On Learning Progressive Relaxation

I took my 21st Bikram class last night. The more I develop my practice of it, the more parallels I see between it and running. For example, both teach us to build endurance. Imagine struggling to hold a balancing pose, only to hear the instructor call out, "Half way there." Although that means there's only 30 seconds left, it feels like forever and I think, "There's no way I'll make it." Kinda like how I felt running 800's yesterday morning. Though it was only for 4 minutes (4:10 to be exact), 2 minutes into it I was thinking, "I'm going to die." But I survived both and went on to do more.

Or how about Patience? There are some poses that my body is just not meant to do. There are others that, with practice, I eventually have been, and will be able, to do. And then there are the days where my body just isn't up to it. The same goes with running. Both activities require patience that may take years before we are able to achieve our goals but with practice and hard work, eventually we'll get there.

As I mentioned in this post, I recently read "The Competitive Edge", a book that discusses mental training. One of the techniques it teaches is called, "Progressive Relaxation."

This purpose of Progressive Relaxation is to learn what "relaxed muscles" feel like so that we can elicit that feeling before and during running.

The following steps are recommended to do this:

1. Lie on your back and stretch out completely. (Think "Savasana")

2. Pay attention to breathing and take long, deep breaths through the nose from the belly. (Like "Ujjayi Breathing")

3. Feel yourself relaxing -- the tension leaving your body as if you are going into a "Zen" state.

4. Raise your right leg off the ground and flex it tightly (creating tension), including your calf and toes. Then release, drop and relax. Repeat with the other leg. Then do both legs while engaging your core. (Think "Locust Pose" except you are lying on your back instead of your tummy)

The book goes on to walk you through this process with the rest of your body. The point of all this being to learn how to acutely recognize what tension vs. complete relaxation feels like, so that when you are running / racing and you start to feel tension, you are able to recognize it and release it.

Some tips to put this into practice are:

1. Individualize the above steps. If the above doesn't completely work for you, modify it to something similar that does.

Since I practice Bikram regularly, and it's so similar to it, the above basically works for me so I've just gone with it.

2. Have a cue word.

In Bikram, the instructor uses the word "Change" to tell us when to relax and release a pose. I have adopted that word as my cue word. When I'm running and I start to feel anxious, panicked or overwhelmed, I say of the word "Change", then deep breaths to make myself to relax. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I'll get better at it over time, just have to keep practicing.

3. Practice

I try to take a Bikram class 2-3 times per week. It not only provides a time to specifically practice Progressive Relaxation, it also works out all my aches and pains - multi-tasking at it's best!

4. Keep a log

At the end of the book is a sample of Training Log that tracks the usual physical stats like Resting Pulse, Weight, Hours Slept, etc. In addition, it also tracks your Running Workouts, Mental Training, Other Supplemental Activities (i.e. cross-training), as well as any aches or pains you may be feeling. I've sent it up in Google Docs and added some additional fields for nutrition. I've been using it for the past 3 weeks and have found that it's a nice, simple format to get a quick snapshot of the day.

One last note:

In addition to all of the above is learning how to have a passive attitude about what you feel and thoughts you think. When self-doubt or negative thoughts creep into you mind during a workout, both this book and my yoga instructors say to acknowledge the thought, then dismiss it. Let it go. (not an easy thing to do!)

The same goes with feelings of discomfort it. You know you will feel discomfort during a speed workout . Or on Mile 18 of a 20-miler. Or in trying to lean back in Camel Pose. Or to make it through the last 15-minutes of a crowded hot yoga class (all "favorite" discomforts of mine). Recognize the discomfort, then let it go and move on.

The past few weeks that I've spent learning and starting to practice all of this has truly been eye-opening. In my mind it all makes sense but now I'm beginning to see how everything that I've been doing fits together - compliments each other. And I can already feel the benefits from it.