Relaxation is good for people of any age. The techniques help us relax by slowing down our heart rate. It releases physical tension. It gives us a sense of having a break from stress for a few minutes and afterward we have a much calmer mood.
Typical techniques are especially good for prime family caregivers of loved ones with dementia. Dementia is so difficult because our loved ones are unaware of the problems and stresses they cause, and are unable to change or help. In fact their condition will only worsen and so will our stress.
Researchers generally classify relaxation techniques into two different categories: concentrative and non-concentrative. Concentrative techniques involve focusing on a particular object such as a candle flame, the sound of an instrument, or a particular mantra. Non-concentrative techniques may include the sounds of nature, the ticking of a clock, or our own breathing. There are many types of meditation. Some include:
- Breathing Techniques: There are several different techniques. Most often begin with deep, rapid breathing and end in slow, restful breathing.
- Basic Relaxation: This involves sitting in a comfortable position and just trying to quiet your mind by thinking of nothing. It sounds easy, but is not, because thoughts keep popping in. One way to begin is to observe yourself and your thoughts. Notice the narrative voices in your head, but don’t engage them. Just let them go.
- Focused Relaxation: Using this technique, you focus on something intently, but don’t engage your thoughts about it. You can focus on something visual like a candle flame or a statue; something auditory like sounds of nature; something constant like your own breathing or the ticking of a clock. I use this form of relaxation and use a mantra for my focus. When I am aware of thoughts intruding I simply return to my mantra.
- Activity-Oriented Relaxation: This involves a repetitive activity where you can get ‘in the zone’ and experience ‘flow’. My brother uses running as his activity. It quiets his mind and allows his brain to shift. Other activities may include gardening, creating artwork or practicing yoga. Whichever activity you choose, should be a constant.
- Mindfulness Techniques: The object is to stay in the moment and not think about the future or the past. You may focus on sensations you feel in your body or emotions from the sensations you feel. You should not examine why you feel the sensations or emotions, but just experience them as sensations.
- Spiritual Techniques: For many people meditation is a spiritual practice, not a religious practice. It is a time when they can feel and hear God speaking. For me this is true. I experience ‘guidance’ and ‘inner wisdom’ once my mind is quiet. This is clearly true when I practice Lectio Divina (latin for divine reading). This form of relaxation is a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God.
- Namaste: This is a form of relaxation that is being examined and used more and more for people with dementia. Namaste means ‘awakening the spirit within’. During this form of relaxation the individual experiences peace using all of his/her senses. Soft music or sounds of nature are playing, beautiful scenery is enjoyed, popsicles or ice cream is eaten, soft caressing touch is experienced, and beautiful scents are in the air. We use this technique on even our most advanced cases of dementia with wonderful results.
With meditation, the benefits build over time. After regular meditations over months and years, you’ll experience long-term benefits such as less reactivity toward stress, lower blood pressure and greater mental and emotional clarity.