Expert Advice on Self-Guided Relaxation Techniques

hcNASCAR drivers spend hours studying tires so they can drive faster, chefs travel all around the world to find new ingredients. Now it’s time for hammockers to devote themselves to an advanced education, in relaxation. Lewis Hutchison, MSW is mental health therapist specializing in stress-reduction and relaxation techniques. He’s also the proud owner of an ENO Double Nest and when he lays down, he gets relaxed, damn relaxed. Luckily he’s willing to share some of that knowledge, starting by  dispelling some common myths.

“Relaxation techniques are about more than just closing your eyes and breathing slowly. There are a lot of specific and varied techniques that, with time and practice, can yield a much deeper state of relaxation than most people are used to.”

This isn’t to say that breathing deeply and closing your eyes isn’t relaxing. It is very relaxing. It’s sleeping. But what Hutchison wants to clarify is that there are benefits associated with specific relaxation exercise that offer far more than a simple cat nap.

The average person is exposed to countless stressors throughout their daily environment. Everything, from the unexpected honk of a car horn to taking a bite of pizza that’s too hot, creates a reaction in your body not unlike a mild fight-or-flight response. Hutchison says, “These reactions add together throughout the day to keep your body in a protracted state of tenseness, causing symptoms ranging from chronically sore muscles to digestive problems. Relaxation techniques work to stop the momentum of those stressors and return your body to its natural state.”

According to Hutchison, body scanning, diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindful meditation are some of the easier, more accessible relaxation techniques. Body scanning, he suggests, is particularly well suited toward hammock users because of the environment that the hammock creates.

The best setting for engaging in relaxation techniques is a place that is free of extremes, like loud noises or cold temperatures, and intrusions, like ringing cell phones.  “Hammocks are great because many people  set them up in places where the environmental characteristics best suited for relaxing are already met. But the best reason to engage in relaxation techniques in a hammock is that the fabric uniformly supports every part of your body.” Many of the techniques listed above are dependent on a person’s ability to completely relax all muscle groups, something that’s very hard to do even in a chair, where you flex neck and shoulder muscles to hold your head in place.

One such technique is body scanning. Body scanning is one of the most basic, but effective techniques that Hutchison recommends. Start by laying in your hammock, making sure you are as comfortable as possible. Focus on a specific area of your body and turn your full attention to it, keeping your attention there for at least 30 seconds and up to 2 minutes. Then, release your focus and turn to another part of your body. You can focus on parts as broad as an arm, but may find more success with specific parts, like your neck or forehead. “As you release each part of your body from attention, you will find that those muscles will completely relax. By scanning your entire body, one area at a time, you’ll reach a state of deep relaxation.”

Done right, these techniques will allow you to reach a professional level of relaxation. You wouldn’t expect anything less than a perfect performance from your hammock and now, your hammock can expect the same from you.