Pleasure makes us feel good. When we feel good, we relax. When we relax, the parasympathetic side of the nervous system kicks in, and when that happens, we’ve opened up and other really good things will occur. This process is called the “rest and repair” mechanism that allows our physical system to regenerate.
There’s solid science behind this. In the 1970s, a physician interested in the links between stress and health, Dr. Herbert Benson, coined the phrase the Relaxation Response. He found that even 30 seconds of focused, slow breathing activates the parasympathetic system to help bring down heart rate, blood pressure and general system activation. His work used a simple form of meditation, focusing on the breath and stilling the mind.
To kick-start this same mechanism, I invite you to try a simple pleasure practice that will relax and open your parasympathetic system. A Pleasure Pause begins with focusing your attention on something of beauty, on what you appreciate or are grateful for, or on a sensory delight.
You can start right now by stopping! Stop for a moment and notice what’s going on around you. Slow everything down and take in your surroundings. Set an intention right now to notice something that gives you pleasure, and give that intention a few beats to generate a response. The pleasure might come as the smallest, subtlest thing – the softness of the skin on your hands, your smile as you listen to your family chattering in the background, how good your feet and legs feel supporting you on the ground, the blue sky outside the window, the plant on the table, the breeze on your face. A pleasure pause asks you to bring your attention for a few moments to something you enjoy, love or appreciate.
Another important element of this practice is to notice any sensation in your body that comes with your noticing – How’s your breathing? What’s happening in your chest or belly? Are your shoulders relaxing a bit? Tune into your sensory awareness and notice what you hear, smell, feel or taste. If you happen to choose to drink something warm or eat a piece of fruit, focus your pleasure pause on it.
Building your day-to-day pleasure quotient in this way will counter stress and build your resiliency. We all can use more resiliency to deal with life’s ongoing challenges.
I tell my clients – and anyone who’ll listen – “Don’t wait for a crisis to hit to put healthy habits in place!” When tough times come – like a diagnosis, or being let go from your job or relationship – that isn’t the time to learn something new. When a challenge is dropped in your lap, you want your support practices well honed.
So I encourage you to invest time now when things are going smoothly to build healthy habits – meditate, exercise regularly, and make friend’s time a priority. These activities will keep you focused on life’s pleasures and support you when life’s challenges appear to make pleasure harder to find.
Practice the Pleasure Pause and let me know how it goes. What do you notice?
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“Forefront Psychotherapy had Madeline present a morning workshop called Unlock Pleasure for our counselling centre’s open house. Her presentation was innovative and captivating. She brought forward the information in a way that appealed to new and seasoned therapists alike. Her presentation style put the audience at ease and she kept each one of us captivated for the duration of her talk. We would highly recommend Madeline to any group looking for a speaker.”