LATERALLY THINKING is a series of articles designed to explore how the lessons we learn on a slackline can be translated into lessons for everyday life.
This article explores the art of Relaxation. By the end of the post, you will have some techniques to relax on the slackline; how you do it on the line carries forth to how you do it in daily life. Relaxation is a skill and can be applied to any waking moment…
PART 1: Cut the tension
I believe that our global approach to Relaxation is out of balance. We place it in context as something we do when we have ‘time off’, something that we might mark on the calendar or set a reminder for.
“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.” Jim Goodwin
We have what appears to be a 80:20 approach of tension:relaxation, especially in the West, but I would go further and say most humans hold more tension in their waking state than they experience relaxation.
“We are living in a very stressful time with all the successes of Western civilization, Western education and technology, the miracles that the West has performed! And it continues — there is no end to it. Yet people have not become more peaceful and contented. In fact they feel even more stressed by it all. So the problems of modern society in the West are coming not from a lack of anything, from tyrannical governments or from anything terribly wrong, but just from the level of stress in the mind — the speed, the nervousness, the tension, the tendency to get caught up in things and having no way of letting go, no understanding of the nature of things.“ – Ajahn Sumedho, The Still Silence
How is this possible? How have we built such immense stamina to hold tension for the vast proportion of our day? Surely this is inefficient, and regarding physiology, an uneconomical expenditure of energy?
We have all experienced stress; the strain experienced from holding too much tension in one way or another. And what favours has stress done for us?
I get nowhere on the slackline when I am stressed. And it’s pretty much the same story in Life, too.
PART 2: Enter Relaxation
Here are some definitions I pulled from the web:
- “Relaxation stands quite generally for a release of tension, a return to equilibrium.”
- “Relaxed in Flow (psychology): a state of arousal, flow, over-learned self-control and relaxation.”
- “Relaxation (psychology): the emotional state of low tension.”
- “Relaxation technique: an activity that helps a person to relax”
- Physics) The exponential return of a system to equilibrium after a disturbance.
- A feeling of refreshing tranquility and an absence of tension or worry.
- An occurrence of control weakening.
Already from the above definitions, you can see how relaxation is imperative when learning to balance on the slackline; “A return to equilibrium“!
From the above definitions, slacklining can be classed as a Relaxation Technique, and the learned self-control in order to achieve balance not only induces a state of Flow but also produces an emotional state of low tension. Slack Line. Slack Mind.
“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” ~Chinese Proverb
To get a metaphorical idea of the 80:20 principle in nature, just fill a cup with water. Look at the meniscus on the surface. Compared to the whole cup of water, only the surface holds tension, the rest is in a state of relaxation, of being.
It’s quite incredible to see what happens in life once you are really relaxed. A lot can manifest at the point of least tension.
Relaxation is a skill. It can be learnt, broken down in to steps, mastered and applied either on demand, or formed into a useful habit. Just imagine if you could habitualise Relaxation to the point where 80% of your waking state is spent with an absence of tension or worry!
PART 3: Techniques
As a slackliner, learning how to balance relies on learning to relax. You are able to conserve more muscular and mental energy when in a relaxed state. This usually means you can slackline for longer periods of time, enjoying it more and having that feeling of relaxation carry over into the rest of your day. The more tension you hold, the faster you burn out.
Here are some techniques for learning to relax on the slackline:
- Use an aid
If you are just starting your slackline journey and are finding it difficult to maintain a state of balance or take a few steps, use some thing that will allow you to just stabilise for a moment, such as a partner’s shoulder or lightly holding a tree branch.
- Take a deep breath
Once you’ve maintained stability – either solo or with help – take a deep, complete breath in, then exhale. Your breath should be smooth. If you stutter, keep breathing in and out deeply and slowly until smooth. Notice how your body responds and relaxes. Notice how the line, too, begins to wobble less.
- Increase the difficulty
If you start to get the hang of relaxing whilst static balancing, try it whilst walking, or performing a static trick such as the Drop Knee. Try to maintain complete awareness of your movement and notice if you start to hold unnecessary tension. If tension creeps in, pause and pay extra attention to your breath again.
It doesn’t take a slackline to be rigged every time you want to practice relaxation.
There are a few simple techniques I use off the line to achieve a state of relaxation if I notice I am holding unnecessary tension:
- Practice being aware of where you are holding unnecessary physical tension
This takes time to perfect. Begin with the intention of wanting to find unnecessary tension and you will soon become more and more aware of where it exists. Areas of the body, such as: the jaw, upper trapezius muscles and brow are good places to start your tension hunt.
- Once you’ve found the tension, focus on your breath
Pay attention to your inhalation, feeling where the breath is going to in your body (diaphragm, lungs, chest) and your exhalation. Consciously try to release the tension in sync with your exhalation. You naturally tense parts of your body when inhaling, so use the out-breath as a catalyst for release.
Paying attention to tension in your muscles and how to relax them on demand is the basis for stretching. Practice often and you will gain an increased awareness and control of your musculature, as well as benefiting your slackline game! I use Classical Pilates and various Yoga, PNF and AIS stretching techniques to help perfect my physical and mental Relaxation skill.
You will notice that if you concentrate on your breath to achieve Relaxation for extended periods of time, you will begin to experience a state of concentrative meditation, or Flow.
PART 4: Putting it all together
It’s pretty amazing what you can achieve on a slackline when you have mastered the art of Relaxation. Slackliners like Mich Kemeter and Bernard Witz are able to send such monster lines thanks to being able to relax their minds and bodies. Check the video below to see Mich send this beast of a highline:
The Yoga Slackers were a big inspiration to me, too, when it came to realising what was possible on a slackline and how to transfer those new skills to everyday life.
I challenge you to pay attention to your daily tension, and try to balance it out with relaxation. Can you reach a daily state of 80:20?
Practice hunting for unnecessary tension and releasing it with breath awareness, both on and off the line. You should have a realisation or two…
When you are relaxed, you are able to maintain a state of focused control, indefinitely. Just imagine what you can achieve in Life once you’re more relaxed…
How do you enter a state of Relaxation? Any useful advice you can share?
Be sure to check the next installment of LATERALLY THINKING:
STOP IDENTIFYING | THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO LOSING YOURSELF
Harry Cloudfoot is a slacklining instructor based in London, UK. To book lessons or workshops with him, click here.