The Benefits of Relaxing
Relaxation and flexibility are joined in the fitness world because the mind-body connection seems to best flourish in an atmosphere of gentle, slow movement. You can breathe deeply, slowing down your entire respiratory system and, in turn, soothe your nervous and parasympathetic nervous system.
Your nervous system is composed of the central nervous system or CNS (the brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (other nerves and neurons that do not lie within the CNS). A further division is the sympathetic nervous system, which responds to impending danger or stress, and is responsible for the increase of one's heartbeat and blood pressure.
The parasympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, is evident when a person is resting and feels relaxed, and is responsible for such things as the constriction of the pupils, the slowing of the heart, the dilation of the blood vessels, and the stimulation of the digestion.
I feel like I connect best with my body when I am participating in an intense activity. Is that possible?
Of course. Pushing your physical body can also push your emotional and intellectual boundaries. As mentioned previously, when one side of your brain is occupied in a repetitive motion, such as walking, running, or bicycling, the creative side of your brain is freed up to follow its thoughts and ideas. Also, changes in breathing patterns, whether it's slowing down your breath or increasing its intensity, can alter your emotions and your mood, which can lead to emotional growth and breakthroughs.
As mentioned previously, flexibility refers to range of motion, or the way your body parts can move around a joint. Flexibility level is somewhat genetic, i.e., some of us were born to be gymnasts and some weren't, but no matter what we drew in the genetic lottery, our level can always be improved (through exercise) or decreased (through disuse).
There are a number of ways to use exercise for relaxation and flexibility. The three mentioned here all use the connection between breath and movement, as well as a mindful awareness of what your body is doing. Mindful means to be conscious and aware of everything around you without judging or thinking about it.
Stretching increases range of motion, which decreases chance of injury. It also improves posture and strengthens the core muscles of the body. Another great benefit of stretching is that it's calming and meditative. Concentrating on relaxing and stretching your muscles can rest both your mind and your body.
The most important thing you can do throughout all of these exercises is try to breathe fully and deeply. If you find the chatter in your head is taking away your focus and conversation, simply bring your focus back to your breath.
And speaking of focus, meditation, which is also described here, isn't a physical exercise (unless you have trouble sitting for a long time), but is instead a mental one. It won't help flexibility, but it does much to promote relaxation and concentration.