Where Unwinding Meets Engagement: What is Active Relaxation?

Posted By on October 1, 2021

The term “active relaxation” may sound like a paradox—if you’re relaxing, then you’re not active, and if you’re active, then you’re not relaxing, right? The answer: not quite.

Active relaxation is a practice that leads to both stress relief and accomplishment with other additional benefits. HarborChase Senior Living offers world-class senior living services in 13 states and counting. In addition to providing luxury housing and compassionate care, we are also uniquely dedicated to focusing on senior health, wellness, and happiness. We’re sharing some information on active relaxation, including what it means and how to incorporate it into your life. 

The Idea Behind Active Relaxation

When you think of relaxing, what comes to mind? Sleeping in and having a slow, lazy morning? Vegging out in front of the TV? While these are certainly relaxing activities, they provide little to no stimulation or benefit. On the other hand, active relaxation offers a sense of calm and rest while not completely shutting off your mind or body.

Active relaxation joined the scene as a training method for elite runners and athletes. They use this practice as a way to rest and recover without losing progress or becoming too sore. However, others have noticed the benefits of this form of relaxation and have begun incorporating it into their lives for reduced stress and other health benefits. 

Benefits of Active Relaxation for Older Adults

As we age, mental health plays a significant role in overall wellness, including physical health. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 15% of adults over 60 live with some form of mental disorder, including dementia, stress, or depression. Poor mental health has a direct correlation to physical health. Studies show that chronic stress can lead to heightened blood pressure, weakened immune system, sleep issues, and weight gain. 

The good news about chronic stress is that it can be managed through certain lifestyle habits, including active relaxation. Active relaxation can reduce mental stress and release physical tension, making it an all-around beneficial activity.

So, What is Active Relaxation?

In essence, active relaxation is any activity that relaxes your mind and body while still engaging them. It takes elements of both leisure and productivity and turns them into something calming, grounding, and centering. 

One of the most common active relaxation techniques is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). In this method, you relax your entire body by tensing and relaxing one group of muscles at a time in harmony with your breath. Guided by vocal audio or soft music, PMR has both physical and mental components. If you’re unsure how to tense and release specific muscles, follow these steps:

Shoulders → Shrug them toward your ears

Forehead → Wrinkle it into a deep frown

Back of the neck → Press the back of your head against the floor or chair

Back → Arch your back up and away from the floor or chair

Feet → Point them toward your face, then curl your toes downward

Other Forms of Active Relaxation

There is no right or wrong way to perform active relaxation, so long as you are engaging and relaxing your body at the same time. If you’re looking for some inspiration, though, here are some ideas. 

Go on a Solo Walk

In today’s fast-paced world, it can be hard to find a moment of unconnected solitude. Going on a long walk by yourself and leaving your phone at home or in the car is a great way to practice active relaxation. Observing the trees and nature around you without distraction can relax the mind, but your body is still engaged in the physical activity of the walk. 

Imagery and Sensation Techniques

Similar to guided meditation, this form of active relaxation uses imagery and sensational awareness to mentally conjure a relaxing scene or experience. This technique engages all the senses to create an immersive feeling. For example, if you find the beach calming and peaceful, you might imagine the sound of the waves crashing, the feel of the wind on your face, the smell of salty air. You might even imagine the soothing feeling of the sand between your toes. You can find videos and recordings to help guide you through this process, or you can simply create and imagine your own calming scene. 

Deep Breathing Exercises

Believe it or not, many of us don’t breathe as properly and as deeply as we should. Practicing deep breathing techniques is not only a form of active relaxation, but it’s also a great tool to use when you’re feeling stressed or anxious. There are several breathing exercises, but belly breathing is a basic and easy one to accomplish. 

To start, sit or lay in a comfortable position. Then, placing one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest, take a deep breath in through your nose. Your belly should expand while your chest remains still. Next, breathe out through pursed lips as you feel the air deflate from your stomach. Do this a few more times. 

Engaging in Active Relaxation

Even though the idea of active relaxation seems counterintuitive, it’s genuinely a great practice that can reduce stress, relieve physical tension, and result in many health benefits. 

HarborChase Senior Living encourages health and wellness in all older adults through an active, relaxing, and enjoyable lifestyle. To discover how we foster wellness in our senior living communities, visit our website