Meditation, or relaxation, involves deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, and focused attention that work together to close off any anxiety. Many incorporate spirituality or religious practices into the sessions which are geared to elicit serenity, joy, and a connection to a higher power that sometimes brings an altered state of consciousness. Throughout history, various cultures have employed relaxation techniques including:
- Autogenic training that was developed in the 1930’s by a German physician who taught self-awareness by repeating specific phrases geared to relax each part of the body. Christian meditation, often referred to as contemplation, involves quieting the mind to become more aware of God, yourself, and the teachings of Christianity. Prayer is considered a form of meditation intended to calm the mind and focus one’s faith on a higher power.
- Mindfulness is a practice that stems from Buddhist meditation, teaching the concept of staying in the present without allowing outside distractions to diminish the moment. Mindfulness is used throughout every relaxation and meditation practice, encouraging awareness of surroundings while, at the same time, remaining peaceful and unhurried.
- Progressive muscle relaxation teaches awareness of muscle tension in every part of the body and, through mental focus and breathing exercises, will produce a wave of relaxation from the toes to the scalp.
- Siddha meditation, which began in India, involves recitation called a mantra designed to promote focus and relaxation through the vibration of sound along with breath control.
- Transcendental meditation is much like Siddha meditation with the exception being the mantra is not recited aloud but in the mind, while sitting comfortably.
- Hatha yoga, qigong, and tai chi include forms of meditation that have been described below.
Nutrition also plays a significant role in the relaxation of the body. Proteins tend to make the body and mind more alert and active while carbohydrates creates a more calming effect. Too much can actually produce drowsiness. Therefore, it is wise to consume carbohydrates in the evening before bed rather than in the morning before having to face the activity of the day. Caffeine is a strong stimulant and is also instrumental in the ability to relax. By consuming coffee, tea, chocolate, and colas throughout the day, the body remains in a perpetual state of stimulation and is unable to relax enough to fall asleep by nightfall.
Certification and licensing are based on experience and other academic training. Some licensed psychotherapists have taken additional training in relaxation or meditation techniques.
Hatha yoga uses stretching and breathing exercises, body postures, and meditation techniques to promote fitness and well-being. It is the most common form of yoga practised in the Western Hemisphere. Its origins date back 5000 years and has proven to relieve chronic aches and pains, as well as clearing the mind and releasing tension.
Because it is a mild form of healing, all ages and physical limitations are able to practise the techniques developed for their individual need. Classes that offer “yoga” are not necessarily Hatha yoga.
Instructors are trained over a period of several years from a master instructor. There are no credentialing requirements or standards.
Qigong consists of specific exercises, including meditation, relaxation, and stretching based on Taoist philosophy. Tai chi (see below) is but one form of qigong.
For centuries, these techniques have been practised by individuals seeking inner strength and a calm mind. It is designed to keep the muscles from tightening or placing any stress on joints to encourage a flow of energy within. Exercises involve softly swinging and stretching movements, meditation, and relaxing breathing to calm the emotions and the mind.
The National Institute on Aging conducted a study involving adults over the age of seventy and found that tai chi reduced their risk of falling by almost 50%, as well as improving the cardiovascular system.
There are no official certification programs.
Tai chi is a form of meditation combined with martial arts practiced in China for centuries. Consisting of a series of slow movements intended to unite body and mind, this exercise is designed to require little muscular strength, concentrating more on focus and discipline. Tai chi appears to be simplistic, but it requires a good deal of time learning precision movement and coordination, along with synchronized breathing.
No formal credentialing is offered. Instead, instructors are trained over a number of years from tai chi masters.