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Well being is something that we all desire. But staying healthy and feeling good can be quite a challenge, especially with the stresses that pervade every aspect of our lives today. Everyone is aware that regular exercise and eating healthily are two essential steps to well being.
In this series, you'll learn about a third step, relaxation. Not just sitting around but some specific activities that trigger your body's relaxation response.
You'll learn about the importance of deep relaxation for reducing the harmful effects of stress. Along with a series of easy to do relaxation skills.
And through our weekly questionnaire, you'll gain an awareness of how stress maybe affecting you.
So get a paper and pencil ready and join us as we take the next step to well being.
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Deepak: Come on over here and sit down on my lap. Want some juice?
Deepak: OK, let's put that here. Here is a bottle of juice.
Our well being hinges on our ability to communicate with others, especially our family. But how much is our capacity for communication and emotional security strained by the stresses of contemporary life?
In this program we'll see what part stress plays in relationships. This week's questionnaire will help you recognize if stress is affecting your ability to feel as close to others as you'd like.
We'll also discover what you can do to help deepen those relationships.
Eli Bay, Director of the Relaxation Response Institute in Toronto is a pioneer in the teaching of relaxation skills for stress management.
Eli: Building long lasting happy relationships is really one of the major challenges of our time. Social changes have altered the very definition of the family. Family that once consisted of two parents, two or more children, perhaps a grand-parent are no longer typical.
Over the last couple of decades the rise of the working woman as really re-shaped and re-defined the family. These are profound social shift that have happened and as we've seen, change is one of the major triggers of the body stress reaction.
When we are under stress, we become emotional aroused. Emotional states tie us to our own personal positions and we are much less able to understand an other's point of view. We become more defensive, less able to think clearly.
Stress makes us say, think and do things that intensifies conflict. Now in contrast, relaxation helps to bring about a state of emotional balance.
Now of course it's not the only resource that we can draw upon, but related from a balanced perspective can significantly reduce both conflicts and concerns.
Dr. Posen: Stress is actually one of the biggest disruptors of family relationships that I'm aware of for the simple reason that when people are experiencing stress, they are very often hard to get along with. They are irritable, they are impatient, they get short-tempered. Sometimes they can quiet and withdraw. Sometimes they start yelling and blaming people for things. Sometimes they are so aware of their stress and want to talk about it, that they end up pushing people away by talking about how upset they are.
But certainly the way the behaviours that people get into when people are experiencing distress, very often antagonize other people or push them away and get in the way of communication. People start to feel insulted or uncomfortable and then other things grow from that.
Alex: In my practice, I see a lot of families. I see many married couples. People consult me for a variety of marriage and family and sexual difficulties. One of the most common symptoms of stress in families is irritability and fighting and conflict.
But they have little to do with actual content -- people fight and they know in their heart of hearts that it is a minor issue that they've fought over. They can know that it is repetitive. They can know, "Why am I doing this?"
You know that experience that you are heading into a fight and you know that it is going to get worse and you don't know why in the world that you are doing it.
Often times those have nothing to do with the nature of the actual relationship that you are fighting in, and only to do with coping with the stress that is going on inside of you. And the solution to that may not be to learn how to fight better, or to learn how to communicate better. The solution to that may be learning how to relax better.
Sheila: There are a lot of things that I would get angry at my husband for. And it wasn't even him who was the cause, it was just me. I was the one who was stressed and I needed to find a cause.
And so I would blame him. I would yell at my children a lot. They did nothing wrong. It's just that they happened to be the victim of my stress.
Alex: The more I know about myself, the more I can intentionally direct my own efforts towards my own well being in the management of my stress levels, and indeed of relaxation.
Deepak: Eli, we've seen that stress is a problem in relationships. What can we do about that?
Eli: First of all I think it's important to acknowledge that you can only take responsibility for your own part in any relationship. And it's also important to appreciate that we all have certain behaviour patterns that we've developed from our families, that we've learned from our parents and our immediate family, that may not necessarily work for us, in fact might work very much against us.
That's why I think you see such high divorce rates. Researchers believe that something like 85% of all families are dysfunctional, they don't work well. And we learn these dysfunctional patterns that we carry through our lives with.
One some of these patterns I think become obvious as we go through the next questionnaire that looks at wellness and relationships.
Deepak: So it's time for paper and pencil?
Eli: Yes. But don't worry if you don't have a paper and pencil handy. Just examine each point as it comes up and think about it in terms of your own relationships.
To do this test, choose a close relationship, perhaps a family member, and use that person throughout the whole test.
To score each question, you rate it on a scale of 1 - 4. 1 is for false, 4 if its true. And 2 and 3 for those things that occur in between.
As an example, let's look at the first question. Your relationship helps you to feel good about yourself, true or false? If this is a true statement, give yourself a 4. If its false, give yourself a 1. And if it isn't all true, give it a 3. And if it isn't all false, give it a 2.
So just take a moment, think about it, mark yourself on that -- true or false?
Next question, you feel you are a person of worth, on an equal plane with the person in this relationship. You feel good about yourself, you feel that there is a quality in the relationship -- true or false?
You don't feel in competition with this person. Again, look at your relationship. Is your relationship a competitive one or is there equality and balance in this.
These last few questions deal with self esteem -- how you feel about yourself. All the research indicates that when you feel good about yourself, your relationships tend to improve and it enhances overall well being.
The next group of questions. The one you care about really cares about you. True or false?
Think about your relationship and rate it on a scale of 1 - 4.
You feel your love is appreciated and returned.
You are never jealous over the other's outside activities.
These three questions deal with overall level of trust. And it's obvious that the higher your trust levels, the more secure you are going to feel in your relationship and the lower your stress levels.
Next group of questions -- you don't feel the person in this relationship tries to control your life. Think about it.
You rarely feel a sense of powerlessness in your relationship.
You can rely on this relationship for support in times of crisis. True or false.
These three questions sort of give an overview of the amount of support that you receive in your relationship. And as an aside to that, in a study that was done a few years ago, they fed hundreds of rabbits a very high Cholesterol producing diet. And after the study period where the animals were to have eaten this horrible diet, they were to be autopsied and they were analyzed to see how much plaque and build-up in the arteries.
And all of the rabbits complied with their hypothesis, they had all had very high plaque build-up except for one group of rabbits. And they had almost no Cholesterol build-up even though they ate the same diet.
And when they analyzed to see what was the difference between these rabbits, they found that the only difference was that these rabbits were fed by a different graduate student from the other rabbits in the study. And the difference was with this graduate student, that instead of just putting food in their cages, she would take out each rabbit one by one, stroke them, talk nicely to them, and then put the rabbit back in the cage and feed it.
These rabbits, the ones that were stroked, did not develop high Cholesterol. Of course the researchers were astounded at first and they thought there was obviously some mistake, so they tried it again. And they got exactly the same results. And they still didn't accept that something like just being stroked in that way could affect something physical like Cholesterol.
They tried it a third time, and it was actually replicated. And it's very much similar to a study that was done, one in Israel that I'm aware of, where they found that men who felt that their wives did not support them had much higher coronary heart disease rates than the men who did feel that they had their wife's support.
So it's really interesting to see how much support you get could actually get a significant effect on your overall well being.
The next group of questions. You enjoy being with the person you have this relationship with, 1 - 4.
You can depend on this person.
You offer praise and support more often than criticism -- true or false.
And these questions really deal with how positive is your experience of your relationship? Is it an energizing experience for you, or do you feel drained by your relationship. Is it life affirming or is it deadening?
Deepak: Eli, I have a question with this group. I enjoy being with the person I'm thinking of most of the time, but there are times that I'd rather be elsewhere.
Eli: Well no relationship is 100%. And also just when you are scoring this, just appreciate that each time you do it, you are probably going to get a different score. If you did it right after an argument, you get one score. If you did it right after a very positive intimate moment, you get another score. So just appreciate that this is just a spot light on your relationship right now.
Next group of questions. You have no difficulty revealing your intimate thoughts and feelings to the person in this relationship. Is this true or false?
You are your intimate partner are sexually compatible. If this is not applicable, score zero.
You engage in outside interests together, 1 - 4.
In one of Woody Allen's films, Woody and his partner Diane Keaton, go to a therapist who asks them how often they have sexual relations. And Woody responds by saying hardly ever. And Diane Keaton, his partner, responds by saying all the time.
Now this is a classic example of intimate feelings that just aren't shared. And really how close are you to your partner? Are you able to share your intimate feelings? It seems that the ability to share intimate feelings is really quite crucial to success in relationships. And many of us are locked into patterns of withholding feelings, with resisting, of blocking intimacy.
So just think about your relationship. And we are looking here at subtle issues here as well. If you gave yourself a 4, ask yourself, is there really no room for improvement here?
Next group of questions. You and the other person in this relationship are able to communicate effectively -- true or false?
You and the other person are able to apologize when you have hurt each other. Take a moment, think about it.
You and the other person are able to forgive when there have been hurtful communications.
And these questions of course deal with communications. And effective communications are really the foundation for successful relationships. Many of us aren't even aware when we are communicating well. We are often locked into old patterns, old dysfunctional behaviour patterns that are just so much a part of the landscape that we don't even realize it. We often may for example speak at the other person rather than speaking to the other person.
It's sometimes helpful to ask the other person to rate you on these particular questions. Because you may be quite surprised to find that they disagree with your own evaluation of how well you communicate.
And of course, forgiveness is really a key in relationships -- the ability to let go of the past, to be in the present. And of course, that's where communication happens.
The next group of questions. Your relationship is able to deal constructively with conflicts so that both people feel satisfied.
You and other person seldom become impatient or lose your tempers.
You never feel like hitting the one you are in a relationship with.
Now these questions deal with conflict and conflict resolution. And of course every relationship has conflict, it can't be avoided. What can be avoided though is the non-resolution of the conflict. What happens when people don't resolve their conflicts is that at least one of the partners, and maybe both, tend to have a frustration that builds and builds and builds, sometimes manifesting in violent words and sometimes even violent action which of course is not a helpful way to deal with the problem. It's not constructive and may even cause more problems.
The next group of questions. You are willing to make reasonable compromises to maintain your relationship. Think about that, rate it on a scale of 1 - 4.
You are confident that you can do something about problems that may arise -- true or false.
If there were problems in your relationship, you'd be willing to seek professional help -- true or false.
And these last group of questions really relate to your willingness and commitment to making your relationship work. If you aren't optimistic, if you aren't prepared to make reasonable compromises. If you aren't confident that you can do something, or you aren't willing to do something about your relationship, then that's obviously going to raise some very important issues for you.
Deepak: I got a lot of high scores on this test, plenty of 4's, but a few 2's and 1's as well.
Eli: You have to appreciate that this is a subjective assessment of the overall well being of your relationship.
The higher you score, the happier you are likely to be in your relationship. And obviously the more you travel away from the ideal, the more frustration, the more anxiety, the more stress that you are going to feel in your relationship.
But it's really important to be aware that we are getting stress coming at us from many sources in our culture. What we are doing in this program is spot lighting one particular aspect of stress. But it's just one. And it's important to appreciate that the cumulative effect of stress tends to have really negative effects on our overall well being. And with regard to this particular program, it has a very powerful negative effect on our relationships.
Deepak: So what can we do about this?
Eli: I think first of all we have to become aware of the specific areas where our relationships are not working well. And it's also important to be able to break out of the old patterns, the old cycles, the old dysfunctional systems that we have incorporated into our lives.
And certainly one of the most effective ways to break out of the old patterns and to build up our own self concept and our own self esteem, which is fundamental to make any relationship work, it's important to break out of the stress. And the way that we can do that is by focusing on turning on the body's relaxation response, which is the body's anti-stress mechanism.
Deepak: What exercises can we do that will help our relationship?
Eli: Well there are many kinds of exercises. One of them that I'd like to share right now involves getting in touch with the feeling of being relaxed.
Back in the 1920s in Europe, Dr. Johan Shultz became aware that when people were relaxed, they tended to feel heavy and they tended to feel warm.
So Dr. Shultz developed an exercise that he calls autogenic relaxation, that by suggesting to yourself that you are going to feel heavy and that you are going to feel warm, that you can actually induce a state of relaxation in your own body, mind and emotions.
Would you like to try?
Deepak: I would love to.
Eli: OK. Get comfortable. Sit up straight and cross your legs and arms. Relax your shoulders. Get comfortable in the chair and close your eyes.
And for those of you at home, you'll get much more out of this program by actually doing the exercise with us rather than by just watching. So follow along with us.
So just close your eyes and just put your concentration into your right hand. And just imagine your right hand is becoming heavy, and just by thinking, let all the muscles relax and just enjoy a feeling of happiness. Imagine if you will that your right hand is a balloon filled with wet sand or water. And just by being aware and focusing in this way on your hand, just be aware of a feeling of warmth -- a gentle warmth in your hand which is actually as a result of increased blood circulation.
So just let your right hand become heavy and warm. And let that heavy, loose, warm sensation move all the way up your arm so that your whole right arm is loose and heavy and warm.
And just repeat to yourself silently, "My right arm is heavy and warm." And repeat that several times, "Heavy and warm, heavy and warm."
And just allow your right arm to become ever more heavy, ever more warm. All the muscles relaxing.
And just imagine that feeling of warmth. Sense it. And just let that loose, heavy, warm sensation out. Be generalized to your whole body. Just imagine your whole body is just feeling pleasantly heavy, very warm. Put your concentration now onto your forehead. And just let all the muscles in your forehead relax and just imagine a feeling of warmth as if perhaps the sun were shining on your forehead. Let all the muscles loosen. And just imagine a sensation of warmth, a pleasant penetrating warmth in your forehead that just seems to raise the temperature -- imagine. Don't try to make it warm, imagine it warm. Imagine the warmth. Imagine the warmth as it moves down into your eye lids. That all of the muscles in your eye lids relax. That your eye lids become warm as if the sun was shining on them. Let them become comfortably heavy as if there were weights attached.
So it's a loose, heavy feeling. Good, let that loose, heavy feeling move down into your cheeks and into your jaw. Let all of the muscles relax. Let your lips just part slightly. And just be aware that by focusing on your cheeks and jaw in this way, the muscles relax and you can just feel a very pleasant warm sensation in your mouth, in your jaw, in your laps and your tongue, as if the sun were shining.
So your facial muscles are loose and heavy and warm. And let that loose, heavy, warm sensation move down to your throat. Imagine if you will that the sun is shining on your throat. All the muscles relax.
And just allow that loose, heavy, warm sensation to move down your neck and into your shoulders. Imagine a penetrating, comfortable, warm sensation on your neck and shoulders as if the sun were shining on your neck and shoulders.
Just recall from your memory banks what it feels like to have the sun shining on your shoulders. And let that loose, heavy warm feeling move down your upper arms, where all the muscles in your upper arms relax. And let all the muscles in your forearms loosen. Both right arm and left arm equally heavy, equally warm.
And you feel that warmth and heaviness extend all the way down to the tips of your fingers.
And allow the sun's warmth to move to your chest. Now to move to your chest. Let the sun's light and warmth be felt on your chest. A penetrating warmth. All the muscles relax in your chest. You can feel a very pleasant warmth building. Let that warm sensation move down into your solar plexus, and down into your stomach. Let all the muscles relax, loosen, unwind.
And imagine if you will the sun shining on your torso, on your chest, on your solar plexus, on your stomach. So you feel a very pleasant warmth.
Imagine that warmth now, you can feel it along the back of your neck and down your back and into your upper back. That all the muscles in your neck and upper back loosen. Imagine a feeling of warmth in your upper back. And let that warm loose feeling move down your back right into your lower back muscles.
Imagine if you will that there was the sun shining on your lower back. That you feel a penetrating warmth.
And let that sensation move down into your buttocks. Let all the muscles in your buttocks relax, and your thighs and calves and feet. Let the muscles loosen.
And imagine a feeling of warmth as if the sun were shining on your body, on your lower body. A penetrating comfortable warmth. And just by thinking about these body parts, you can feel an enhanced sensation of warmth. So that your whole body now is just feeling loose. All the muscles are relaxed. You feel a heaviness as if your body were filled with sand. As if you were just a balloon filled with sand or water.
So this heavy feeling. And just repeat to yourself silently, my entire body is loose, heavy and warm. My entire body is loose, heavy and warm.
And repeat that several times. And just keep repeating it. And as you repeat it, imagine a feeling of being loose, a feeling of being heavy, a feeling of being warm.
Now take a deep breathe, hold it and then let it go. And very, very slowly, little bit by little bit, just slowly open your eyes.
Deepak: This is a super exercise. My wife and I had to do this before discussing the results of that test.
Eli: Yes. And you should also take time out of your busy day and put yourself into deep states of relaxation for 20 - 25 minutes, so that you really have a chance to rest, recuperate, restore and replenish yourself.
And when you come out of a relaxed position, out of a relaxed healing state, you'll find that it can't help but enhance your relationships and just about every aspect of your life. And again, I encourage you to approach it as an experiment to be tested.
And what is real is what you experience.
Deepak: I can't imagine arguing with anyone feeling like this.
Eli: Well you see, our reactive tendencies tend to be reduced. Normally we tend to react rather than respond. And with techniques like this, we can step out of our own defensive postures and be more open and receptive. We can even listen and relate better.
You might be surprised to find that as you become more centered and balanced, that other people will react differently to you. And relaxation is extremely effective in helping us to break down unproductive, even unhealthy emotional and mental patterns that tend to block communication.
And the other issues that we've explored in this program that we've seen are so important for well being and relationships.
Deepak: Thanks very much Eli.
Eli: A pleasure.
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Program Length: 26:50 min
About the Program:
Program 5 Loving Better, focuses on the importance of relaxation for caring and effective communication in all relationships, and especially between intimate partners and family members.