Without a doubt, eating well and working out regularly are two of the best things we can do to keep ourselves healthy, but for all-round mental and physical wellbeing, the importance of relaxation cannot be overstated. Making time to slow down and unwind is really the third pillar of wellness.
“The conventional standards of health and wellness do not educate people on ‘creating balance,’ which will allow them to be more successful by doing less,” explains Kate Dunne, yoga instructor and massage therapist from Flow.
For busy people who rush from home to work to gym, an intense workout may make them feel that they are “pushing through” but it actually wreaks havoc on the nervous system and doesn’t address stress management, she explains.
Making time to slow down, de-stress and clear the mind is as vital for all round wellbeing as diet and exercise. When it comes to relaxing, though, it’s a case of different strokes for different folks, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to how best to unwind.
While zoning out in front of the TV might seem like the easiest way to “disconnect,” it doesn’t cancel out the negative effects of stress. For that, it’s far more productive to engage in a specific practice or technique that promotes relaxation.
Fortunately, there are a wealth of classes and therapies on island that can help to ease us into that elusive state of bliss, so it’s worth taking the time to find one that works for you.
Although mediation might sound somewhat esoteric, it’s simply the practice of focusing – and therefore quieting – the mind.
“When the mind is calm, the body relaxes,” says Diane Donovan, who teaches meditation classes at Bodyworks. “When our minds and bodies are relaxed, we move toward stillness – and the power of that stillness is something we can take into our everyday lives.”
Meditation, she says, helps bring us peace of mind, clarity of thought, reduction of stress, and a more positive outlook on life.
“In meditation we are really getting to know ourselves and to differentiate between what is real and what is unreal in order to let go of the unreal,” she adds.
There are no set rules for meditation; anyone can practice it in any place and at any time, but for beginners a guided class is often beneficial. The challenge, Donavan says, is to let go of expectations and simply observe what the mind does.
Focusing on the breath, and consciously following each inhalation and exhalation is often the easiest way to focus the mind. This can be done sitting, standing or even lying down.
It does take practice, though, and it can be frustrating as our minds have a habit of wandering here, there and everywhere, but those that persevere with meditation report all sorts of benefits and doctors, psychologists and therapists increasingly recommend meditation as a means of alleviating a wide range of ailments from depression and anxiety to pain relief and insomnia.
The combination of stretching and strengthening exercises, deep, controlled breathing and relaxation that make up most yoga classes is the ideal way for many to both exercise their bodies and let the stress of the day melt away.
For men and women who spend much of their day hunched over desks, the lack of movement can lead to stiff, tense muscles, especially in the neck and shoulders, while anxiety is often manifested in short, shallow breathing.
The gentle stretches linked with deep breathing can help alleviate tense muscles and mental stress, while inversions and twists help to flush fresh blood through the internal organs. Because it is a mind-body discipline, the focus required to perform the postures correctly occupies the mind, temporarily driving out other worries or frustrations.
There are numerous styles of yoga available on island, ranging from very gentle to invigorating, but all end with a dedicated relaxation period – which for many practitioners may be the only five or 10 minutes in the day where they lie down and do absolutely nothing.
At Flow, Dunne offers Yamuna Body Rolling – a yoga-inspired class that uses small balls, one’s body weight and deep breathing to target problem areas, massaging the body and working on structural alignment to release physical tension and stored emotional stress.
Tai Chi, a combination of slow, flowing body movements and breathing techniques is often described as a meditation in motion. Sensei Greg of CASK Karate who teaches several Tai Chi classes per week including a free one on Sunday mornings at Camana Bay, says the ancient practice – which has its roots in China – is calming and rejuvenating, and assists the body and mind to maintain balance.
Classes include stand up stretching, breathing and body alignment exercises as well as Shaolin & Wudang Tai Chi forms. It’s a discipline that exercises the mind, the muscles and the internal organs promoting concentration, relaxation, and the conscious circulation of vital energy through the body.
A gentle, low-impact practice, Tai Chi is a safe option for people of all ages and levels of fitness, including older adults and those recovering from injuries.
Taking an hour or two out of one’s busy schedule to allow somebody else to pummel away tension and ease knotted muscles can do wonders for one’s sense of wellbeing. It is not only the physical release of tension that makes massages so enjoyable, it is also the simple fact of allowing someone else to take care of you for a short time and being able to give in to the sublime sensation of being pampered.
Treating oneself to a massage is not self-indulgent, it’s self-caring. It helps increase blood circulation and lymph flow, improves range of motion, increases endorphins and enhances overall wellbeing and health.
It is no wonder – and the good fortune of residents – that in a vacation destination like Cayman, where visitors come to relax and rejuvenate, there are numerous spas and wide selection of massage styles to choose from.
The great outdoors
A growing number of scientific studies point to the significant benefits that spending time in the great outdoors can have on our outlook and sense of well-being. Indeed, in large cities, where people have limited access to greenery and fresh air, wilderness therapy is a growing trend, especially among the “nature-deprived youth.”
Fortunately, nature is never far away in Cayman, and it’s something absolutely everyone can benefit from: it’s completely free, no special skills or abilities are required and it’s guaranteed to reduce stress, improve self-discipline and foster a greater sense of belonging.
Something as simple as a walk along the beach, a swim in the ocean or a bike ride along quiet back roads can be all we need to “reset” our mind and body, and give us that natural high.
The list of ways to reduce stress and relax is almost endless, but don’t be put off by that. Spending some time and effort finding what works for you is a long-term investment well worth making.