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I tried this technique to relax in 2022, when nothing is stressful at all
A journey through progressive muscle relaxation, as described in The New York Times.
A Decadent Girl, 1899, by Ramon Casas.
A Decadent Girl, 1899, by Ramon Casas. [ Public domain ]
Published Jan. 27

My editor sent me a New York Times column titled “Relaxing Is a Skill. Here’s How to Do It.”

I am not sure if it was a hint or what, because I am a very chill person, OK? I have made that abundantly clear. I used the Calm app for a whole, like, two weeks, and I am fond of blankets. Still, we decided maybe I should try it.

Columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote about their experience learning progressive muscle relaxation, explaining it was developed by the doctor Edmund Jacobson and has many health benefits. Please read the source material! You will find the column nestled on the opinion page among light reading about COVID-19, insurrection, the death of intellectualism and one piece titled “America Is Falling Apart at the Seams.”

But about relaxing, Manjoo wrote: “I don’t mean that I discovered the benefits of taking it easy or of remaining calm in the face of adversity and letting life’s troubles slide off my back. I mean it more literally: I learned how to relax my muscles, to purposefully, systematically isolate each part of my body and loosen the meat on my bones.”

Simply put, the technique is to tighten and relax muscles. Once you get good, Manjoo wrote, you can relax anywhere. At first, they said, block off 10 or 15 minutes to try it out.

It was a dreary, rainy, cold day, which I figured would help the process. I pictured falling asleep as my muscles melted into tingly pools of butter and waking fresh as a Disney princess, not a tired woman in the Christmas sweatshirt she slept in.

I set a phone timer for 15 minutes and reclined face-up in bed. I started from the bottom, flexing and unflexing my toes, ankles, calves. Easy! By the time I got to hamstrings and quads, I started overthinking and shoving the back of my knees into the bed in a move like a mermaid trapped on land.

The, um, muscleous reareous was much easier, as were abs. I carry tension in my shoulders, like one of those rescue dogs born without enough vertebrae, so that area felt great. I performed the recommended bicep flexes, clenched fists and rolled my head to the side, exhaling on the muscle release.

Superior! A model of relaxation! That was … oh, four minutes.

I lasted approximately 10 more seconds before reaching for my phone like a reanimated corpse. I went to a slideshow of Lupita Nyong’o’s best red-carpet looks, which one could argue is very soothing. Then there was an article about how Chile’s president-elect is sending “hugs from the south” to Taylor Swift in a new internet fray.

I checked email, which had an account balance alert and a Groupon for Botox and Juvederm. I arched my back a bit more. We Don’t Talk About Bruno blared in my head the entire time: “He told me my fish would die; the next day, dead!”

The darkness was in me! I thrust the phone aside, then remembered that one of the progressive relaxation moves was smiling large and holding it. I flashed a giant, open-mouthed grin at the ceiling like Pennywise the evil clown.

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The timer dinged.

OK, so this takes practice! No surprise there. It all takes practice. Sitting still, drinking water, meditating, going outside all takes practice. It takes practice to step away from electronics, rapid tests, KN95s, Supreme Court packing, critical race theory, voting rights, Wordle, woke M&Ms, filibusters, billionaires, supply chain, blockchain, the metaverse, deepfakes, Russia, Ukraine, China, continually disappointing TV and movie reboots. It’s not that we can or should ignore these things forever. But we can trust they will still be there in 15 minutes after we isolate a tricep.

I’m keeping at the squeezy technique, even while writing this. And guess what? I can feel it. These small acts of self-care eventually work, chipping away at physiological stress one smush at a time. So keep it up. Squeeze. Hold. Release. Repeat.

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