Relaxation and Energy Potential

busy-nervous.gifThis is page 2 of "Relax Your Way to Greater Health (and Energy)".

I owe my understanding of this subject to several books by psychologist Alexander Lowen. Dr. Lowen maintains that tension is a sign of fatigue. Energized muscles are relaxed, and exhausted muscles are tense. Through Dr. Lowen I came to understand that exhaustion can make a person act highly energetic, but all they are really doing is discharging energy like a child who is so tired that they can't sleep. This happens because the body becomes so tense that it can't hold an energy charge, so energy is discharged instead of being stored.

The person who is running on nervous energy, like the proverbial headless chicken, is actually in a high state of exhaustion. The more relaxed, easy-going person actually has a higher level of energy because they have more energy reserves.

When most people think of having more energy, they think onl in terms of increased energy output (discharge) and not in terms of creating more energy reserves (input or recharge). This is why they think stimulants will give them energy—but they don't. They're only increasing the rate of discharge, causing the energy reserves of the body to become further depleted.

To understand why this is so, recognize that muscles expend energy when they contract. Contracting muscles allow us to move, lift, walk, run and perform our daily activities. However, each time a muscle contracts, it discharges energy. A muscle rebuilds its charge when it relaxes or elongates again. In its relaxed, elongated state, it has an energy potential that is ready for the next discharge.

Nerves do a similar thing; they build up an electrical charge, which is then discharged as the nerve sends a message. In order to send another message, the nerve must rebuild its electrical charge. When nerves become exhausted, a person becomes “shaky.” The nerves can no longer hold the charge and fire rapidly, releasing their energy before they are fully recharged. This causes muscles to tremble and makes the person feel unsteady.

Both muscles and nerves are able to rapidly alternate charging and discharging, but there is a limit to how many times they can do this before they need to rest and recharge. If a muscle is overworked, it grows tense.

So, as I learned from Dr. Lowen and from working with a lady named DeAnna Hansen from Canada, when a muscle cramps or spasms, it is exhausted. The pain we feel when this happens is the body's attempt to get us to stop using the muscle until it has a chance to relax again. Unfortunately, most of us don't always listen. We want to keep driving the body without giving it time to recharge.

Recharge Your Batteries

stretching.gifI wrote this article on my laptop, which has a battery that allows it to operate without being plugged in. I've discharged and recharged this battery many times, and as I've done so the capacity of the battery to hold a charge has gradually diminished. In other words, the period of time that I can use the battery before it requires recharging gets progressively shorter.

This same thing has been happening in my body as I've gotten older. Why? Because my muscles are too tense (contracted) to hold a high energy charge. So, the length of time I can work before needing rest is getting shorter. And the reason my fatigue has increased as I've aged is the same reason my laptop battery doesn't last as long as it once did—I simply can't hold the same energy charge that I once did.

When I figured this out, I started doing stretching exercises. I've tried doing yoga, but I can't get into most of the poses depicted in the book because I'm much too stiff. Fortunately, I've got a book called Yoga For Wimps: Poses for The Flexibly Impaired. This book has exercises I can actually do.

I've found it especially valuable to stand up periodically when working on the computer and stretch my body by raising my arms and leaning backward. I can't stretch backwards as far as the girl in the photo yet, but I'll get there eventually. This stretching helps counteract the fatigue in my muscles caused by bending forward and working on the computer. When I remember to stretch and relax periodically, I always have more energy during the day. Essentially, I'm increasing my body's storage capacity.

Herbs to Help You Relax

Along this same line of thinking, I've found that taking herbs that help relax muscle tension in the evening also increases my energy.  Some people use alcohol for this purpose, but alcohol doesn't give you energy.  Antispasmodic herbs do.

One of my favorite muscle relaxing herbs is kava kava.  I really like Amazon herbs Kavazon formula, but they discontinued it because the insurance rates on kava have dramatically increased due to the kava scare in Europe.  I still think kava is very safe, and it is one of my favorite relaxation herbs because it relaxes the muscles without dulling your thinking (the way alcohol does).

I've used a tincture of kava to help me relax and sleep, but I prefer to take kava as part of a formula.  I really like Gaia Herb's Serenity formula. It uses the same liquid gel-cap technology that Amazon used with their Kavazon product and it really helps me unwind and enjoy more restful sleep. I've also used Gaia Herb's Sound Sleep formula. Taking something to help me relax and get a sound night's sleep also helps my energy level. There is a good list of Relaxing Nervine Formulas in the book, Modern Herbal Medicine.

My Dad was right—staying relaxed actually helps you work longer and harder. It has taken me a while to learn this lesson, but I'm finally “getting it.”

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