This sounds so simple… I know.
But releasing weight happens more easily when your body feels relaxed. A relaxed body is a happy body. And a happy body digests food better, optimizes metabolism, and reaps the benefits of good health and fitness more than a stressed body.
I’ve sometimes heard from clients that after a relaxing vacation—and despite eating more than usual—they not only didn’t gain weight, they released weight.
While I know this to be true from studies I’ve read about our body’s relaxation response, I never experienced this.
Until last month…
In February, I spent two weeks on the Caribbean island of St. Martin with my husband and friends. I love to travel the world and learn about different cultures and customs. But this vacation was different. I simply relaxed. Other than a few afternoons touring the island, my days involved lazing on a lounge chair by the water, reading and knitting. It was heavenly.
We stayed in Grand Case, considered the “gourmet capital of the Caribbean.” Every morning my husband went for a walk and brought back buttery croissants from the local French bakery for breakfast. I ate wonderful cheeses, drank wine with every dinner—I normally don’t drink alcohol daily—and exquisite meals and desserts.
I figured I’d gain some weight and was okay with this, as I normally get back to my regular routine pretty quickly. But this was different. Not only did I not weigh more, I weighed a few pounds less! I didn’t understand… until I remembered everything I’ve learned about the importance of relaxing the body.
Why Stress May Be Keeping You Heavier
I first learned about the healing effects of relaxation years ago in The Relaxation Response, by Dr. Herbert Benson. I later benefited from training at Dr. Benson’s Mind-Body Medical Institute in Boston. Dr. Benson coined the term “relaxation response” to refer to the physiological changes that occur when you quiet your mind and relax your body.
The relaxation response lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, slows your breathing, loosens your muscles, and produces a calm mental state. This helps combat the effects of stress and that “fight or flight” feeling often associated with anxiety and panic.
You may have a harder time releasing weight if you often feel stressed and tense. This is because when your body goes into this state it releases cortisol. Research shows that cortisol stimulates your appetite, especially for carbohydrates. If you eat for emotional reasons, you know what I mean. To make matters worse, stress-induced eating can create “visceral” fat—fat accumulated in the belly area that can increase health risks.
Make Relaxation a Lifestyle Habit
While it’s important to handle stress effectively when it happens, it’s also important to give your body the relaxation it needs on a regular basis. Calming and slowing your body are as important to your health as good nutrition and exercise. You’ll soothe and eliminate the harmful effects of stress and allow for healing that assists your body to be the best it can be.
Here are three ways to make relaxation part of your lifestyle plan:
1. Schedule relaxing activities.
Don’t wait for vacation. Value relaxation as much as you value other ways you care for your body. Plan your life to include—if not daily, then weekly—activities that help you slow down.
You can elicit your body’s relaxation response with repetitive and effortless activities. So while reading a good book is one way, look for other activities, too, where your mind is focused on one thing, such as word puzzles, drawing, knitting or cross-stitch. Jigsaw puzzles—a favorite of mine— also work well. (I often keep one going on a table in my living room.) There are adult coloring books with beautiful circular designs, or mandalas, that are meditative to color on. Find what works for you and commit to doing it regularly as a special gift of peace you give to yourself.
2. Speak calming words to your body.
Develop the habit of talking to the cells of your body as if it were a little child, waiting for your guidance and instruction. For example, when sitting quietly, silently say to your body, “Relax… let go.” Repeat several times. To deepen the effects of this, say those words in synchrony with your breathing. So as you inhale, say to yourself, “relax” while imagining breathing in relaxing energy. And as you exhale repeat, “let go” and imagine releasing tension from your body.
Use this process regularly, not only when you feel stressed. That way, you condition your body to hold the memory of a relaxed state as its baseline.
3. Meditate for just five minutes a day.
Last month I wrote how meditation helps you hear the voice of your intuition. I mention it again because it’s also a powerful way to elicit the relaxation response. Dr. Benson studied Tibetan monks and the ways their minds, when in deep states of meditation, altered their body’s functioning. For example, the monks increased their skin temperature even when wrapped in cold, wet blankets. But you don’t need to be a monk and meditate 24 hours a day to improve your body’s functioning. Even five minutes daily helps.
Eliciting the relaxation response on a regular basis—whether you feel stressed or not—helps your body be its best. As you eat nutritious foods and use exercise to care for your body and release weight, remember to add relaxation to your lifestyle plan so your body can calmly and easily receive the good health you’re giving it.
Will you give your body the gift of relaxation?