I’ve read a lot about how rhythmic repetitive activities, like knitting, can be used effectively for stress relief. I’ve tried knitting, and it’s not really my thing. I’ve tried to find other activities that would fill that need—the need to relax, when sitting still and doing nothing doesn’t seem to work (mind racing, To-Do List looming, etc…).
I found that dancing is pretty effective at creating a singular focus for me (and somehow eliminates the mind chatter)–back when Matthew was a baby, we danced everyday to the Steven Tyler version of Oscar the Grouch’s I Love Trash. I wish he still wanted to do that! We do still have dance parties, but he’s into different music now.
I also noticed that I can lull Matthew into a smiley relaxed state with books. There’s something about the sound of a voice reading a children’s book that is soothing and calming (well, it depends on the book, I suppose!). My mom used to read to my sister and me when we were young. The three of us gathered on her bed, and she read the entire Little House on the Prairie series (and many other things, but that’s the one I really remember). When Jen learned to read, she took over reading, but that wasn’t as enjoyable for me—I loved listening to my mom’s voice reading the stories.
This came up again when I was in college. I babysat for two kids, Daniel and Elizabeth, ages 4 and 6. They weren’t typical kids—organic yogurt was what they considered dessert and the TV was never on (it wasn’t even in the living room). One day, I arrived and they told me they really wanted to listen to Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh on cd. They were captivated by it, and Elizabeth sat next to me so I could french braid her hair while she listened. Both seemed to be in some kind of relaxed trance, but at the same time completely absorbed in the story (probably not worrying or thinking about anything else, if I had to guess).
I was watching an episode of Bethenny Ever After last night, where she’s practicing for Skating with the Stars. She makes a comment that skating is the only thing she does where she thinks only about what she’s doing in the moment. I would consider this a form of relaxation too—even though she’s deep in concentration and effort. She’s being mindful of only one moment–the one she’s in.
Currently, I’m seeing this reading-into-relaxation phenomenon again with Matthew. At night when he’s here, we tell stories. He loves it—and I usually try to weave in fish and dogs and things he’s interested in. Occasionally, I wonder if he’s bored, and then he interjects something into the story—he’s captivated by it, and it’s not even out of a book. There’s no real rhythm. It’s just my voice bringing something to life.
Of course, with my dissertation research being all about how people’s stories are lived and told in relation to their wellness priorities, I’m very interested in how this story telling and reading can impact a person’s well-being and stress management. I think that although I’m relating relaxation to stories, it also goes for the other things (like skating for Bethenny) where you are just being in the present moment and your mind gets a break from the craziness.
People often tell me that when they get home from work, they need to zone out in front of the TV—they think they are relaxing. The problem is that they’re actually overstimulating themselves. TV is not relaxing to your brain or your body, even if you think it is while you’re doing it. It’s actually a form of detatchment—and the point here is that we want to become more connected to our body in the present moment, not less.
Reading and listening to stories, even if we’re using our imaginations to visualize, creates a situation (and the positive effects) of mindfulness meditation in the brain, with one of the main benefits being that we’ve released the mental chatter from our thoughts effortlessly.
I’ve had a lot going on, so I sort of socially unplugged myself this week. I took more time to breathe and read…and I intended to even listen to a book on cd, but I didn’t get to it. I did order Matthew a new book for us to read tonight when we’re relaxing. It was a book my sister and I loved, and the value of that is not lost on my seven year old nephew on Mother’s Day weekend. He gets to learn and know his mom through me and my mom and dad, and he’s old enough now to really love and cherish the stories about her. I just have to remember that although it’s sad for the rest of us that he never met his mom, it’s not sad for him—he didn’t lose her, as far as he’s concerned he’s just different from others because his mom is an angel. So when we tell stories about his mom, he can be more connected to her and also be in the present moment.
Did your mom (or someone) read to you when you were little?
How do you relax? Wouldn’t it be great if we had someone to read us to sleep every night?