Tag Archives: relaxation skills

Try The Slow Movement

The Slow Movement
By Michael Arloski, PhD

Let’s deliberately slow down our pace of life and experience the slow movement.
What started in Italy with slow food as a reaction to omnipresent fast food has morphed into a broader slow living movement including slow travel, slow schools, slow cities, slow design, slow relationships, and more. Its main tenet is that for a more fulfilling and deeply satisfying life we need to allow the appropriate amount of time to experience the activities we engage in.

Savoring may save us. Consciousness may return control to our lives. As author Carl Honoré puts it  in his book In Praise of Slownessour cultural obsession with speed erodes our health, productivity, and quality of life. “We are living the fast life, instead of the good life.”

Operating on automatic pilot may seem like an important strategy to cope with feeling overwhelmed. However it usually results in staying stuck in habits that don’t serve us as well as the conscious choices we might make instead, if only we…slowed down and thought about it. As Mae West told us “Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly.”


So, how do we make the shift? How do we become part of the Slow Movement? How do we de-stress ourselves, further change our perception of time, and pump up our quality of life? How do we begin to embrace and benefit from slow living?

Value the intrinsic over the extrinsic. Focus on the internal rewards found in
experience, not production; the taste of fresh tomatoes, the smile of a child. The irony here is that we know that intrinsic motivation drives greater and more creative productivity.

Re-wire your brain. Changing life-long habits means developing new neural pathways in our brains and staying off the old well-worn habit pathways. Catch yourself in your old speedy habits and jump back on the new path over and over again.

Plan to be spontaneous. Plan ahead to have free time. Make plans to be, not just get things done. Make reservations at campgrounds so you will get out and do it. Arrange with friends to have a slow dinner evening savoring food and fun.

Lose your mind and come to your senses. Focusing on our sensory experience of taste, sound, touch, and smell can help us slow down. Breath deep, eyes closed, and take a moment to smell the roses.

Create conspiracies. The only way to break out of unhealthy cultural norms is to conspire with friends, family and co-workers to create healthier, slower ones. Together cultivate the Italian phrase “Il dolce far niente”, the sweetness of doing nothing!

The Wellness Coach’s Takeaway

Our coaching clients often come to us either feeling that they are overwhelmed and have to slow down their pace of life, or, perhaps when they have had a wake up call, like the onset of a serious health challenge, that has caused them to reassess life’s priorities. They want to slow down, but, marinated in a culture of speed (as Honoré puts it), they don’t know how.

You may have clients who are do not want to slow down. Staying busy, staying distracted, they don’t have to look at deeper issues that may be more troubling to encounter. Coach them around exploring what they fear might happen if they were to slow down. Explore what if examples: “What would happen if you made an agreement with your family to eat dinner together with no television or other devices turned on?” “What would it be like to take a long, hot bath instead of a quick shower?”

Some clients may have such fears that they need counseling rather than coaching and the pressure to slow down may be too much. Referrals can be discussed, but you can also back up and coach in other areas until they are ready to look at how they might experiment with slowing down.

Some fears might not be so psychological. Your client may fear that if they slow down they won’t be able to compete in the workplace or marketplace. They may fear that they won’t appear as attractive as the hard-charging, work-hard/play hard person they want to portray. If you client is open to it, this may be where you can turn them on to some of the resources of the “slow movement”, such as Honore’s book, or  the slow movement in the United States, or Create the Good Life;. They may learn that they can allay many of their fears by seeing how the benefits of slowing down include just what they are trying to achieve by rushing and working too hard: greater creativity, productivity, and quality of life.

Slowing down may have a link with self-permission. Many of the healthy changes in behavior often revolve around greater self-care. Great wellness plans go nowhere if the client is unwilling to give themselves permission to implement them. Explore this concept of self-permission and how the person is holding themselves back.

  • For most clients though, the desire for a slower, more fulfilling life is there.
  • Create experiments using the Downshifting idea above.
  • Get creative with your client and co-create new action steps that they can take week by week to try out new ways to slow down in whatever area seems both important to them and has the most likelihood of succeeding.
  • They may even want to commit to looking at several dimensions of their wellness (perhaps as represented in a simple tool like the Wheel of Life) and creating experiments in each area.
  • Commit to cooking more meals at home.
  • Visit a farmers market. Declare a technological Sabbath for a day.
  • Commit to learning and practicing centering activities such as Tai Chi, Yoga, relaxation training, or some form of mindfulness practice.
  • Commit to reading a novel instead of work-related books.
  • Read Thoreau’s essay “On Walking” and learn to saunter!

Dr. Arloski’s blog.

Dr. Arloski’s biography.

Dr. Arloski’s Wellness Coaching for Lasting Lifestyle Change, Second Edition.

Dr. Arloski’s Your Journey to a Healthier Life.

What Relaxation Techniques Really Work?

What works for you when you want to relax? Have you found a reliable relaxation tool?

Advice abounds for those who are struggling to find an effective relaxation tool – the technique that will be a magical answer to stress issues. The following are quotes from some of our authors and staff describing what relaxation tools they use when stress begins to overwhelm them. Read them, and try the ones that appeal to you. Remember, of course, that relaxation is a muscle response, just like shooting a basket or playing the piano and it takes times to master a new skill. Practice for a couple of weeks before you try another. Eventually, you will find what fits you the best. I’d love to hear about your search.

One of our authors, Ester Leutenberg

Ester Leutenberg, co-author of many of our workbooks says, “When I have unwanted thoughts or memories rumbling around in my head and cannot fall asleep at night, I take in a deep breath slowly, and the release it slowly. Never make it past 4 or 5 breaths, and I’m asleep. I start with my toes and totally relax them, then ankles, calves, knees and on up, ‘till I’m a limp rag. SO GOOD!!!”

Izzy telling a Joke

Izzy Gesel, author of Playing Along, and a master of improv tells us, “Whenever I am feeling stressed and I am able to take a moment to pause and listen to my self-talk, I often realize that my stress is about something that happened in the past, is going to happen in the future, or is about another person or something I cannot control. What’s helpful to me in these stressful moments is to close my eyes, take a breath and ask myself, ‘What am I grateful for?’ Within about 15 seconds I feel more grounded. I’m able to focus on the present and take action on something I can control thereby reducing my stress.”

Carlene Sippola

Carlene Sippola, WPA’s Publisher tells us, “In the winter, I relax sitting in front of our fireplace playing a few games on my iPad or catching up on the day with my husband. In the summer, we spend time at our camper where we kayak, hike, and sit around the fire pit at night (my favorite). Spending time with good friends is always relaxing.”

Amy Broadsky is one of our talented illustrators, and a skilled, licensed therapist herself, says she does a progressive muscle relaxation starting at my feet and working upwards. “I also do deep breathing. Specifically I breathe in through both my mouth and nose to the count of 6 or 8, and then breath out to the same count. Initially I practiced these techniques three times every day until I was able to effectively relax. I have not had a panic attack in 27 years due to these techniques. I also listen to guided imagery at times, relaxation music, sounds of waves or rain.”

Our shipping and order entry Queen Deb says, “I relax at our family cabin in my kayak, with a soothing beverage.”

Julie Lusk
Julie Lusk

Julie Lusk, Yoga master and author, had a hard time choosing her favorite relaxation technique. She often combines Yoga with meditation to achieve the ultimate relaxed state.

From Jack Kosmach, WPA’s President, “I’ve always enjoyed sitting down with a good book.  When we were first married, my wife Lynne and I would sit on the couch with our books and read and read.  It was a really nice time to relax.  Then life seemed to interrupt and the opportunities to be ‘alone’ to read became fewer and fewer.  It is still my favorite way to unwind.”

Leigh Anne telling jokes to her dogs

I looked forward to Leigh Anne Jasheway’s response to my “How do I relax?” question. She is the author of Don’t Get Mad Get Funny and Are You Playing with Me and is a prolific speaker on all kinds of funny topics. “I’d put improv at the top of the list. Improv is like spending 2 hours at recess with friends whose sole goal is to have a good time. We laugh so hard and completely forget about anything we were worrying about before the improv session started. Afterward, I find that not only am I less stressed by things, I’m also filled with great ideas about every project I’m working on. That, in and of itself, reduces my stress further because now I have solutions.

“And let’s not forget that all that laughter introduces endorphins and other healing chemicals into the blood stream and massages all the organs. Improv is like recess, falling in love, and a full-body massage all wrapped in one playful adventure.”

Fran Liptak who put her own devastating loss to use by co-authoring the GriefWorks series with Ester Leutenberg says she does several things. Here’s her list:

  • Meditate daily – I have a practice that involves some stretching and meditation each morning. I miss this when I don’t do it.Photo of Fran Zamore
  • Walk outside – I have a real need for fresh air so when the weather is really too harsh for me to be outside I notice it.
  • Take long, warm baths as needed/desired
  • Frequent deliberate long, slow, deep breaths throughout the day
  • Listen to guided imagery scripts as needed
  • Exercise regularly
  • Spend time with friends
  • Gratitude practice – say aloud a minimum of three things each day for which I’m grateful, just before going to sleep
Jacquelyn Ferguson

Jacquelyn Ferguson definitely has a favorite relaxation approach.  Here’s what she does:

 I start in a reclining (a recliner, not a bed) position with eyes closed doing a rhythmic breathing exercise for a minute or two or more, depending upon how hyper I am.

I inhale slowly to the count of 6 observing my abdomen swelling, hold to count of 4, exhale to count of 9 (to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system – the “relaxation response”) focusing on my abdomen compressing. I repeat until I find myself floating around with no real attempt to do anything. If I return to more of an “awake” feeling I repeat the breathing exercise. If distracted I allow myself to be aware only of what I sense: sounds, a breeze, an odor, etc.

I program myself to become alert in 20 minutes or 30 minutes. I do become alert each time at the virtually the exact minute programmed. This part fascinates my husband, Bob.

That’s all I do. I have others I’ve done over the years but this one is what I’ve been doing for a good decade. So, so simple.

Me: When I first came to work at Whole Person I hadn’t heard of relaxation techniques, let alone tried one. After a particularly harrowing day my boss sent me home with “Countdown to Relaxation”, and after a couple of weeks of practice it worked like a charm.  Now I begin to count backwards from ten, deepening my breathing with each number, cleansing my body as I become more and more relaxed. I recommend it highly. Click here for the CD. I’ve used it for so long that all I need to hear is the opening music and I can do the rest myself. My other favorite: close my eyes when my family is all together and immerse myself in the sound of happy folks.

As I said at the start of this piece, I’d love to know what you do to relax. Click in the comment section and tell your story.

Relaxation: Stop the Stresses!

There are a few more simple ways to reduce stress physically. Gentleness and relaxation skills help you unwind by being kind to yourself. There are many ways you can relax, but if you’re not sure, try a tension test: from head to toe, tense all the muscles you can one by one. Do some feel tighter than others? Try breathing exercises as you do this. When you tighten a muscle, take deep breaths in, and as you release it, exhale. Give yourself time to relax every day. Take 20 minutes a day and spend it any way you want – a long bath, a long walk, it doesn’t matter. Taking some time to unwind is especially helpful before sleeping. Instead of running yourself all day and crashing at the end, put yourself to bed. Developing a sleep pattern for your body will help reduce tension.

Being gentle with yourself is part of relaxing. Listen to what your body is telling you. It will let you know how you’re treating it. You may already know some of the ways it tries to tell you to slow down; a headache, a stiff neck, a sour stomach, or backaches are all signs.  If you’re looking for new ways to relax, try finding a hobby that lets you relax gently rather than intensively. Painting or yoga are examples.

  • What are some ways you’re too hard on yourself?
  • Where do you carry your stress? Can you trace the tension back to its cause?