The mind is like a muscle; in the same way as a muscle, the mind cannot be in tension and relaxed at the same time.
Visualisation has proved one of the most effective ways to relax. It is well worth taking time to practise this as a relaxation skill. It is an experience of focused attention on images and feelings which are positive and nourishing for you, allowing you to cultivate an ever-greater sense of freedom from the distractions of mood or circumstances.
First, find a place where you can be on your own for at least five minutes. Either sit or lie down quietly, concentrate on your breathing, and notice how quickly it can slow to a comfortable steady pace and rhythm, making sure the out-breath is slightly longer than the in-breath. As you do so, start to focus on your intention to take some time out to recharge your batteries simply by using your imagination. It is often easier to focus on building and becoming absorbed by mental images if you close your eyes. Dr Michael Yapko, a well-known clinical psychologist in the States, describes using the imagination, our inner mind’s eye, at the start of this whole process. This is broadly how it goes: turning one’s attention inwards, focusing on the inner mind’s eye which can see images and process thoughts and feelings and imagining that mind’s eye having an eyelid of its own and as that eyelid begins to close, noticing how it can shut out stray or unwanted thoughts, feelings and images, leaving the mind clear to experience whatever you choose for a while.
Having cleared the mental space for this, as it were, then gently turn the mind’s eye to a place (real or imaginary) or an activity. Anywhere or anything which is positive and nourishing for you at that time. Really concentrate on the detail of the experience, using all of your senses, and become increasingly absorbed in that experience. For many people a visual sense is easiest to build, and because of that, this exercise tends to be called visualisation. For others, sounds or textures might be stronger senses. Just use whatever is the strongest sense for you to build the detail of what you intend to focus on. Sometimes you might benefit from a place which is still and calm – perhaps a lake, noticing parts which are still and clear and maybe the parts where there are ripples on the surface, noticing the grounded stillness of the water way below the surface. Sometimes you might want to tap into that sense of enjoyment from walking or some other physical exercise or sport. There are keen golfers out there who visualise playing rounds of golf on a series of real or imagined courses in all manner of different weather conditions.
The process and images are commissioned entirely to your order in your mind’s eye, and you can experiment with all kinds of different places or activities to discover which suit you best at particular times. With practice, it will become easier and quicker to access those feelings and sensations which are beneficial for you.