Vol 2 Ed 18 » Cultura » When Are You Relaxed?

When Are You Relaxed?

Anastasia Boldireff

Vacation is over, and, it’s back to the daily grind. 

I’ve come to a recent conclusion that we tend to associate certain places or activities with the idea of relaxation.  For instance, some of us say (or at least think) ‘I just need a drink’ to calm down after a long day of work or studying.  On the weekends, the masses tend to drink their hearts out in the spirit of relaxation.  The logical fallacy is that alcohol = relaxation.  My first premise is the thought that we need things or activities to be able to breathe easier in our lives.  Money or material goods = relaxation.  Another premise is the idea that we need a specific place to do this; for instance, I just need a vacation; if I could just go to the beach, or to Europe, I could relax.  We tend to find ourselves using hypotheticals or conditionals when we discuss this idea of relaxation.  ‘I would be more relaxed if…’ insert: ‘I was on the beach’, ‘I had more money to do x, y, z’, ‘I had a better sense of stability’, ‘I could just be finished my degree already!’. 

I want to identify this trope – and trap – in thinking that we need things or specific places to be able to relax.  It’s a dangerous, slippery slope if we collude ‘vacation’ with ‘relaxation’ and only assign a few weeks a year of when we can actual do this.  The semester is upon us and if we are already counting the days to the semana de receso we are actually running away from our realities, and then ‘vacation’ isn’t actually a ‘break’ from the daily grind, it is an abject ‘escape’ from our current realities.

We can all picture what that idyllic vacation looks like.  As a foreigner, a Canadian conception of a vacation looks somewhat like this: some sort of all inclusive on a resort with perfect weather, whether alone or with good friends, a partner, or family to enjoy that post-card picture with.  Ironically, many Colombians I have spoken to envision themselves going to Canada, bundling themselves up with goosefeather jackets and admiring the slowly falling snow while drinking hot chocolate with their significant people.

Not only is this entirely clichéd, it is a trap.  Whatever your dream vacation is, I believe that this push to abandon or run away from your current reality is actually quite telling.

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Recently, I have signed up for a salsa competition and repeatedly have been told to ‘relax’ and ‘relax my body’.  After an afternoon of grueling salsa practice, I started to interrogate these conceptions of relaxation.  Instead of envisioning the beach, I started to ask myself: ‘When am I relaxed?’ and ‘What do I need to actually experience relaxation?

Do I really need that pina colada on the beach in order to experience tranquility?  Is that the only moment I am ever relaxed?  For me, a person whose antithesis is inaction, relaxation manifests itself in an entirely different way.  For me the idea of meditation sounds like torture:  Put me in a room, sitting cross-legged, with a dozen or more smiling, calm people with their eyes closed just subjects me to worry.  I sit there with my eyes closed and instead of ‘relaxing’ or meditating end up worrying about every little thing: whether it will be dark by the time I have to bike home, whether or not my students will submit their work on time, whether or not my father’s forgetfulness is a result of being over-worked and a late night discussion or something more insidious, whether or not I can afford to go to my best friend wedding, why I am not where I want to be with my athletic, financial or career goals.

My eyes pop open and I sit there in a cold-sweat with the people around me quiet – everything is too quiet – all I can hear if my fast heart beat and the slow breathing of the people around me; I stand up with the urge to start running; the instructor looks at me with a sympathetic glance.  Some people give me mild indignant glances that I interpret as: ‘you fail at meditation, loser’ and I leave with my mentally cluttered array of personal inadequacies and unattained goals and the added internalized failure of meditation.

This is not my idea of relaxing; this is my idea of mental torture.

This brings me full circle: how can people – who loathe inaction – attain inner-peace or a state of relaxation?  As an extremely cerebral and athletic person, with high personal expectations, I acquire peace by pushing myself to the limits.  As an ex-professional athlete, I realize that one cannot push their body to its full limits whether it be sprinting or running a marathon or participating in a triathlon or doing a back-flip, while thinking.  On the last leg of a triathlon you get those thoughts that say, ‘please dear God stop moving, your legs hurt, I want to sit down, there’s a pebble in your shoe goddammit all’ and somehow you push through it and focus on there being only two kilometres left.  Some people at this point would break down and say that there’s no way that they can make it two more kilometres.  Others take it into context and realize that they have come forty-eight kilometres and rationalize that they can make it to the end.  My point: thinking is the antithesis of winning; the more focus you put on how you are doing something, the more you seem to fall apart, which is what I realize now when it comes to competing in salsa.  The more you focus on the movement of your feet, or waist, the less you are focusing on the rhythm, the less you feel the music and the more frigid, tense and inadequate you feel.

So how can we active people with cluttered brains reach ‘the zone’ where we can feel without thinking?  I acquire this in different ways.  One way is by talking, talking to my close friends or family in order to clear my mind and to untangle my thoughts and feel at ease; I sometimes also do this by writing out my thoughts and cathartically releasing them onto the paper; or, simply by warming up and mentally pushing myself to just ‘let go’ and easing into whatever sport I am participating in.  Warm-ups are more mental release and less physical preparation.

If meditation helps you find inner calm – you are a more relaxed person than I am; if it causes you internal turmoil, I hope my tips help you let go and just be.  But I hope that I’ve been able to shed some light on why the beach and being rich aren’t the keys to being relaxed. And, that being able to relax, well, that’s all in your head.

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