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Ways To Relax ~ Or, Bringing Back The Lost Art Of Porch Sitting

Updated on May 10, 2013

Porch Sitting As A Relaxation Exercise

My father-in-law comes to visit once a year. And while he's with us, he doesn't have any big requests. He doesn't need to go anywhere or see anything. He's quite content just being with our family. He spends most of his time at our house sitting on our back porch. Sometimes he'll bring a book out with him but mostly, it's him and his pot of coffee. Or a cocktail in the late afternoon. Watching the world go by (and when I say world, I mean the small, relatively barren space that is our backyard).

I'm always intrigued by his porch sitting and often say after he visits that I should sit on the porch more. The voice telling me to do that is growing louder and he hasn't yet visited this year (he'll be arriving in about a week!). In honor of him, it seems the perfect time to reflect on the benefits of porch sitting as a great way to relax. In bygone days, folk sat on their porches and stoops daily. It served as a way to relax, to connect with neighbors and, I think, to create space (and I suppose to keep boredom at bay for some). I'm here to say, let's start a movement. Let's bring porch sitting (with or without coffee pot) back!

Image Copyright laurapeterson215. This is him, Grandpa, actually sitting on the porch, captured by my youngest (he took the photo, and he was 2 at the time).

Relaxing In Style

My Norwegian Host Parents on their porch
My Norwegian Host Parents on their porch

As I mentioned, my father-in-law sits with a pot of coffee. More correctly, he brews a pot (yes a pot) in the kitchen and proceeds to drink all 8 cups or so over the morning hours. My husband and I are not coffee drinkers so each year we get out the coffee pot just before he arrives.

I've asked him what he thinks about while he's out there. He says he sometimes talks to Kay, my mother-in-law who passed away almost five years ago. I think he also talks to God and then the rest of the time, he's simply being.

It's that "being" part that sometimes seems so foreign and scary, yet feels like an invitation that draws me in to wanting to be part of the club and to make friends with my soul.

While I don't think coffee is vital to the practice, for him it serves as part of his ritual. It's the first step to waking up to the world and then relaxing into himself. Perhaps the coffee serves as a reason to go and sit. An excuse maybe. Something to do while sitting to make it feel less like you're just sitting when you should be doing something else.

For those of us not so inclined to stop and smell the roses because of the ever present, ever lengthy to-do list, having a reason to be out there might be necessary. So...brew the cup or pot, steep your tea, find something that will give you just enough excuse to get out on the porch and sit.

And then, I invite you to porch sit with me for a few minutes. When we get out there, we'll talk about what to do next...

Image copyright laurapeterson215: These are my Norwegian host parents sitting on their veranda, a place they love to enjoy a meal or just the company of others and a breathtakingly beautiful view. (For more pictures of this beautiful country, you can see my lens, A Year In Norway or How To Be A Foreign Exchange Student.)

I'm an old-fashioned guy... I want to be an old man with a beer belly sitting on a porch, looking at a lake or something. ~ Johnny Depp

The Book About Doing Nothing (and another about being happy) - Get it, read it, live it. (Then get and read the other)

How to Change Your Entire Life By Doing Absolutely Nothing: 10 Do-Nothing Relaxation Exercises to Calm You Down Quickly So You Can Speed Forward Faster
How to Change Your Entire Life By Doing Absolutely Nothing: 10 Do-Nothing Relaxation Exercises to Calm You Down Quickly So You Can Speed Forward Faster

This is it. A beautiful, short, book about changing your life while doing nothing. Porch sitting and beyond. I love this little book. Like seriously and utterly love it. Karen Salmansohn writes in a way that grabs hold of you and gets right past your mind and to your heart. At least for me. I just get it when I read her work. This was my first introduction to her work. Trust me. Short, sweet, you can read it in under an hour. And then you'll want to read it again and again and again, until you really get how doing nothing makes everything work so much better.

 
How to Be Happy, Dammit: A Cynic's Guide to Spiritual Happiness
How to Be Happy, Dammit: A Cynic's Guide to Spiritual Happiness

This is the other book by Karen Salmansohn I just got. I haven't finished it (too busy doing nothing) yet, but what I have read, I adore. You can't go wrong. Just get it. And then go to the porch and sit.

 

Do you have a porch? Do you use it to sit and relax?

Do you use your porch to sit and slow down your life?

See results

For fast-acting relief, try slowing down. ~Lily Tomlin

Here's A Relaxation Exercise For You - I kind of tricked you

Carolina Moments by OutdoorLori
Carolina Moments by OutdoorLori

I said I would talk about what to DO next. That was really kind of a trick. See, there is nothing to do. Really. In fact, it would be best if you finish reading this lens and then go out to the porch without the smart phone or laptop. So let's do that. Finish reading (unless you are so utterly inspired already, then by all means, go now...just come back later to finish reading, k?), then get the coffee or tea or wine or nothing at all, and go sit. Front or back porch, doesn't matter.

Let's pretend you've finished reading. This is what will happen next. You're on the porch, you've found a comfy chair and you're sitting. And you're looking around, feeling a little itchy, fidgety, antsy. You just don't know what to do with yourself. This is normal.

See, in our busy busy, ever connected, constantly plugged in world, stopping all action to simply sit with no agenda feels utterly foreign and even a tad wrong. This is where the coffee cup comes in handy at first...a kind of first step to wean yourself of the constant activity and need to be doing something.

Trust me here. Stick with it. You can acknowledge the antsy-ness by simply saying to yourself, "I know, this feels strange. It's ok to feel strange, we'll feel better in a little bit." Focus on your breathing if necessary or stare at the swirls in your coffee or the way the tea leaves float around your cup. Become absorb in the birds or squirrels or lizards. Take several deep breaths.

If you're really struggling to stay put in the chair, here's a great relaxation technique I love to use to (literally) shake away the stress and constant thoughts:

1. Shake your head gently from side to side (like you are saying no to the rest of the world for a few moments).

2. Keep going for at least two minutes.

3. Stop and keep your eyes closed and take a deep breath.

4. Sit for a while, feeling how that exercise felt.

That's it. That's all you need to do. I encourage you to sit for ten minutes. Doing nothing. Absolutely nothing. See what happens.

Image Credit: Carolina Moments by OutdoorLori ~Flickr Creative Commons

What To Drink To Relax If Coffee Isn't Your Thing?

I love the smell of coffee. But I can't handle the taste. Well, if you add enough chocolate, cream and some sugar, then I think it's ok. Same with coffee ice cream. But to drink? Nope. So what do I drink then? Mostly water, but when I want something to sip, I'll happily grab a glass or mug of yerba mate or a cup of herbal or green tea. Here are my favorites.

Wisdom of the Ancients Yerba Mate Royale Tea, Instant, 2.82 Ounce (Pack of 4)
Wisdom of the Ancients Yerba Mate Royale Tea, Instant, 2.82 Ounce (Pack of 4)

I adore this yerba mate. It's a powder, instantly dissolves in hot or cold water and has a great flavor. There is stevia added for some sweetness. It is very lightly caffeinated and doesn't make me jittery like most caffeine does. It also has a bit of an appetite suppressing affect. I'm drinking some right now in fact. I love it!

 
Tazo Passion Tea, 24 Tea Bags
Tazo Passion Tea, 24 Tea Bags

I love Tazo Teas for their bold flavors AND for their witty, zen relaxation quips on their boxes and bottles. I think my two favorite teas are this one and the wild sweet orange, shown below. Unlike a lot of herbal fruit flavored teas, these have a robust flavor. You'll love them!

 
Tazo Wild Sweet Orange Filter Bag Tea, 24-Count Packages (Pack of 6)
Tazo Wild Sweet Orange Filter Bag Tea, 24-Count Packages (Pack of 6)

Along with passion above, this is one of my all time favorite teas. I just love Tazo teas.

 

Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop. ~Ovid

Why Porch Sitting Is Such A Great Way To Relax

What is it about sitting on a porch, doing nothing, that serves to relax us?

It really is about the stopping. Ceasing activity. Shutting off from the world for just a bit. We're so plugged in all the time and while we think this helps us be more productive, or get more done, the opposite is usually the case.

When we are constantly in motion, there is no space. No creative space, no time or room for ideas to dance around in our heads. Too many demands and too many things going on, and we start to go a bit crazy. We think multi-tasking helps us but in reality, it only serves to ensure that whatever items we are multi-tasking get at best half of our attention.

Take driving for instance. We all tend to think we can talk on our phones and drive just fine. And for the most part, we can. But regardless of how much of a multi-tasking genius you are, driving while talking on the cell phone distracts your attention and increases the likelihood that you will get into an accident. It doesn't make you more effective, it makes you more inclined to crash. Same thing with the rest of your life. More inclined to crash.

So sitting on the porch, doing nothing (for hard core enthusiasts, I'd say to ditch the coffee even), serves to open up some space. It's one of the great paradoxes of our time...when we stop and do nothing, for even ten minutes, we actually become more productive, more creative and more focused on the rest of our life. Suddenly, it's as if our brains have breathing room and given that, they open up and are able to let ideas soar.

But it's also about connection. Connecting with nature, with anyone else sitting with you. It's an interlude between the world and the inside of the house, and as such, sometimes, time and chaos suspend their pull on us in that space. On the porch, the laundry isn't as pressing. On the porch, you can pause. And the critters and trees and air and sky serve to remind us we are part of something much larger than just us human beings. It connects us back to our roots. It's easy to stay hidden inside the house, to isolate, to get bogged down by all there is to do. Outside, our world opens a little, grows a little and, given the time to sit, slows down a little. All good things.

So try it. Do nothing. And by doing nothing, open up your life and your world to clarity, focus, creativity and wonder.

I'm pretty sure my father in law is happy and at peace, with himself and his world. And with all the hustle and bustle that seems to be so prized in the world, I'm pretty sure he's got the right idea. Think of the beauty and peace that might surround us if we all spent a part of our day, sitting outside, quietly enjoying life. Calm serenity, taking in the beauty of the world. Count me in.

I think overall, most of us could stand to relax and slow down a lot more. What's your favorite way to relax?

Have You Mastered The Art Of Porch Sitting? - Do you relax by doing nothing?

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    • Laurabpeterson profile image
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      Laurabpeterson 3 years ago

      @flycatcherrr: Absolutely! I'm about to launch a free porch sitting challenge to bring that about, at least on a small scale for now!

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 3 years ago

      The world needs MUCH more porch sitting, for sure!

    • Laurabpeterson profile image
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      Laurabpeterson 4 years ago

      @artbyrodriguez: I love fireflies. And relaxed evenings, play time, seems less stressful. Maybe it's because we were kids? Can we bring it back? I think we can...

    • artbyrodriguez profile image

      Beverly Rodriguez 4 years ago from Albany New York

      I have fond memories of the grownups sitting on the porch in the Summer evenings, chatting, while us kids ran around the yard collecting fireflies in a jar. The good old days! Great subject for a lens and well done.

    • PinkstonePictures profile image

      PinkstonePictures 4 years ago from Miami Beach, FL

      I always wanted one of those rocking chairs to sit on a porch. I have a balcony so I can always sit and just be there. Thanks for a lovely story and inspiration - I definitely need to slow down

    • Laurabpeterson profile image
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      Laurabpeterson 4 years ago

      @mbgphoto: Thanks! I sat this morning. it was a beautiful thing.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 4 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      I really enjoyed this lens. I am going to make porch sitting a habit :)

    • Laurabpeterson profile image
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      Laurabpeterson 4 years ago

      @SusanDeppner: yes, schedule it! I'm about to go out in just a moment, even though there are multiple things on my mind at the moment to do. I love the name Daisy... Thanks Susan!

    • Laurabpeterson profile image
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      Laurabpeterson 4 years ago

      @Jogalog: I encourage you, go do it!

    • Laurabpeterson profile image
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      Laurabpeterson 4 years ago

      @Rangoon House: Thanks! I didn't realize I had been featured! lol. Guess I'll have to check it out now! (I just came back from a seminar for several days...)

    • Laurabpeterson profile image
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      Laurabpeterson 4 years ago

      @gpower2llc: Beautiful! I think I'm going to become the do nothing queen... Thanks for commenting!

    • Laurabpeterson profile image
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      Laurabpeterson 4 years ago

      @lionmom100: sounds beautiful. Thanks for commenting!

    • profile image

      gpower2llc 4 years ago

      I LOVE this! I have to admit, I am pretty good at doing nothing. ;)

    • Laurabpeterson profile image
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      Laurabpeterson 4 years ago

      @Rosetta Slone: Wow! Thank you so so much. It is tough to do with a toddler, I get that completely. but so important! And yes, bliss... Thank you again.

    • Laurabpeterson profile image
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      Laurabpeterson 4 years ago

      @CamelliaPenny: Oh, do it! sit! Your little boy can play, while you sit. I have 2 boys...and it is tough to do since it seems there is so much to be done, but I have seen how quickly it benefits me when I do take time to stop, even for 5 minutes.

    • Laurabpeterson profile image
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      Laurabpeterson 4 years ago

      @Charlie43 LM: Thank you so much for your comment. I'm just getting it...and I appreciate hearing from people that do it! It's hard to grasp that doing nothing will actually help you be more productive in other areas, have greater clarity and an overall happier life but it's true.

    • jknake lm profile image

      jknake lm 4 years ago

      What a nice lens! It makes me think of the times way back when, when me and my Grandma used to sit on the front porch after supper and visit. We'd watch the neighbors walk by and the cars go by. I had forgotten all about that. Brings back happy memories. Of course , this was all before we had television.

    • Klaartje Loose profile image

      Klaartje Loose 4 years ago

      I am an expert in balcony sitting :-)

      Favourite time: early morning, before work! But any other time will do too... After work is my second best time, to unwind.

    • Charlie43 LM profile image

      Charlie43 LM 4 years ago

      I sit in my deck daily when weather permits. In the mornings, it is with coffee and a good cigar. Often in the late evenings I may sit and watch the night sky and enjoy my favorite libation. I learned many years ago to take this time to relax and reflect. Not doing so would greatly harm my quality of life. At 69, and now retired, I believe it is essential to take the time to sit and reflect on your life, current and past. Those who think this may be a total waste of time haven't a clue as to what is missing from their lives.

    • CamelliaPenny profile image

      Perrin 4 years ago from South Carolina

      I used to be quite talented at sitting and doing nothing before I got married and had a little boy. I need to recapture this art in my life. I managed to do it for an hour while on vacation in the mountains last summer. I even have three porches at my house, and sadly, they don't get used for sitting! Only for decoration and entering/exiting.

    • Rosetta Slone profile image

      Rosetta Slone 4 years ago from Under a coconut tree

      I don't have a porch, but I do love sitting and watching the scenery and people. With a toddler, I rarely get to do that but when I do it is bliss. This is one of my favourite Squidoo articles ever, by the way. I love it.

    • profile image

      lionmom100 4 years ago

      I have a deck and a sitting area in my front yard. In the morning we sit with coffee and in the vening we sit with wine and crackers. I'm writing this on my ipad on my deck right now with wine glass a foot away.

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Most of the new houses they build or have built in my part of the state have beautiful porches. I never see anyone sitting on any of them. In fact, most don't have chairs. Sad state of affairs that no one seems to relax any more.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I used to do this. It is very relaxing. Now, I have so many things to engage my imagination. Enjoyed reading this.

    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 4 years ago from Australia

      I love the references to a simple way of appreciating life. We have "verandahs" in the front and back of our house and use the back verandah at least daily to eat meals. I enjoyed your Lily Tomlin quote amongst all the rest. Congratulations for being featured in the HQ Coffee Theme line up.

    • Jogalog profile image

      Jogalog 4 years ago

      I would love to go and sit on that chair and relax now!

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 4 years ago from Arkansas USA

      We have three fabulous porches and the weather is just now perfect for sitting and relaxing. Last night I did sit and relax for a little while, while Daisy was out taking a piddle break. Maybe if I put it on my "to do" list I'll be more likely to spend time there. Love this great reminder!

    • Laurabpeterson profile image
      Author

      Laurabpeterson 4 years ago

      @Elsie Hagley: you know, if you are living your life authentically, and fully happy, then you're doing something right and you don't need to relax by doing nothing. I think it's for those of us that are bogged down in the go go go, do do do-ness of life (at least I'll speak for myself) that we need to stop. Thanks for the comment!

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 4 years ago from New Zealand

      Yes I have a porch or verandah, with beautiful bush scenery, but I don't sit and relax there because, any spare time I have I am at my computer on Squidoo, which I find very relaxing reading other lens-masters pages and commenting.

      I suppose really I don't relax by doing nothing, perhaps that's sad, but strange because if I hadn't of read this article I wouldn't have even thought about it.

    • Girlwiththorns profile image

      Girlwiththorns 4 years ago

      I'm finally learning that doing nothing is a very healthy thing to do now and then !

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 4 years ago from Topeka, KS

      What a lovely and compelling article! I now wish I had a porch to go and sit on. I do have a nice yard and could drag a chair out and just enjoy it. My husband likes to raise the garage door and sit in the doorway for some reason. I think to him it's a kind of porch. :)

    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 4 years ago from Europe

      Porches are one of the great American institutions, In Michigan I liked to sit and watch the wildlife do its thing in the yard. In the Carolinas I find it quite strange that people will call out to chat from their porches as I walk by. In England, I'm more likely to sit indoors and watch the rain!