How it works
Here is an explanation of why tension is such a problem in our lives and why muscular relaxation is so important. It is useful to understand the important links between our minds and bodies, and why we become tense or unhappy, by understanding this we are able to change it. After reading this you can start off immediately by listening to the first track you (link here).
Tension in the body, in our muscles, our stomach, intestines and chest is designed to protect us from danger. This allowed our ancestors to survive extreme danger which was all around them, but we ended up with bodies that were very sensitive to danger, that would react instantly before we ‘knew’ consciously we were in danger.
In the diagram the fear centre (amygdala) in our brain is suddenly active because we see a snake, the fast pathway (A) switches on a whole chain of events, for instance, the muscles in our bodies become tense, the heart gets faster to pump more blood to the muscles so we can fight or run away. This reaction became associated with things that were not dangerous in themselves (the cactus) but signalled danger. Later the cactus will make the man’s body react but it may not activate the memory of the snake.
The pathway to our conscious mind (pathway B) does not tell our conscious mind what we are fearful of, so we may not be aware of the original threat, we might guess correctly but we may not. This is particularly true if the threat relates to events from our childhood, when our brains didn’t store memory so effectively, even more so in events that were frightening to us as children.
So without us knowing why, our bodies become tense, which makes our minds nervous and irritable without us knowing why; we now look for threats and see them when they’re not there, we blame people and events around us and become pointlessly aggressive and angry, which once again winds up our bodies, becoming a vicious cycle.
As well as protecting us from danger our minds also need to help us to take advantage of opportunities. We may be very good at keeping safe, but equally we need to take some risks, we could sit in a safe place all day, but then we would starve to death. There needs to be a balance in our minds between risk and opportunity. We have found that indeed we can overcome fear and other bad feelings if we increase our good feelings above a certain level, this is the way evolution allows us to be safe (enough) but use our abilities to find food, make friends, find a mate.
There are 2 ways to increase good feelings.
- One is to relax; there are particular forms of relaxation which can increase our good feelings, which automatically reduces our bad feelings, is to tense and relax our muscles,
- The other is to breathe slowly, and to notice the difference this makes.
Also if we hear positive messages whilst in a very relaxed state, this can also increase good feelings.
These forms of relaxation are contained in the Positive Mental Training programme, and it represents a powerful combination, which allows us to see things differently, from a safe relaxed perspective. This change of perspective can be literally an amazing transformation.
This is something we focus on in mental training, we help you to rapidly establish an automatic ability to be aware of your tension and relax. You can follow our 4 minute videos about breathing or about muscular relaxation, or better still you can start the mental training course by listening to the first track from the training which we encourage people to listen to daily for a week, when people often report better sleep and a clearer head.
On the breathing video Dr Dobbin is showing Deborah how to breathe using the diaphragm, a muscle in our stomach area, which increases the amount of air we pull into our lungs increasing the amount of oxygen in our blood. This increases the oxygen reaching our brains, and by focussing our attention on our breathing allows us to notice the flow of tension and relaxation with breathing which allows us to let our tension go. Similarly in the muscle relaxation exercise, Sheila is helping Stewart to notice and let go of his tension.