DO YOU find it difficult to relax?
You're not alone. It's not easy to find time to chill out, especially if you're time pressed.
Yet medical research increasingly shows that relaxation is essential for vitality.
That's because proper relaxation - unfortunately not watching the latest CSI on television but real rest - is important to your nervous system, which affects your immune system.
Quick science lesson: each person's autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating digestion, circulation, breathing and the rest of our unconscious body processes.
There are two sides to this system - the sympathetic and the parasympathetic.
The sympathetic nervous system is the fight or flight side while the parasympathetic side is for healing and relaxation.
For good health, it's important to get these two in balance but, because of our busy lifestyles, many of us spend most of our time in sympathetic mode.
"Relaxation is a vital part of life," confirms Byron Bay psychotherapist Shirley Hughes of The Calm Zone. "But the stress of our busy lives often affects our moods, our thinking and our nervous systems.
"Regular deep relaxation can be an antidote to help us return to the harmonious state of equilibrium. It can be life transforming as it instantly improves mental, emotional and physical health."
Shirley says tension and stress are some of the most common problems she deals with in her practice.
She also finds that people are not sure how to relax or, if they try to meditate, find it difficult and give up.
It was because of this and her own belief in the power of relaxation that she has recently recorded a relaxation CD that guides anyone who is stressed or can't sleep through an easy and addictive beach meditation.
You don't have to "do" anything, she says, just find some time to play it, even when you go to bed and you'll find that your body and mind slowly relaxes.
Shirley says other ways to relax include a walk in nature, yoga, tai chi and some of the other martial arts, music and dancing, pet therapy and laughter. "Deep breathing is the first readily available resource to call on to help calm and relax us."
She says prioritising time for yourself, even if it is only 30 minutes a day when you can tune out and turn off, will pay long-term benefits.
"Just say no to others' demands and carve out some time to yourself. It's crucial if you want to feel happier and healthier."
The Calm Zone relaxtion CD, $24, is available at www.thecalmzone.com.au
Some of the many benefits of deep relaxation, particularly in the area of health, are:
Improved health and vitality, memory, and appearance
Vitamins and minerals in our food are absorbed more effectively
The body and the muscles will generally heal quicker after exercise
The immune system is strengthened and protects the body from illness and disease
The sex drive is improved and normalised as the whole body rests, wellbeing is increased and the body functions more efficiently.
The more often you relax, the more able to achieve the things you want to achieve.