Using “Calm down” and “Relax” as an imperative command has about a 100% failure rate. I know, I know…you TOTALLY mean well. You really believe that if that person who is majorly stressed could calm down then they’d see the fullness of the situation. That breathing would allow fresh perspective. That by slowing their heart rate, they are taking care of their overtaxed selves. And so on.

Got it. And so do they.

But it doesn’t quite work like that, does it? In fact, it typically has the OPPOSITE effect, right? That’s because you are dismissing the gravity of what they are experiencing. You are condescending them by telling them how they should feel. Attempting to alter their experience in a moment is suggesting that they are not to be trusted with their emotions. Ugh. Unhelpful and frankly, annoying (but seriously, bless you for caring).

So stop doing it.

Part of the charge is that some people don’t know HOW to relax, exacerbating the tension and compounding their feelings of inadequacy, which were probably the source of stress to begin with (most stress is related to a sense of inadequacy). But unfortunately for you, you well-intentioned Zen Master, telling them HOW to relax isn’t going to make anything much better.

In Gretchen Rubin’s Happier At Home (LOVE), she bristles at the woman who tries to ram meditation down her throat, saying pointedly:

“I often remind myself that just because something makes me happy doesn’t mean it makes other people happy, and vice versa”.

We each need to find our own way into this.

For many, the very idea of relaxation is synonymous with boredom. They feel that it’s a waste of time, a dreaded “should”, foreign and uncomfortable. For most of my life, that was my truth.

“Relaxing” takes effort. Willpower. Force. Kinda like barreling through yellow lights to get to yoga class so you can get your zen on. Exceptionally counterintuitive.

Here’s what I’m finding works much, MUCH better.

Find out what the endpoint of relaxation is to you. Or another way in: how do you want to feel when you are relaxed? Refreshed? Recharged? Clearer? Prepared?

Now think about what engenders that feeling for you. Is it your yoga practice? Is it the way you feel when you are in a hot bubble bath with a glass of wine and some James Taylor? Is it wandering aimlessly in a museum? Is it surfing? Is it creating a new soup? Or is it how you feel in lotus position on your meditation pillow?

And now, notice what’s going on when you’re in that space, when you’re in flow and all is right with the world. Like, say you picked creating a new soup…notice what’s here: sensuality, creativity, delight, focus, wonder. Can you feel that? How much more yummy is that than sitting quietly trying to beat your monkey brain into submission?

Uh huh.

So, next time you are trying to relax, or, heaven forbid, someone TELLS you to relax, pause, take a breath and conjure your scenario, inviting in those attributes of sensuality, creativity, delight, focus or wonder (or whatever they are). You can do it. Ease into it, relishing and savouring what’s here…in THIS moment. That’s YOUR brand of relaxation. Wholly unique and utterly sacred.