What is relaxation?
Relaxation is a state of mental calmness and the absence of physical tension. It is also the absence of emotional arousal that can originate from angry, anxiety, stress or conversely, extreme excitement.
Importance of relaxation
Relaxing your mind and body is essential for achieving high performance. Relaxing your mind from the thoughts and happenings of every day life is vital for concentring attention on the task at hand (see attention focus). Similarly, learning how to effectively relax your body can induce a state of mental and physical peacefulness, suitable for peak performance.
Two distinguished forms of relaxation are passive relaxation and progressive relaxation. The former focuses on breathing and the latter centres around muscle relaxation.
Passive relaxation involves diaphragmatic breathing where you push out your abdomen creating space in the lungs. It is recommended that you inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 2 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds. Engaging in proper breathing techniques increases the amount of oxygen in your blood, slows heart rate and forces you to pause for a moment and gather your thoughts. When exercising passive relaxation, it is useful to visualise physical tension and psychological stress unloading from your body.
Progressive relaxation involves focus on the muscles, as opposed to breathing. By alternating tension in the muscles, contracting and relaxing, muscle groups, your mind becomes more aware of how your body feels without tension. It has been recommended that you sit with your legs comfortably separated and your hands away from your body. Systematically, contract and relax major muscle groups from your head downward. Contraction can last from 5-8 seconds. Relax muscles for 5 seconds, whilst exhaling.
Relaxation techniques can take various shapes and forms. These are two examples of using breathing and alternating tension as exercises. You will come across many recommendations of the ‘best’ relaxation techniques. Like many things, what works for one person, may not work for you. Try a few during a time when you feel it may benefit you. For example, before confronting a colleague, before a big match in the changing rooms or before public speaking. You will discover a technique that varies in duration, intensity and context that will suit you and your performance.
Practicing relaxation techniques can help to enhance the following skills:
References, Resources and Reading
Hunt, M. G., Rushton, J., Shenberger, E., & Murayama, S. (2018). Positive Effects of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Physiological Stress Reactivity in Varsity Athletes. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 12(1), 27-38.
Jacobson, E. (1987). Progressive relaxation. The American Journal of Psychology, 100(3/4), 522-537.
Kellmann, M., Pelka, M., & Beckmann, J. (2018). Psychological relaxation techniques to enhance recovery in sports. Sport, recovery and performance: Interdisciplinary insights, 247-259.
Pelka, M., & Kellmann, M. (2017). Relaxation and Recovery in Sport and Performance. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology.