Ways To Relax ~ Or, Bringing Back The Lost Art Of Porch Sitting
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
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)
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.
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?
For fast-acting relief, try slowing down. ~Lily Tomlin
Here's A Relaxation Exercise For You - I kind of tricked you
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.
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!
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!
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
Porch Sitting Articles - It's a revolution!
- Sitting on the porch
This is a short article from NPR's All Things Considered about the role of porches in America. Short and sweet. And there's a porch sitters union!?!? Isn't that just crazy?
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?