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Control Your Tension, Control Your Life!

Letting go of tension is one of the key aspects to living a healthy life

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Control your tension, control your life | My Home Vitality

Letting go

Not long ago I wrote an article about letting go. When I wrote it, I didn’t realise how pragmatic I was being!

By literally letting go, mentally, emotionally and physically you really can take control of your life!

Russian Systema

I’ve been doing a lot of research around breath-work recently and as a result stumbled across a martial art (and whole living system) called Russian Systema, literally translating to “the system.”

There are four guiding principles of Systema – breathing, movement, relaxation and posture, each integrating and lending themselves to the others.

For example, you can’t relax without breathing, you can’t achieve a natural posture without relaxation, and you can’t move smoothly throughout space without such posture.

One thing disturbs all of these guiding principles… Tension!


Tension impacts your breathing, movement, posture and ability to relax. With tension, you lose self-control, you lose the ability to react appropriately and it eats away at your mind, body and spirit.

Research in the US by Perkins (1994) cited in the Harvard Business Review showed that 60% to 90% of doctor visits were stress related!

Now I haven’t reviewed this research but, a sense check, just look at the people around you – chances are the percentage of stress (tension) related illness amongst your friends, family and peers is high!

Skin conditions, breathing issues, blood pressure, digestive problems, heart complications, mental issues and muscular tension, to name just a few, have a stress (tension) related element, and the list goes on!

We know this naturally!

I have spent the last week releasing tension in Lanzarote.

Whilst away, my daily routine included an early morning run, breathing exercises, meditation, ground flow or rolling, and swimming.

It was hard waking up to this every morning…

Lanzarote morning beach after a roll

One early morning I perched myself down to begin my breathing exercises before noticing an older lady in my vicinity. She was easy to notice because we pretty much shared the beach, no one else was around.

As I took my cross-legged posture and settled into a gentle diaphragmatic rhythm, all I could hear was the sound of skin on skin connection… Slap, whack, thud… I looked across at the woman and she was physically punching herself in the back of her thighs and bum and rubbing and slapping the back of her neck.

She didn’t know it, but she was actually trying to get rid of tension in her body.

She felt the areas of tension and tried to strike it out!

We all have a natural tendency to feel tension, think of the office worker stretching up, the labourer flexing their neck and back, and the piano player extending their fingers.

These are natural responses to tension, but there are also conscious ways to deal with it if you just have the right education…

Eliminating tension, the Systema way

The best way I have found to relieve tension is to use the Russian Systema method, which overlaps in places with other martial arts and health practices.

1. Tension awareness

To eliminate tension, you first must be aware of it. Systema offers a few solutions, including:

  • Notice your breathing, or LACK OF breathing!

Are you holding your breath?

You should breath smoothly, evenly and consistently, in an ever flowing, pendulum-like rhythm.

If you find yourself breathless or holding your breath unintentionally, tension will occur!

  • Feel, or DON’T FEEL, your body!

If you feel your body, you have some sort of tension, injury or illness!

Here are two perfect explanations from Matt Hill’s Living Systema:

On tension awareness: “If you are absent of tension, you will not feel your body (unless there is illness or injury).”

On walking: “Your body should feel light; in fact, your body should ‘disappear’ to your senses. The only time you should feel your posture, is if you are in pain of tense. If you are relaxed, injury free and in good posture you should not feel your body. All you should feel is the contact of your feet on the floor.”

  • Body scan or tension waves

Sometimes you don’t realise that you’re tense until you focus on a specific area of your body.

The body scan technique is introduced in our Ultimate Meditation Guide (coming very soon!) and requires consciously analysing the tension in each body part, working your way from head to toe and toe to head, making sure you breathe appropriately throughout the exercise.

Another version includes tensing and relaxing each body part as you work your way throughout your body. When you relax, exhale any tension from that area.

You will notice any build-up as you progress through these exercises and the more you do them, the more you will start to appreciate any inconsistencies.

2. Tension elimination

Here are a few ways to help eliminate tension, again taken from Russian Systema:

  • Move the tension out

This may seem obvious but many of us don’t know how to move without tension.

Once you feel a body part becoming stiff or tense, move it in a RELAXED manner!

What do I mean by a relaxed manner?

Again, I refer to Living Systema for some good examples:

Matt Hill suggests that your muscles should dangle from your bones like water balloons, rather than holding your body up with tension like air balloons.

He also suggests allowing your limbs to hang like ropes with knots in the bottom.

Move with this principle in mind!

You will have to make minor adjustments to your posture as you progress throughout your day, especially if you are sat at a desk for eight hours!

So when you’re stuck in a que, sitting at your desk or even eating dinner with your family, don’t be afraid to wiggle, wobble and shimmy the tension out of your muscles!

  • Breathe the tension out

The best resource I have found for breathing out tension is Let Every Breath…Secrets of the Russian Breath Masters by Scott Meredith and Vladimir Vasiliev.

There are many techniques in this bible for breathing and if you want to dig a little deeper, I recommend reading this book; however, for the purposes of this article, the best place to start is with continuous, diaphragmatic breathing that permeates the whole body, releasing tension on the exhale.

Continuous, meaning without holding your breath, in a smooth, steady, pendulum-like rhythm!

Diaphragmatic, meaning filling your lungs from your diaphragm (belly), up to your chest and then up to your throat (if comfortable).

Pay attention to the way that your belly pushes out (rises) when you’re breathing in.

Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, slowly letting the air (and pressure) out, like a valve.

When you breathe out, release air from the throat first, then chest then diaphragm (belly) and as you exhale, your diaphragm should retract (pull in).

If you feel tension in a specific part of the body, try to inhale any tension, pain or fatigue from that tensed area and exhale it straight out of your body.

This can also be done using burst breathing

3. Tension avoidance

Of course, the wholly grail of a healthier, freer, more enjoyable life, is to eliminate any UNNECESSARY tension all together!

Notice I emphasis the word unnecessary!

Sometimes, focussed or “localised” tension is needed, but only in the parts of the body that are required for a specific action; for example, if you need to strike someone to ward off an attack, your tension should be localised in the fist and wrist only, not permeating throughout your body which will create a panicked response.

Living a life free of unnecessary tension involves harmonising all the key aspects of or Wheel of Wellbeing, from your relationships to your body and mindset; however, the Systema principles of movement, breathing, relaxation and correct posture are great places to start!

Wheel Of Wellbeing

If I knew what I know now, I would start by combining a mixture of the breathing and movement techniques, outlined above, with one or two meditation techniques from our Ultimate Meditation Guide (coming very soon!).

Integrate this with regular daily movement, such as walking and squatting, and you are well on your way to a healthier life!

In order to assist you with managing tension we will continue to add to our “Ultimate Guides,” including the upcoming Ultimate Meditation Guide, Ultimate Breathing Guide and Ultimate Movement Guide, so subscribe for updates!

When to manage tension

Managing tension should be a constant process. You don’t ask yourself when to breathe do you?

As you learn to reduce and avoid tension, your body, mind and life literally become lighter and freer.

So the next time you’re washing, ironing, cooking, cleaning, walking, brewing tea or reading the awesome articles on, ask yourself: am I tense? and tell yourself – LET GO!

Share your techniques and experiences

If you have benefitted from any of the techniques on this site or have an opinion to share, please use the comments box below!

We love hearing from you!


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