master, as they say, so enjoy learning to sail on your brainwaves. It’s a beautiful ride.

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