The ability to gently slow your breathing, relax your muscles and calm yourself are useful life skills. They are skills that men, women, children, anyone can learn and put into practice, whatever their age or experience. Included here are two breathing and muscle relaxation exercises that men who have been subjected to childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault have found useful.
Relaxation and sexual violence
Men who have been subjected to traumatic experiences, including sexual assault, can find relaxation difficult. An experience of sexual assault or repeated abuse can encourage hyper-vigilance, making it very difficult to switch off – both mentally and physically. At one time, staying alert, constantly checking for danger might have been necessary in order to keep safe and reduce harm. It might even have been the difference between life and death.
Relaxation strategies do not involve giving up choice and control. Relaxation strategies are designed to assist you to experience MORE control and knowledge of your body – your breathing, your muscles and your thoughts. When the body has been harmed it can store pain – avoiding or trying to deny the pain doesn’t make it go away. Relaxation strategies provide a way to acknowledge pain, discomfort and tension without setting up a battle between you and your body. An added reason for taking time to engage in relaxation exercises is that they can help you make the most of every day life, to better appreciate those around you, to not become caught up and overwhelmed by stress and worry, to just enjoy the moment.
Learning and practising relaxation exercises
People are not born knowing how to do relaxation strategies, they are something that you have to learn and practice. Breathing and relaxation exercises work best when they become part of your every day routine. Relaxation exercises are not about getting it right or wrong, they don’t require lots of equipment or you to work stuff out. Described below are a couple of simple body relaxation exercises that men have found useful:
Sit quietly in a chair with both feet on the ground and your hands in your lap. Bring all of your attention to the physical act of breathing – start to notice the breath as it enters your body through your nose and fills your lungs. Also notice the breath as your lungs relax and you inhale through your nose. Don’t try to do anything with your breathing – simply notice it, pay attention to it and be aware of it. You will start to notice that each time you breathe in your diaphragm or stomach will expand and each time you breathe out your diaphragm or stomach will relax. Again, don’t try to do anything – just be aware of the physical sensations of breathing in and breathing out. You might like to mentally spell the word “relax” – R-E-L-A-X – each time you breathe in and breathe out. Alternatively, you might like to imagine that with each inward breath you breathe in a feeling of peace and calm and relaxation and that with each outward breath you breathe out any tension, worry or anxiety that is stored in your body.
Start this exercise initially for 5 minutes building up daily. You can also do this exercise lying down in bed if you have difficulty sleeping. It is simply a way of allowing you to have more mindful and conscious control of your body – its breathing and its capacity to relax. When our breathing relaxes our muscles relax and we relax.
Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, making sure that you do not have any constriction and loosen any tight clothing. Starting with your feet pay attention to the physical feelings in your feet – any pain, discomfort, cold, warmth, whatever. Simply pay attention to the physical feelings – don’t try to change them, just be aware of them. Slowly allow your awareness to drift up from your feet to your lower legs, again simply paying attention to any physical sensations in that part of your body. Then slowly let your awareness drift further up your body, doing the same gentle noticing for all of the parts of your body – your upper legs, your hips, your buttocks, your stomach, your chest, your lower back, your upper back, your hands, your lower arms, your upper arms, your shoulders, your neck, the back of your head, your forehead, your temples, your face – eyes, cheeks, nose, mouth, jaw line – and then let your awareness drift gently and slowly back down your body, noticing any other places where there is pain, discomfort or tension and simply noticing this, until you awareness settles back at your feet.
Commence doing this exercise just for 5 minutes – it can be done sitting down in a chair or lying in bed. Over time, don’t worry about how long it takes – just allow yourself to pay attention to the sensations in your body.
Audio relaxation exercises
If you prefer listening along to audio, we have a series of mp3 relaxation exercises you can download.
- 1. Audio relaxation strategies
- 2. Muscle tense and release
- 3. Breath hold and release
- 4: Abdominal breathing
- 5: Progressive muscle relaxation
- 6: Slowing down breathing
- 7: Guided visualisation
This page on relaxation strategies was generously provided by Kent Smith.