Lowering yourself into a bath at the end of a long day is one of the best ways to soothe both your body and mind. But if you are sitting there worrying about the next day's demands or what you will cook for dinner, your ability to relax will be severely dampened. It is important to be intentional about the ways in which we find relaxation; while turning on a TV show or drinking a glass of wine can be tempting, these are not effective ways to develop sustainable stress management skills. Many of us find it difficult to get a satisfying nightly rest because we fail to start winding down two hours before we actually lie down to sleep. Taking a bath before bed is a great way to reset your brain and get you ready for bed in a way that will let you fall asleep quickly and stay asleep through the night. Your body and mind make up the machine that is you, and this machine needs to be well-oiled in order to continue to function day after day. Use your bath time tonight to develop healthy responses to stress that will allow you to live better!
Dim the Lights
It is time to fill your bath. This process gives you enough time to create a peaceful scene. Lower the lights or even use red-tinted light in your bathroom to promote your brain's production of melatonin. Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone produced by the pineal gland (the same gland that makes us dream). It triggers a relaxation response and allows us to fall asleep. The findings of a study published by The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism show that "room light exerts a profound suppressive effect on melatonin levels and shortens the body's internal representation of night duration. Hence, chronically exposing oneself to electrical lighting in the late evening [results in] [...] a later melatonin onset in 99.0% of individuals and shortening melatonin duration by about 90 min." When we expose our bodies to bright lights, it is harder to sleep because our internal clock has been confused and does not think it is nighttime. This results in not getting enough sleep, not sleeping deeply enough, and therefore having higher stress levels during the day. Using dim lighting during your bath time to prepare for bed will improve the length and quality of your sleep, making you more capable of taking on the day.
Another way to cue relaxation in the body is by using essential oils. Lavender, rosemary, chamomile, sandalwood, cedarwood, valerian, and neroli are all excellent scents to help calm and focus the mind. Choose your favorite blend or just pick one scent to try out, then place 5-10 drops in your bath as it is filling up. Use a figure-eight motion to swirl the water around the bath, encouraging the oils and your mind to blend with the flow of the water. You can use this moment to set an intention for your bath time, repeat a mantra that helps you feel centered, or just breathe deeply and focus on the smells wafting from your tub.
Mixing Epsom salt in the water will supercharge your bath. It helps soothe aching muscles, improve digestion, produce serotonin in the body, regulate blood sugar, improve circulation, and much more. Why is salt so helpful? Well, Epsom salt is "actually a mineral compound of magnesium and sulfate, and is technically known as magnesium sulfate," whereas table salt is made up of sodium chloride. Magnesium sulfate can be taken internally or absorbed through the skin to aid the body in a multitude of ways. By combining Epsom salt with essential oils in your bath water, you are creating a calming cocktail for the body and mind that will continue to serve you even after you step out of the water.
Now that your tub is ready, lower yourself into the water. Feel the warmth start to open the pores in your skin and smooth out each muscle. Close your eyes and take deep breaths as you feel your heart rate slow down bit by bit. Picture a place or activity that brings you peace and joy, perhaps involving a body of water. Maybe you are floating on the surface of a glassy lake, or being gently tossed by ocean waves. Use the sensation of the bath water surrounding you to bring a clear image to your mind. It might take you a moment to land on something, or it might be immediately apparent. Either way, when you find it you will know; a smile will spread across your face and a feeling of calm will ripple through your body. Dive into this image. What do you see? What do you hear? What can you touch? What can you taste? Where are you? When are you? Are there other beings there? Take your time and explore this peaceful place you have found within you. It might come from a memory or dream or just your imagination. Cultivate this space and return to it whenever you need to ground yourself and step away from the stress of the moment.
Bath time provides a perfect space to practice some breathing techniques that will help you manage your stress. One that is very effective and also very simple is Dr. Weil's "4-7-8 Breathing Technique". It is quick to learn and the results are noticeable after your first try, although you should make a habit of it to integrate it into your body and teach you to relax more deeply over time. To start, touch your tongue to the ridge behind your top row of teeth. Close your eyes and take note of where you feel your breath in your body. What is the quality of the breath? Is it rushed, is it shallow, is it deep, is it slow? Take a deep breath and then let all the air in your lungs exit your body through your mouth. With your tongue in position, the breath will make a rushing noise as it exits your body. Breathe in through your nose for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7 counts, then breath out through your mouth for 8 counts. Practice the method for 4 rounds, then continue to breathe normally, noticing any changes in your body and mind. You will have to practice this a few times to decide the speed of counting that works for you. You don't need to push or force anything, and if you start to feel too light-headed you can try counting faster so that you are able to complete 4 rounds without feeling overwhelmed. This technique will serve you best if you practice it at least twice a day (ideally, just after waking in the morning and just before bed). It is very quick to complete and one of the simplest ways to integrate a relaxation practice into your daily life. Once you are familiar with the practice, you can use this method when you notice feelings of anxiety spike at any time during the day, reminding yourself to slow down before reacting.
Another relaxation practice that you can complete in the bath involves checking in with each part of the body in order to release tension. Its structure comes from ancient meditation practices and has been developed and studied by Jon Kabat-Zinn and The University of Berkeley to use in teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Like any other technique, the body scan is most effective when practiced regularly because it will teach you to develop a powerful relaxation response to stress. Lie back in the hot water and let your ears sink below the surface. Observe your body and any sounds you can hear. Feel the difference created in your mind by reducing the number of external stimuli by lying under the surface of the water. Bring your attention to the bottoms of your feet. Don't work too hard, just try to locate your big toe, then the second toe, then the third, and so on. If you feel any sensation, take note of it. Is it tight? Pulling? Pulsing? Warm? Cool? What does the water feel like against your skin? What does the material of the tub feel like? If there is no sensation, just take note of that.
When you feel any tension, breathe in deeply and focus your mind on the tension. As you breathe out, let the tension flow out of your body on the wave of your breath. Continue this practice as you move up your legs, through your hips and stomach, around your back, into your chest, across your shoulders and down your arms and hands, up your neck and into your face. Let your eyes and tongue sink back into your head as if they were being pulled down by gravity. Finish at the top of your head, letting the excess energy float out on your breath. Then let go of any one area and try to sense your body as a whole. Note any areas of peace and any areas of tension. Give thanks for all your body does as it carries you through each day, and for your conscious care of its complex system. This technique serves to deeply calm the body and will leave you feeling refreshed and soothed. It is a great way to help yourself get to sleep as well as rejuvenate your energy when you need a pick-me-up during the day. Take as long as you need with each part of your body and enjoy the feeling of your breath cleansing you.
Simply bathing in hot water is an excellent way to tell your body to slow down, and adding any of these practices to your bath routine will ensure a deep relaxation response. Over time, as you use these techniques regularly, your body will react more quickly and you will be able to experience a greater sense of calm. When you go through times of stress during the day, you can use these methods to bring you back to the moment and remind you of the peace you hold within you, and of your calming bath beckoning you at home.
The Greater Good Science Center at The University of Berkeley, California offers many more practices and resources to use in your tub or at any other time.
Contact Pelham & White today to install the tub of your dreams and perfect your ability to relax.