Ted Sorensen, JFK’s special counsel, portrayed the Presidency as “long hours, relentless activity and steady concentration.” These requirements describe many occupations today, and the bustle is constant. Cell phones ring, voice mails beep, and e-mails beckon. Home is hurried and harried. Is this frenzied activity due to ambition or job description? The economy or our expectations? Inner or outer demands? One thing is sure. Healthy bodies and minds need relaxation. “But I have no time!” many protest. I believe that anyone can relax, even in unconventional settings.
U.S. Presidents have long known the benefits of relaxation: restoring energy, calming thoughts and stimulating creativity. Lincoln read. Eisenhower golfed. Kennedy sailed. According to Sorensen, Kennedy’s mental breaks kept pressure “from breaking him.” He also used hot baths and heating pads to relieve his back pain.
My back pain started 20 years ago and still plagues me. It varies from a dull pressure to that of an elephant crushing my spine. The intensity depends on my activity. Only relaxation and medication budge the beast. I am a college nurse today, thanks to mini-breaks and morphine. After work, I relax an hour to classical music. I find, like Wordsworth, “healing and repose to every angry passion” and “pleasure to my peace.”
Stress interferes with learning in college. I solicited suggestions for a “101 Ways to Relax” poster from students and faculty. Submissions poured in. Ideas ranged from listening on iPods to skateboarding. The relaxation activities between work and home interested me the most.
My own favorite is the automatic car wash. It is like being a cave dweller during a thunderstorm, only in comfort! At the entrance, I press in my code and put my car and mind in neutral. Reclining my seat to create a cot in the semi-darkness, I breathe in 1-2-3 and out 2-2-3. I am ready. First, the windshield is flooded by a torrential downpour. The intensity is as relaxing to my mind, as my home whirlpool jets are to my body. Giant blue fabric strips go “swoosh, swoosh, swoosh” over the top sides of my car. Huge red brushes twirl on the sides, saying “hum, bum, bum…hum, bum.” The rhythm repeats like a drum: “hum, bum, bum.” My deep breathing continues. In this secluded space, the sounds wash away my cares.
The car slowly advances down the track. The fabric clears, the tempest ends, and the brushes stop. I take a final deep breath. Sparkling sunshine greets me at the end of the car wash tunnel. Totally relaxed, I affirm to myself, “In this moment all is well.”
Beethoven and the local Symphony of Suds Car Wash are only two of the poster’s “101 Ways to Relax.” Discovering more methods simply requires an open mind. I believe that we cannot turn back the hands of time, but we can make them pause now and then.
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