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Consciousness and Relaxation: brothers or mortal enemies?

consciousness and relaxation

When you think about relaxation, how might you describe this to someone? Watching TV? Listening to music? These descriptions are actually further from relaxation than you may think. You might also think that they allow you to switch off your “conscious processes” for a while, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Whilst it is true that some kinds of music might help you to feel relaxed, if you’re watching a detective show on television or a thriller, you’re not allowing yourself to induce what is called “the relaxation response”.

This is because our bodies are releasing lots of what we call “hormones” and “neurotransmitters”. These are the chemicals our brains release. They are responsible for everything that goes on in our bodies – our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. They are also involved in the stress response – when levels of these go up we are prepared for “fight or flight”, and when they come down, we feel relaxed.

So, if we’re sat in a noisy room watching television, the stream of thoughts, and emotions (and chemicals) is ongoing, we can’t turn off properly and our bodies don’t have a chance to recover and heal. This is the purpose of relaxation.

Consciousness also comes in here. People often refer to relaxation as a way to shut off their consciousness and the thoughts they’ve built up throughout the day. Neuroscience tells us a different story. With meditation for example, we are not trying to shut off all the thoughts we are having. We are learning to acknowledge those thoughts and put them to one side. It’s also about bringing our unconscious thoughts up to the surface to work with them, something therapy can help with.

Scientific research also tells us that two neurotransmitters in particular – Noradrenaline and Acetycholine – seem to work together to regulate consciousness. Moreover, levels of these neurotransmitters can be influenced by meditation.

With relaxation and meditation, we can quiet everything down in order to make friends with our conscious selves. The processing happening inside our bodies, and the stream of thoughts we want to control.

Consciousness and Relaxation: brothers or mortal enemies?

If I had to tell a children’s story about consciousness and relaxation, I’d talk about them as if they were two brothers. They don’t have to work against each other, and they don’t have to impact our wellbeing negatively. They are parts of human nature that we should be working with to help heal ourselves and to be the best versions of ourselves we can be.

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