Thai massage is a healing art that restores relaxation through joint and soft-tissue manipulation, energy balancing, and breath work. It's also something that you can practice together. To help your partner relax, set aside undisturbed time, get rid of distracting elements in the environment — turn off your cell phone and lower the lights — and let your partner know this is his time to receive.
Have him lie on the bed or floor on his right side, and sit behind him with your left hip and thigh parallel to his back. Suggest that he take deep breaths into the belly and relax his face and jaw. Clasp his left shoulder with your hands, and begin to rotate the shoulder, finding a comfortable range of motion by rocking and circling from your body center. Finally, with hands still clasped on his shoulder, lean away from your partner and toward his feet, stretching the left side of his neck to relieve tension. Repeat on the other side. You're connecting with the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the relaxation response. Connecting with the natural motion of the breath and heart is hypnotic and soothing, and he will be able to let stressful thoughts recede.
-Ken Nelson, PhD, LMT, Sacred Healing Arts and the Kripalu Center, Lenox, Massachusetts
The most important thing in developing any approach to relaxation is to be aware when you are not relaxed. This is about bringing your mind into everyday life by remembering to stop from time to time, take a breath, observe, and proceed on. Being mindful is really about being sensitive and paying attention to what is going on. And it's something you can do together.
First, create an environment where you both can debrief. Perhaps you're reeling from the day, so maybe you take a few moments apart, decompress separately, and then acknowledge how you are feeling physically and mentally — tired, angry, stressed. At the right moment, begin to inquire, “How was your day? What's going on?” Part of that invitation involves having your antennae on and understanding what will best serve your partner. Whenever you inquire what's happening with another person, try to listen without an agenda. Be present to what is there, and try to see from her point of view. This involves empathy, acceptance, and an open mind. You are there to listen, acknowledge, and validate. You are not trying to give advice, because advice closes the door. You want to understand; you want to be curious.
-Bob Stahl, PhD, founder and director, Awareness and Relaxation Training, Santa Cruz, California
Cooking is a wonderful way to decompress because it can absorb and distract you from the kinds of things, such as work, health, children, and finances, that wear you down. Of course, treating your partner like a queen while she kicks up her heels as you scurry like a maniac in the kitchen is one way to help her relax. On the other hand, it lacks the communication aspect and shared endeavor that working together provides. Talking about what you want to prepare helps you get back to basics: It's an opportunity to look at lifestyles, priorities, and allocation of time. And cooking with a loved one can allow you to tackle a problem that actually has a tangible outcome; you can dive right in, and, within a reasonable period of time, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Try not to assign undue expectations to what the outcome has to look or taste like. Just enjoy the experience. Don't tackle something that will cost too much or eat up hours of your time. Another idea is to branch into different ethnic foods that you may not be familiar with — it opens up interest in travel and different cultures, kind of like a minivacation.
-Katherine F. Wardle, PhD, founder, Cooking Therapy, Rexford, New York