RELAX — and live longer (May, 1956)

I’m not sure that this is actually a practical way to design an ergonomic chair, but it’s a neat idea:

“…the Barcalounger, was developed by a German scientists, Anton Lorenz, to duplicate the effortless ease with which a person floats in bouyant water. Lorenz asked 35 people to don bathing suits and step, one at a time, into a glass tank of salt water. When each person felt most relaxed he pulled a string attached to a camera shutter, taking a picture of himself. A composite of the 35 exposures became the basis of the Barcalounger design.”

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RELAX — and live longer

Tension may crack your health, poison your outlook, spoil your home life, hinder your career— unless you learn the techniques of releasing it.

By Lyman Gaylord

WHEN two-year-old Kenneth Liebman fell from a sixth-story window in New York, spectators froze in horror. Then, before their incredulous eyes, he got up and walked away unharmed. Was it a miracle that saved his life? No, answers a group of medical men, it was relaxation.

The experts explain that we lose our ability to relax as we become conditioned to the pressure of modern life. As adults, most of us are characterized by tension. When we fall we stiffen our bodies and not being able to bend, we break.

Not only do we break bones but we break in other equally costly and sometimes tragic ways. According to one prominent doctor, tension kills off our executives in their prime, reduces work production, creates neuroses, and acts as a destructive force in all of our human relationships. But this needn’t be the case. You can learn to release tensions. You can relax. And you don’t have to go to the South Seas to do it. You can avail yourself of simple, do-it-yourself techniques and gadgets developed by specialists in a half dozen medical fields.

First of all, do you need to relax? Most of us do but check yourself with these questions:
1. Do you wake up more tired than when you went to bed?

2. Are you bothered by chronic indigestion?

3. Do you suffer from vague aches and pains?

4. Are you always fatigued, feel all shot?

5. Are you easily upset, a worrier, jumpy, irritable?

6. Do you always feel noshed, just a little behind time?

7. Do you tend to freeze up when the going gets rough?

8. Are you a key jingler, a pencil chewer?

If you answer yes to any or all of these questions, it’s time for you to start relaxing. Find time during the day for this little exercise in doing nothing: Flop into a comfortable chair or sprawl out on a couch. Try to keep your mind blank but if you must think about something, don’t mull over your business problems. Let your arms hang limp at your sides; unclench your fists. Don’t try to hold your own weight up; the chair or bed will do it for you. Let your shoulders droop; your jaw sag; close your eyes.

When you get up in the morning, give yourself time to wake up gradually. Sit on the edge of your bed for a couple of minutes and treat yourself to a few big, healthy yawns. This will help you break up tension sets built up during sleep. (Being unconscious doesn’t mean being relaxed.) Then enjoy a quiet breakfast and stroll, don’t run, out of the door on the way to the garage or bus stop.

When you get to work, spend a little time planning your day’s activities. Try to find out what’s expected of you and determine just what you expect of yourself. Once your plan is made, forget about it until the time comes for each activity. By not worrying you can cut out a lot of troublesome tension at the source.

During the working day, try to be as efficient as possible. Time-motion studies have shown that most workers expend a tremendous amount of superfluous energy in the performance of even the simplest tasks. Study your own work patterns, watching for energy-consuming waste motion and tensions. For instance, if you drive a truck there’s no need to keep your foot on the clutch while cruising on long, level stretches. If you do close work such as proofreading or sorting small machine parts, check to see that you’re not frowning, clenching your teeth or squinting.

And don’t forget to reserve a little time during which you won’t do anything at all. The ideal time, of course, is during lunch. Don’t, for instance, spend the entire sixty minutes talking shop or arguing about the World Series.

While such on-the-job relaxation techniques will go a long way toward reducing tension, the chances are that if your job is as demanding as most, you will need additional help in letting go. This is because muscles can stay tense long after the activity first associated with them is finished. These “residual tensions” can remain in muscles for years.

I watched a startling demonstration of this in one of Dr. Josephine Rathbone’s scientific relaxation classes at Columbia University. Dr. Rathbone asked a former shot putter to lie flat on a large table and told him to relax. In a moment he looked like a limp dish rag. His facial muscles relaxed to the point where he lost all expression. His head rolled to one side. Dr. Rathbone raised his left arm, dropped it; it bounced like a tired tennis ball, dead weight. “Now watch this,” she said, picking up his right arm. She moved it around, seeking a certain position. All of a sudden his arm froze, rigid as a crow bar. Dr. Rathbone explained that it was exactly that position that he had used just as he heaved the shot.

How to relax these residual tensions? Dr. David Harold Fink, an eminent neuropsychiatrist, recommends that you start by supplying yourself with four comfortable pillows, the only equipment you’ll need. Lie flat on the floor or on a comfortable bed. Put one pillow under your neck and head; another under the knees; and one under each forearm and hand.

Relaxation itself begins with the jaw and eyes. Put the tip of your tongue between your teeth. If you feel pressure on your tongue, let go a little, until you just feel the touch of your teeth. Close your eyes but don’t clamp the lids shut.

Now the arms. Talk to them as you exhale. Yes, talk; not out loud but to yourself. Tell them to “Let go,” and “Let go more . . . more.” By talking to your arms, explains Dr. Fink, you are using a skill already perfected, speech, to learn a new one, relaxation.

Talk to your arms for about an hour or you can break up the time into thirty minute stints. Do it every day for two weeks. Soon you’ll be aware of what relaxation feels like. You will notice your hands getting warm; your arms heavy.

After the arms, go on to the muscles of your chest. Use exactly the same technique. After a week spent relaxing your chest, it’s time to work with your back for one week. During the fifth week, it’s the legs; during the sixth, the neck. In the seventh week, relax your face muscles; in the eighth, the scalp; and in the ninth, the eyes. In the tenth and final week let go of the tensions in the muscles that control speech.

You may find the first phase, arms and chest, of this technique useful as a means of getting to sleep. Another tip for sleep is recommended by Dr. Rath-bone: imitate the slow, rhythmical breathing of sleep itself.

As a final step in planned relaxation, find time in the evening or on week ends during which you can get-away-from-it-all, break the routine of the day’s and week’s work. Almost any activity will do as long as you don’t push it too hard: try not to tire yourself and don’t attempt to become perfect.

If you feel that you need to relax but can’t find the time or right conditions, you can still get some relief from your tensions with some of the clever gadgets on the market today.

Take chairs, for instance. Most of them are top notch tension promoters but a good reclining chair will support your body with a minimum of strain to your muscles. One of them, the Barcalounger, was developed by a German scientists, Anton Lorenz, to duplicate the effortless ease with which a person floats in bouyant water. Lorenz asked 35 people to don bathing suits and step, one at a time, into a glass tank of salt water. When each person felt most relaxed he pulled a string attached to a camera shutter, taking a picture of himself. A composite of the 35 exposures became the basis of the Barcalounger design.

Then there’s the Contour Chair, designed in terms of a scientifically idealized profile. When you sit in a Contour Chair in a full reclining position your heart is a few inches lower than your feet, meaning that your circulation speeds up without any increased heart activity.

The Paka Seat, a portable relaxation aid for tired backs, is made from canvas and a couple of bamboo rods. Rolled up it looks like a small umbrella, about 15 inches long and weighing only 8 ounces. It can be used with regulation chairs, on benches, car seats and beds. With the Paka Seat you use your whole back for sitting, evenly distributing your weight and the strain. The inventor recommends it for truck drivers, office workers and anyone who does a lot of sitting.

Also available are under-the-pillow loudspeakers for your radio (some are supplied as integral parts of bedside table radios made by Mitchell and Emerson) or radio phonograph. With one of these you can be soothed to sleep with music. Or you can listen to the hypnotic voice of John Gordon Spalding, practicing practical psychologist and hypnotist, as he tells you that your eyes are feeling heavy and you are g…r…o…w…i…n…g v…e…r…y s…l…e…e…p…y. Spalding has recorded a disc called “You Can Sleep” put out on the Psychosonic Recording label.

Is all this really worth it? What will relaxing tensions do for you? Read what industrial psychologist Ernst Dichter has to say about tension and then draw your own conclusion: “I have seen it (tension) lower productiveness, obstruct advancement and undermine job and social relationships. I have learned to recognize it also as a chief enemy in gaining the acceptance of new ideas.”

So spend a few weeks learning to reeducate your body to a natural state of relaxation. You’ll look better, feel better, work better and will probably live longer.

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