A Little Guide … The Art of Relaxation in Five Easy Steps

Last updated on July 22, 2013

Over the past few months I’ve talked a lot about relaxation, and how it’s one of those pieces of life at which I have not excelled in the past. I spend far too much time on the computer even though I had a palapa full of hammocks just 100 feet from my doorstep for months. But in moving to Mexico earlier this year, I tasked myself with expanding my capacity for relaxation. In this transition phase I wanted to use Mexico to look at what comes next for me—where I am, where I want to be, and any next steps to get there. And I wanted to learn balance. Though I post lots of pretty photos of my travels, I sometimes spend upwards of 10 hours in front of my computer, the perk of travel being that after those 10 hours I got to eat delicious tacos.

Balance though. It’s something we all struggle with; I have yet to meet someone who feels they perfectly balance each aspect of work-life-kids-relaxation-hobbies-etc. This is true for long-term travel as well.

So, relaxation. Living in San Pancho, Mexico was a gift to myself of time and space to process and plan, but perhaps more than that, to simply exist and live in the current moment. I failed at finding balance more days than not, but the successes, the times when I slowed down to enjoy meals and friends, are some of the sweetest memories and sweetest successes of my time there. And I credit most of this positive mental shift to deciding to slow down. I gave myself permission to relax and do less and it pulled me from my funk. And since it was so successful, I thought I’d share the lessons my little beach town taught me, a manifesto on the art of relaxation. :)

Hammocks on Caye Caulker
Beach-front hammocks on a tiny island in Belize


Accept the Art of the Hammock

Hammock-time just screams for a good book. I spent a lot of hammock time reading on my Kindle, working my way through a heap of travel books in my queue. While in Mexico I read Behind the Beautiful Forevers, The China Study, The Gifts of Imperfection, and No Touch Monkey, among about 15 others. (Heads up: a review post is in the works for some of the travel and non-travel books I’ve read and loved recently.) The key here was to put everything down and prioritize hammock time, to include it in the list of things that needed to get done, not just the “if I time” list.

  • Find a shady spot
  • Hearing distance from the ocean is ideal
  • Keep an iced beverage within reach for maximum relaxation
  • Resist any form of sightseeing—just hammock time
children's fesitval san pancho
Fun characters showcased their circus skills in the annual Children’s Festival parade organized by the town’s community center, EntreAmigos.


Learn the Art of Play

My more new-agey friends term it “getting in touch with my inner child,” and you know … that does pretty much sum it up. I had my time in hammocks these past five months, but I also spent dozens of hours volunteering with the kids at the community center and hours with the playing puppies in San Pancho. I spent my time in laughter and joy. Though I plan to share more about my time volunteering here, the short of it was days of singing songs with them, coloring pictures, and making egregious errors in my Spanish that left us all in stitches more than once. By seeking out those people and parts of life that still have carelessness, joy, and wonder, I could hijack some of that for myself. :)

  • Hunt down kids or puppies (bonus points for the two together) and volunteer, chase a dog on the beach, etc. 
  • Join a beach volleyball game, they always need another team member
  • Ride a bicycle—made me feel 10
Group shot on Las Marietas islands with blue-footed boobies, a day of whale watching, and relaxation on the ocean.
A day with friends of: whale watching, dolphin spotting, snorkeling, and hanging with Blue-footed Boobies on Las Marietas islands near Puerto Vallarta.


Embrace the Art of Friendship

The new friendships I fostered by staying in one spot created the best recipe for relaxing and de-stressing. I counted on the faces and friends all over town as a surest way to let go of any anxieties I had (have) over where my life is heading next. During my periods of rapid travel it’s difficult to make the sort of friendships that last longer than the location. These fast friends are fun; they are genuine as well, but they often lack the depth of friendships formed over months instead of mere days. Fast-friends are an integral part of travel—these people who come into my life over a couple of days ensure that travel is rarely lonely. But part of relaxing into a new place is having the time to go deeper than the surface questions “how long are you here for” and connect.

If the surest way to keep stress at bay is by surrounding yourself with good people, I succeeded there. San Pancho is a unique town in that it harbors an eclectic mix of expats and locals. I am grateful to this town for the evenings spent in conversation listening to the wonderful local bands (like Pantera Fantasma and Dos Bertos), beach bonfires, and afternoons sipping hot copomo discussing philosophy, life, and love.

  • Say yes to meeting up with friends 
  • Set a weekly meetup at a coffee shop
  • Join expat Facebook forums for your town
Vegan ceviche
Vegan ceviche from EntreAmigos: made with sprouts, avocado, cucumber, tomato, red onions, and lime.


Practice the Art of Good Health

If sleep, exercise, and good food are essential I won the battle on two of the three. I loved having a kitchen and I made use of the Friday organic market in nearby Sayulita. It seems counter-intuitive since I always post yummy food photos, but it’s actually hard to consistently eat healthy on the road between the packaged snacks and eating out every day, so markets and a kitchen are ideal for feeling healthier. Now add to that lots of sleep and it’s golden. San Pancho was a cinch on this front because the town closes by well before midnight and the roosters start crowing by 7, so that was a solid block of sleep each night.

Exercise is a tough one. On the upside, I ride my back everywhere. Downside, it’s not a very big town so “everywhere” doesn’t add up to much. My friend Victoria taught yoga in the park—it was lovely but the only word to adequately describe my attendance would be “sporadic” (and she would probably use the word “rare”).

  • Shut down the computer and do something (anything) active
  • Integrate more greens into your diet (they really do make a difference, and smoothie-it up if you can’t handle some of them in regular form)
  • Cut out sugars and packaged snacks
Surfers paddle out in the gentle waves around Sayulita beach.
Surfers paddle out in the gentle waves around Sayulita beach.


Immerse in Art of the Nature

Travel puts me in direct contact with diverse landscapes—I’ve hiked the tallest mountain ranges in the world and swum in the clearest waters on earth. And it’s in Mexico that I began to practice mindfulness and live in each gift from nature around me. It’s a town tradition here to take in sunset on the beach, and they are doozies. Some of the prettiest I’ve ever witnessed, and each one different from the next. This ritual alone, of sunsets on the beach was my favorite part of the past six months. Finding that connection to nature and coupling it with friendships as we all sat at the water’s edge each night took away some of the last tinges of sadness I had over personal things that happened last year.

  • Take a hike, swim, or long walk
  • Just sit somewhere and observe what’s nearby
  • Be present in the moment by spending some nature time solo


Technology is my biggest failure point. And the same thing for many traveling friends. If I’m not careful, I find myself sucked into mindless hours in front of my computer screen, not always even productive time if I answer the addicting lure of Facebook. So while you think I’m sightseeing in this great place, sometimes I’m actually Facebooking with my other “traveling” friends. And there’s something wacky about that … so in this guide to the art of relaxation, cutting out screen time is a must.

And now that I am home in Florida, I’ve been working on incorporating more of these into my home routine too. In between visiting friends I have actually driven to the beach here. I live 15 minutes from the beach but sometimes it’s years between visits for me, and that’s a shame. I’m working on being more mindful, more balanced. How about you? Anything you struggle with as well in navigating that balance?

19 thoughts on “A Little Guide … The Art of Relaxation in Five Easy Steps”

  1. Further more, if relaxation/enjoyment is done as a necessity then it is not enjoyment/ relaxation because it is the very essence of for no purpose/motive beyond its own fun

  2. I feel like planning, unless enjoyed in itself (aka: unless the goal of the plan is secondary to the enjoyment, the act of planning) this in itself is an absence of relaxation/enjoyment. Another way said: if one cannot forget about time then there is no joy/relaxing- again: unless the planning in itself is its own satisfaction. If one cannot help but plan, yet does not enjoy it, examination of the ultimate goal of planning may be of help. Most, if not all, problems we have are a result of laziness of thinking things through (at least I find in myself). Like the saying, “I want to teach my kids how to think, not what to think” is likened to problems being an acceptance of ideas rather then the actual art of thinking. Rather then accepting ideas and running with them or letting bother us, it may be of help to examine what nobody examines such as the idea of “I should slow down and stop planning”. Why should one do this, because someone said its beneficial(im not saying they should or should not)? Otherwise this suggestion of “slowing down” which is originally intended to be a solution just turns into another problem.

  3. I haven’t heard of the app, but I’ll take a look right now, thanks. It sounds like an excellent way to stay present and check in with yourself to make sure you’re being productive/on-task, with a reward of a break too. Love it.

    I failed the 2 minute site on the first try, heh, I touched the mouse, will give it another go. Really appreciate you weighing in and sharing your thoughts on relaxation and productivity here! :)

  4. I hear ya, Shannon! I struggle with balance but since I included meditation in my daily routine I’m feeling much calmer.

    Have you tried the Pomodoro Technique? You basically break down your tasks in 30-min segments using a timer. You work on your computer for 25 minutes then you take a break of 5 minutes. During the breaks you can meditate, drink a glass of water, do some simple exercises to release the tension in your neck, upper body and wrists, rest your eyes, etc. The rebranded App can be downloaded here: http://www.teamviz.com/downloads/

    I also use from time to time this website: http://www.donothingfor2minutes.com/ It has a beautiful ocean view and sound. :)

  5. Slowing down is my biggest challenge. It’s my personality to try to do things as efficiently as possible, so I get wayyyy too caught up in planning, when I should be more caught up in my surroundings. I think, for me at least, it takes a deliberate effort to remember to slow it down. Awesome post, Shannon!

    • Thanks Wade! It’s easy to get caught up and that’s why number one is the hammock — life just tends to slow down when you look at it from a hammock. :)

  6. I thought that once I quit my job, I’d be able to focus on all my hobbies and interests and live a well-balanced life. That lasted for about six months. Now I find myself sitting at the computer for hours on end and leading an alarmingly sedentary life. It’s a struggle to power down and get myself to the gym. This is a good reminder to reacquaint myself with the reasons for quitting my job in the first place!

    • It can be so hard to actually stick to the hobbies we say we’ll do when we have time, I have found this too! Just this week I signed myself up for an online photography course because without accountability I haven’t been developing that hobby (I tend to Facebook instead!) :)

  7. Going into post, I smiled when the first item mentioned was hammock. Not being one grew up around the culture of huts and beaches, my first real hammock experience was at Nong Kiaow, Laos, in one of the stilted huts across the river overlooking the limestone cliff. From there, wherever I find a hammock, I made a point to climb in. It matters little the mood at that moment, problem always seems to be less complicated from the viewpoint of a hammock. I think subconsciously, we enjoy the feel of weightlessness and being cradled :)

    • I think you’re right, everything just seems to look a little more doable when you’re thinking about it cradled in hammock. I have heard so much about how beautiful Nong Kiaow is so it sounds like a gorgeous spot to start relaxing time! :)

  8. Perfect and just what I needed to remind me to relax. Sometimes i get far too caught up in technology and ‘doing things’ that I forget relaxing is something I also need to do.

    • Isn’t funny how caught up we get in the “convenience” of technology. Hope you can hunt down a hammock asap :)

  9. I’d love it if you could write a post detailing how to meet expats in towns–this is something I’ve always struggled with.

    • That’s a great question, I’ll give it some thought and see if I can come up with some tips. Thanks for sharing your question. :)

  10. All soooo true! I don’t think a lot of non-travel types understand that working for yourself is actually more time-consuming than the proverbial 9-to-5. You are never “done” but then you aren’t supposed to be (or you’re in trouble cuz you have no work!). Throw in the added time suck of the internet which can turn from modern convenience and horizon broadener to soulless addiction quite easily. For me, exercise is the hardest. But like eating healthy, homecooked food, getting into green space, etc. once you finally get out there and do it, it feels so good. Meeting up with friends, too, but that’s the easier part for me. :)

    • Hah! But you have Peung so at least you get dinner made for you! Sometimes I stare at the stove and just will it to prepare it’s own food (as yet, this has not happened).

      Agreed on the work though, I mean, I feel like a jerk for intimating that travel is not all fun since I know people have 9-5s and dream of the places we visit, but working for yourself has its own obstacles! :)

      • Ha, I wish! I do most of the cooking around here. She’s learning! We’ve ventured into making our own pasta now and pickling in the fall.

        But it isn’t all fun and I think either they know that or should know it. Most would never give up what many travelers give up: their own bed, the responsibilities of children, health insurance, retirement plans, a house and yard, conveniences and community. It’s terrifying, really. ;)

        • Hah, there is something to be said about having your own bed rather than the sorry excuses for a covered piece of wood in some parts. Your pasta making sounds labor intensive, but hope it’s tasty! :)


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