Let's look at some well known relaxation techniques.
Developed by Shultz, autogenic relaxation involves changing physical sensation by using
mental suggestion or imagery. The six standard exercises are designed to counteract six of the major effects of stress. For example muscular relaxation is induced by imagining that the body is becoming heavier and the abdomen is warmed and relaxed by imagining the solar plexus becoming warm.
In many ways this is the most Westernized, and technological, of the approaches to relaxation.
Electrical equipment and other devices are used to give you feedback (sound or visual) about your biological processes which reflect your stress level: temperature, blood pressure, galvanic skin response, heart rate, muscle action potentials, and brainwave activity.
Using the feedback as a guide, you learn to voluntarily control these physiological functions. For example, by learning to slow the rate of clicks from the machine, you learn to reduce the frequency of muscle action potential firing and thereby relax tense muscles.
These are variations on the theme of relaxed, diaphragmatic breathing that have been the foundation of many yogic and meditative traditions. These techniques increase the flow of oxygen to, and removal of toxins from, the blood.
And they also reverse the "stress breathing" pattern.
Imagery and Visualization
More than mere daydreaming these techniques use mental images as a means of achieving physical and mental relaxation. In guided imagery you create mental images of scenes such as walks through quiet forests. Visualization, on the other hand involves more abstract mental images such as soothing colours.
Meditation originated as an Eastern religious practise.
In its various forms, it involves a focused contemplation upon a word, a sound, an object to look at, or a thought. Benson adapted meditation to create the Relaxation Response, in which mantra's are replaced by short commonly used english words, such as "one".
The goal of meditation is to clear the mind of stress-provoking thoughts.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Otherwise know as Jacobson's technique, because of its inventor, this technique involves alternately contracting and relaxing groups of muscles. Progressive relaxation teaches you how to distinguish between muscular tension and relaxation.
At the same time, it uses a physiological phenomenon -- tightening a muscle produces an increase in relaxation of that muscle -- to achieve physical relaxation.
Hatha Yoga and Kundalini Yoga are among the better known versions of this Eastern system of personal development.
Yoga uses asanas, or postures, and breathing techniques to achieve its goal of self mastery and the integration of mind, body, and spirit.
Sometimes referred to as a "moving meditation", the various forms of Tai Chi derive from an ancient martial art.
Tai Chi consists of a precise sequence of 108 slow rhythmical patterns of movements known as the Tai Chi Set.
Graceful and flowing, this technique focuses the mind on the body, while making the body stronger, more supple and more relaxed.
A word about exercise
Strictly speaking, aerobic exercise is not a relaxation technique.
However, research does suggest that physical fitness training moderates the negative effects of stress and that physically fit people are less vulnerable to stress-related problems.
Regular aerobic exercise is a healthy stress-relieving practise.
Yet, while long distance running may give you a "meditative" feeling, a noisy aerobics class will not provide the inner calm and physical relaxation of relaxation techniques.
Use your judgement.
The possibilities are endless. And so are the ways in which you can benefit from regular relaxation.