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Deep Breathing Exercises

Exercise 1: The Stimulating Breath (also called the Bellows Breath) The Stimulating Breath is adapted from a yogic breathing technique. Its aim is to raise vital energy and increase alertness. Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose, keeping your mouth closed but relaxed. Your breaths in and out should be equal in duration, but as short as possible. This is a noisy breathing exercise. Try for three in-and-out breath cycles per second. This produces a quick movement of the diaphragm, suggesting a bellows. Breathe normally after each cycle. Do not do for more than 15 seconds on your first try. Each time you practice the Stimulating Breath, you can increase your time by five seconds or so, until you reach a full minute. If done properly, you may feel invigorated, comparable to the heightened awareness you feel after a good workout. You should feel the effort at the back of the neck, the diaphragm, the chest and the abdomen. Try this breathing exercise the next time you need an energy boost and feel yourself reaching for a cup of coffee. Exercise 2: The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise This exercise is utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight. This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths. Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply. This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.

Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass. Once you develop this technique by practicing it every day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens - before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep. This exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it. Exercise 3: Breath Counting If you want to get a feel for this challenging work, try your hand at breath counting, a deceptively simple technique much used in Zen practice. Sit in a comfortable position with the spine straight and head inclined slightly forward. Gently close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Then let the breath come naturally without trying to influence it. Ideally it will be quiet and slow, but depth and rhythm may vary. To begin the exercise, count "one" to yourself as you exhale. The next time you exhale, count "two," and so on up to "five." Then begin a new cycle, counting "one" on the next exhalation. Never count higher than "five," and count only when you exhale. You will know your attention has wandered when you find yourself up to "eight," "12," even "19." Try to do 10 minutes of this form of meditation.

Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is important from the standpoint of both health and spiritual development. Deep breathing increases our vitality and promotes relaxation. Unfortunately, when we try to take a socalled deep breath, most of us do the exact opposite: we suck in our bellies and raise our shoulders. This is shallow breathing. To learn deep breathing we need to do far more than learn new breathing exercises. Before deep breathing exercises can be of any lasting value, we need to experience and understand through the direct inner sensation of our own bodies the function of the chest and diaphragm in breathing, as well as the function of the belly, lower ribs, and lower back. We also need to observe how unnecessary tension in our muscles impedes our breathing. The Mechanics of Deep Breathing The diaphragm is a dome-shaped structure that not only assists in breathing, but also acts as a natural partition between our heart and lungs on the one hand, and all of the other internal organs on the other.

The top of the diaphragm, located about one and one-half inches up from the bottom of the sternum, actually supports the heart, while the bottom of the diaphragm is attached all the way around our lower ribs and connects also to our lower lumbar vertebrae. When we breathe, the surface of our diaphragm generally moves downward as we inhale and upward as we exhale. (See if you can sense these movements periodically throughout your day.) When we breathe fully and deeply, the diaphragm moves farther down into the abdomen, and our lungs are able to expand more completely into the chest cavity. This means that more oxygen is taken in and more carbon dioxide is released with each breath. Deep breathing takes advantage of the fact that the lungs are larger toward the bottom than the top. The Impact of Deep Breathing on Our Health Deep breathing can have a powerful influence on our health. To understand how this is possible, we need to remember that the diaphragm is attached all around the lower ribcage and has strands going down to the lumbar vertebrae. When our breathing is full and deep, the diaphragm moves through its entire range downward to massage the liver, stomach, and other organs and tissues below it, and upward to massage the heart. When our breathing is full and deep, the belly, lower ribcage, and lower back all expand on inhalation, thus drawing the diaphragm down deeper into the abdomen, and retract on exhalation, allowing the diaphragm to move fully upward toward the heart. In deep, abdominal breathing, the downward and upward movements of the diaphragm, combined with the outward and inward movements of the belly, ribcage, and lower back, help to massage and detoxify our inner organs, promote blood flow and peristalsis, and pump the lymph more efficiently through our lymphatic system. The lymphatic system, which is an important part of our immune system, has no pump other than muscular movements, including the movements of breathing. Deep Breathing for Relaxation Many of us breathe too fast for the conditions in which we find ourselves, that is, we actually hyperventilate. This fast, shallow breathing expels carbon dioxide too quickly and has many bad effects on our physical and emotional health. When our breathing is deep, however--when it involves in an appropriate way not only the respiratory muscles of the chest but also the belly, lower ribcage, and lower back--our breathing slows down. This slower, deeper breathing, combined with the rhythmical pumping of our diaphragm, abdomen, and belly, helps turn on our parasympathetic nervous system--our "relaxation response." Such breathing helps to harmonize our nervous system and reduce the amount of stress in our lives. And this, of course, has a positive impact on our overall health. Breathing Exercises Can Be Harmful to Your Health Everyday we see more and more books being published outlining various advanced yoga breathing exercises. But until we learn how to integrate natural breathing into our lives, many of these advanced yoga breathing exercises (pranayama) can be harmful to our physical and psychological health. (Such exercises include alternate nostril breathing, reverse breathing, and breath retention.) The key to deep breathing is to begin to learn to sense unnecessary tension in our bodies and to learn how to release this tension. This requires great inner attention and awareness. It requires learning the art of self-sensing and self-observation. A beneficial work with deep breathing begins with increasing our internal awareness. Without sufficient awareness, without great sensitivity to what is happening inside our bodies, any efforts to change our breathing will at best have no effect whatsoever (we'll quickly stop our breathing

exercises), and at worst will create more tension and stress in our lives and thus undermine our health and well-being even further. For an example of how it is possible to begin working in a healthy way with your breath, you can try this simple transformative breathing meditation. The following breathing meditation is the first of a very simple series of breathing practices. Do not, however, underestimate its power. If you can work with this breathing meditation every morning for a minimum of 15 minutes over a period of several weeks, you will begin to experience its many beneficial effects both on your body and your psyche.

Begin the Meditation Sit quietly for several minutes, either cross-legged on the floor or on a chair (without leaning against the back of the chair). Be sure that your spine is erect yet supple. Your hands should be folded gently together in your lap or palms down on your knees. As you sit, sense your weight being supported by the earth and allow the whole sensation of your body to enter your awareness and come to life. Now, simply follow your breathing as you inhale and exhale. It is through following our breathing through our sensation that we begin to open to the power of breath. During inhalation, sense the temperature and vibration of the air as it flows from the tip of your nose through your nasal passages, throat, and trachea on its way into your lungs. During exhalation, sense the air going up and out of your lungs through your trachea, throat, and nose. (Do not manipulate your breathing in any way during this practice.) After at least five minutes, rub your hands together several times, put them over your navel, and sense your belly. How does your breathing respond to the warmth and energy from your hands? As you continue to follow your breathing, can you sense your belly expanding (or wanting to expand) as you inhale and flattening (or wanting to flatten) as you exhale, without losing your awareness of the air as it enters and leaves your lungs? As you begin to observe more clearly these movements of your breathing, you may start to experience a sense of energy deep in your belly, at the level of about an inch or two below your navel. During inhalation, you may feel this energy filling your entire belly. During exhalation, you may feel the energy becoming more compact and concentrated. Really let yourself experience (and enjoy) this expanding and contracting sense of energy in your belly as your breathing continues. Continue working in this way with your breathing for another five minutes or more. When you're almost ready to stop, give yourself a couple of minutes to sense the energy, or at least some of the energy, being absorbed into the cells of your belly and back toward your spine. Then bring your attention back to the whole sensation of yourself just sitting there, breathing. Watch, sense, and feel everything that's taking place, including your breathing, until you are ready to stop. See if you can sense yourself as abreathing being. http://www.authentic-breathing.com/deep_breathing.htm

What Happens If I Don't Breathe Deeply? If you are a shallow breather, the air may not be getting into the lower portions of your lungs. You may not be getting enough oxygen for optimal health. Over time:

your lungs may lose their capacity to expand your blood may become sluggish your digestion may slow down your brain may begin to feel confused and foggy you may start to feel down and depressed

Are You A Deep Or Shallow Breather? Take This Simple Test 1. Place one hand on your chest. 2. Place the other hand on your stomach. 3. Breathe normally for a few moments. 4. Pay attention to each hand as you breathe in and out. 5. Which hand rises up the most? Does the hand on your stomach rises up the most? Congratulations! You've got great breathing habits. Does the hand on your chest rises up the most? You may be a shallow breather. Take some time to learn some deep breathing exercises. Keep reading for some exercises you can try right now! Practice them often until deep breathing becomes second nature. Your Posture And Deep Breathing Maintaining good posture will help you breathe properly. Pay attention to your posture when you are sitting down and while you are standing up. When you are sitting try not to slouch down in your chair. Having a droopy posture while sitting will prevent you from taking deep enough breaths. If you tend to get tired after sitting down for a while, this could be the reason why. You may not be getting enough oxygen due to your posture. Try sitting up with your back straight. If you are used to slouching, this may feel a bit awkward at first, but you will get used to it if you make a point of sitting up straight each time. Don't forget to breathe deeply! Soon it will become a good habit.

If you have to sit for long periods of time, try to get up from time to time to walk around or stretch. Try to take in a few extra deep breaths. Stand in front of an open window if you can. And Now For The Deep Breathing Exercises! Practice these deep breathing exercises in the morning when you wake up, during the daytime whenever you need a break, or at night just before bed. Do some deep-breathing whenever you need an oxygen boost! For best results, try these exercises OUTSIDE in the fresh open air: Deep Breathing Exercise One Lie down with a small book on your stomach. Practice breathing deeply so that the book moves up and down each time you breathe in an out. This is an excellent way to practice deep breathing. Deep Breathing Exercise Two Find a nice comfortable position to sit or stand. Keep your back straight and breathe out deeply through your mouth. Try to breathe out as much air from your lungs as possible. Then, take in a deep breath through your nostrils. As you take in the air, allow your stomach to expand. Once your lungs are filled up, slowly breathe out through your mouth. Do this exercise five or six times. Deep Breathing Exercise Three Stand straight. Place your hands along your lower ribs with your fingers pointing down and inward. Take in a slow deep breath through your nose. You should feel your lower ribs move outward. Fill up your lungs with as much air as possible, then try taking in another puff of air. Next, let the air out slowly through your mouth. Keep your lips partly closed so that there is a small amount of resistance. Try to breathe out all the air you possibly can. You can gently push in your lower ribs to help you do this. http://www.natural-health-restored.com/deep-breathing-exercises.html

http://www.videojug.com/film/how-to-relax-using-deep-breathing-techniques http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiHmvzFdzT4

What could be more natural than breathing? You might be amazed to learn that most people don't know that breathing an act that we do some 20,000 times each day can deeply influence your health and happiness on many levels. Some proponents of deep breathing recognize the connection between stress and breathing as well. Do you know if you breathe right? Read more in our article to learn about proper techniques for breathing with our breathing exercises. Many of the breathing exercises are simple, so sit tall and breathe! Breathing has been long considered essential for maintaining chi, the life-force energy of Eastern cultural traditions. Only more recently, however, have Americans begun to embrace the wisdom of taking a deep breath. "Breathing incorrectly can produce tension, exhaustion and vocal strain, interfere with athletic activity and encourage aches and illnesses," says Nancy Zi, a Glendale, Calif.-based breathing expert and author of the book and video set, "The Art of Breathing." Breathe correctly, however, and you can "melt away tension and stress, improve energy or simply relax and unwind." Dennis Lewis, who leads breathing awareness workshops and is the author of "The Tao of Natural Breathing," observes: "Most of us take our breathing for granted. The great Taoist sage Chuang Tzu says that most of us breathe from our throats, and that real human beings breathe from their heels." Here's what happens: Breathing oxygenates every cell of your body, from your brain to your vital organs. Without sufficient oxygen, your body becomes more susceptible to health problems. For example, in a study published in The Lancet, cardiac patients who took 12 to 14 shallow breaths per minute (six breaths per minute is considered optimal) were more likely to have low levels of blood oxygen, which "may impair skeletal muscle and metabolic function, and lead to muscle atrophy and exercise intolerance." In contrast, deep breathing raises levels of blood oxygen, promoting health in many ways from stimulating the digestive process to improving fitness and mental performance. Even alternative health icon Dr. Andrew Weil says: "If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly." Are You a Shallow Breather? Zi observes that most people are "shallow breathers" they use only the narrow top portion of the lung surface for oxygen exchange. Our breath literally stops at the diaphragm a band of tissue that Lewis calls our "spiritual muscle." To find out if you're a shallow breather, try Zi's simple test: Put your palms against your lower abdomen and blow out all the air. Now, take a big breath. If your abdomen expands when you inhale and air seems to flow in deeply to the pit of your stomach, you're on the right track. More typically, though, shallow breathers are likely to take a breath and pull in their stomach, which pushes the diaphragm up so the air has nowhere to go. What happens next is that the shoulders go up to make room. "All this effort for something, which should be a natural gift!" Zi exclaims. Breathing Basics To fill the lungs more deeply, "Lower the diaphragm muscle by expanding the abdomen. When this happens, the lungs elongate and draw in air. You don't breathe into the abdomen; you allow it to

expand comfortably all around its circumference back, sides and front. Proper core breathing is really the foundation for all things it's the foundation of health." "Where is the core? It's below the navel a few inches or so. It isn't a thing, you can't see it: it's a sensation. Zi likes to use the image of a lotus blossom when teaching people how to breathe from their core: "When you inhale, imagine a blossom opening within your abdomen; when you exhale, the blossom closes. You open from the center of the blossom, the core. What causes the petals to open is the energy from the core; the more you breathe from the core, the more you stimulate and nourish its energy, and you become more in control." So Where Does Our Breathing Go Wrong? Zi attributes shallow breathing to trauma and fashion. "When you are a child, and are sent to bed without dinner, or when you are afraid, you hold the breath. So the child goes to bed angry, sad or tense, and holds the breath. We lose that innate ability of pumping with the stomach. The lungs should just be a container; when we use them as a pump, they become overburdened and the muscles get tight; everything is restricted." Zi observes that frequently, asthma can develop as a result of such constriction. Adults also can lose the capacity for deep core breathing from a traumatic emotional experience, or physical pain. "When we are in pain," Zi explains, "we want as little movement as possible. This again restricts breathing; later, when you are well, your breath may remain shallow." In addition, modern fashion teaches us to "suck in our tummies" and have flat abdominal muscles. This type of posture, which Zi calls the "statue," also contributes to shallow breathing. "This is such a mistaken attitude," she says. "The abdominal area contains the most vital organs, and we must let it pulse. When you tense your stomach all the time, like a perfect statue, you create lower back tension, stiffness and pain." If posture is when we look like a model statue, texture is when we are flexible, extendible, stretchable, nimble, opening up and closing. "You allow the front of the chest, the back, the sides and the bottom of the torso to freely expand," Zi explains. To test your flexibility, stand in the "saddle" position so that you stand with feet apart, and then bend down so your knees spread outward, opening the lower torso. "We need to be more like a pagoda an anchored pagoda, with a stable bottom, not top-heavy," says Zi. That way, you can't be knocked over. "Shallow breathers are top-heavy and are teetering around through life Be the Center Breathing Posture v. Texture When you breathe with your abdomen, you create a center; when you have a center, you are more confident and coordinated; when you have confidence, you have much more potential and are not afraid of challenges. In effect, you are bringing back the potential that God gave you. You are not afraid anymore.

And this potential can be put to use in many arenas, from music to ballet, calligraphy to equestrian sports, archery to cycling. "Once you learn it, you can apply it to anything," says Zi. Working with the breath for even brief periods each day can bring a new sense of internal balance, says Dennis Lewis. "You don't have to work with the breath all the time, day in and day out. He recommends starting out by spending "20 or 30 minutes a day sensing and observing your breath." His Ten Secrets of Authentic Breathing is worth printing out and keeping handy for quick reference. In her book and video set, Zi takes the student through 24 exercises comprising six lessons. "Give it 30 days and you'll have it," she maintains. She suggests doing about four exercises per lesson, devoting about 10 minutes to each lesson. Do each exercise three times for three days; then go to Lesson 2 and add the new ones, reviewing previous ones as needed. Even people recovering from surgery or in wheelchairs can adapt these exercises to their needs. When you can learn to follow the breath to your center, to your core, and open the lotus blossom, "Your thought goes there and you quiet down. Otherwise your mind will be flitting and fluttering. It's a bringing together of the breath, and then you can bring together your thoughts, and everything becomes not that drastically important. "Your new car, the new dress are not that important anymore when you look into yourself and follow your mind to the center. It's really what meditation is about." "Many times, however, people try to do it the reverse way: "You try to meditate, and then you breathe better; whereas if you learn to breathe first and then you do everything else, it's much, much easier." Remember, you are breathing right now. Every day, you have 20,000 opportunities to transform how you breathe and enhance your health and well-being. http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/natural-medicine/alternative/deep-breathing.htm


Breathing Awareness and Deep Breathing

1. Lie down or sit in a comfortable chair, maintaining good posture. Your body should be as relaxed as possible. Close your eyes. Scan your body for tension. 2. Pay attention to your breathing. Place one hand on the part of your chest or abdomen that seems to rise and fall the most with each breath. If this spot is in your chest you are not utilizing the lower part of your lungs.

3. Place both hands on your abdomen and follow your breathing, noticing how your abdomen rises and falls. 4. Breathe through your nose. 5. Notice if your chest is moving in harmony with your abdomen. 6. Now place one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest. 7. Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose into your abdomen. You should feel your abdomen rise with this inhalation and your chest should move only a little. 8. Exhale through your mouth, keeping your mouth, tongue, and jaw relaxed. 9. Relax as you focus on the sound and feeling of long, slow, deep breaths.

Complete Natural Breathing

1. Sit or stand with good posture. 2. Breathe through your nose. 3. Inhale, filling first the lower part of your lungs then the middle part, then the upper part. 4. Hold your breath for a few seconds. 5. Exhale slowly. Relax your abdomen and chest.

Practice these two exercises, in whatever combination feels best for you, for ten minutes, twice a day.

(Taken from Davis, Eshelman, and McKay; The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, 2nd edition; New Harbringer Publications, 1982.) Academic Skills Center, Dartmouth College 2001

Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief Relaxation Exercises and Tips Share RSS


The bodys natural relaxation response is a powerful antidote to stress. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, and yoga can help you activate this relaxation response. When practiced regularly, these activities lead to a reduction in your everyday stress levels and a boost in your feelings of joy and serenity. Whats more, they also serve a protective quality by teaching you how to stay calm and collected in the face of lifes curveballs. In This Article:

The relaxation response Relaxation techniques Deep breathing Progressive muscle relaxation Meditation Guided imagery Yoga Tai Chi Massage therapy Related links Authors Text Size


The relaxation response

Source: University of Michigan Health Center The relaxation response is not:

laying on the couch sleeping being lazy

The relaxation response is:

a mentally active process that leaves the body relaxed best done in an awake state trainable and becomes


You cant avoid all stress, but you can counteract its negative effects by learning how to evoke the relaxation response, a state of deep rest that is the polar opposite of the stress response.

more profound with practice

The stress response floods your body with chemicals that prepare you for fight or flight. But while the stress response is helpful in true emergency situations where you must be alert, it wears your body down when constantly activated. The relaxation response brings your system back into balance: deepening your breathing, reducing stress hormones, slowing down your heart rate and blood pressure, and relaxing your muscles. In addition to its calming physical effects, research shows that the relaxation response also increases energy and focus, combats illness, relieves aches and pains, heightens problem-solving abilities, and boosts motivation and productivity. Best of all with a little practice anyone can reap these benefits. Starting a relaxation practice A variety of relaxation techniques help you achieve the relaxation response. Those whose stressbusting benefits have been widely studied include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, visualization, yoga, and tai chi. Learning the basics of these relaxation techniques isnt difficult. But it takes practice to truly harness their stress-relieving power: daily practice, in fact. Most stress experts recommend setting aside at least 10 to 20 minutes a day for your relaxation practice. If youd like to get even more stress relief, aim for 30 minutes to an hour. Getting the most out of your relaxation practice Set aside time in your daily schedule. The best way to start and maintain a relaxation practice is by incorporating it into your daily routine. Schedule a set time either once or twice a day for your practice. You may find that its easier to stick with your practice if you do it first thing in the morning, before other tasks and responsibilities get in the way. Dont practice when youre sleepy. These techniques can relax you so much that they can make you very sleepy, especially if its close to bedtime. You will get the most out of these techniques if you practice when youre fully awake and alert. Choose a technique that appeals to you. There is no single relaxation technique that is best. When choosing a relaxation technique, consider your specific needs, preferences, and fitness level. The right relaxation technique is the one that resonates with you and fits your lifestyle. Do you need alone time or social stimulation? If you crave solitude, solo relaxation techniques such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation will give you the to quiet your mind and recharge your batteries. If you crave social interaction, a class setting will give you the stimulation and support youre looking for. Practicing with others may also help you stay motivated.


Deep breathing for stress relief With its focus on full, cleansing breaths, deep breathing is a simple, yet powerful, relaxation technique. Its easy to learn, can be practiced almost anywhere, and provides a quick way to get your stress levels in check. Deep breathing is the cornerstone of many other relaxation practices, too, and can be combined with other relaxing elements such as aromatherapy and music. All you really need is a few minutes and a place to stretch out. How to practice deep breathing The key to deep breathing is to breathe deeply from the abdomen, getting as much fresh air as possible in your lungs. When you take deep breaths from the abdomen, rather than shallow breaths from your upper chest, you inhale more oxygen. The more oxygen you get, the less tense, short of breath, and anxious you feel. So the next time you feel stressed, take a minute to slow down and breathe deeply:

Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little. Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little. Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. Count slowly as you exhale.

If you have a hard time breathing from your abdomen while sitting up, try lying on the floor. Put a small book on your stomach, and try to breathe so that the book rises as you inhale and falls as you exhale. Progressive muscle relaxation for stress relief Progressive muscle relaxation is another effective and widely used strategy for stress relief. It involves a two-step process in which you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups in the body. With regular practice, progressive muscle relaxation gives you an intimate familiarity with what tensionas well as complete relaxationfeels like in different parts of the body. This awareness helps you spot and counteract the first signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress. And as your body relaxes, so will your mind. You can combine deep breathing with progressive muscle relaxation for an additional level of relief from stress. Progressive Muscle Relaxation Sequence

Right foot Left foot Right calf Left calf Right thigh

Left thigh Hips and buttocks Stomach Chest Back Right arm and hand Left arm and hand Neck and shoulders Face

Most progressive muscle relaxation practitioners start at the feet and work their way up to the face. For a sequence of muscle groups to follow, see the box to the right:

Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes, and get comfortable. Take a few minutes to relax, breathing in and out in slow, deep breaths. When youre relaxed and ready to start, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on the way it feels. Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10. Relax your right foot. Focus on the tension flowing away and the way your foot feels as it becomes limp and loose. Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly. When youre ready, shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release. Move slowly up through your body legs, abdomen, back, neck, face contracting and relaxing the muscle groups as you go.

Mindfulness meditation for stress relief Meditation that cultivates mindfulness is particularly effective at reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions. Mindfulness is the quality of being fully engaged in the present moment, without analyzing or otherwise over-thinking the experience. Rather than worrying about the future or dwelling on the past, mindfulness meditation switches the focus to whats happening right now. For stress relief, try the following mindfulness meditation techniques:

Body scan Body scanning cultivates mindfulness by focusing your attention on various parts of your body. Like progressive muscle relaxation, you start with your feet and work your way up. However, instead of tensing and relaxing your muscles, you simply focus on the way each part of your body feels without labeling the sensations as either good or bad. Walking meditation - You dont have to be seated or still to meditate. In walking meditation, mindfulness involves being focused on the physicality of each step the sensation of your feet touching the ground, the rhythm of your breath while moving, and feeling the wind against your face. Mindful eating If you reach for food when youre under stress or gulp your meals down in a rush, try eating mindfully. Sit down at the table and focus your full attention on the meal (no TV, newspapers, or eating on the run). Eat slowly, taking the time to fully enjoy and concentrate on each bite.

Mindfulness meditation is not equal to zoning out. It takes effort to maintain your concentration and to bring it back to the present moment when your mind wanders or you start to drift off. But with regular practice, mindfulness meditation actually changes the brain strengthening the areas associated with joy and relaxation, and weakening those involved in negativity and stress. Starting a meditation practice All you need to start meditating are:

A quiet environment. Choose a secluded place in your home, office, garden, place of worship, or in the great outdoors where you can relax without distractions or interruptions. A comfortable position. Get comfortable, but avoid lying down as this may lead to you falling asleep. Sit up with your spine straight, either in a chair or on the floor. You can also try a crosslegged or lotus position. A point of focus. Pick a meaningful word or phrase and repeat it throughout your session. You may also choose to focus on an object in your surroundings to enhance your concentration, or alternately, you can close your eyes. An observant, noncritical attitude. Dont worry about distracting thoughts that go through your mind or about how well youre doing. If thoughts intrude during your relaxation session, dont fight them. Instead, gently turn your attention back to your point of focus.

Guided imagery for stress relief Visualization, or guided imagery, is a variation on traditional meditation that can help relieve stress. When used as a relaxation technique, guided imagery involves imagining a scene in which you feel at peace, free to let go of all tension and anxiety. Choose whatever setting is most calming to you, whether a tropical beach, a favorite childhood spot, or a quiet wooded glen. You can do this visualization exercise on your own, with a therapists help, or using an audio recording. Close your eyes and let your worries drift away. Imagine your restful place. Picture it as vividly as you caneverything you can see, hear, smell, and feel. Guided imagery works best if you incorporate as many sensory details as possible. For example, if you are thinking about a dock on a quiet lake:

See the sun setting over the water Hear the birds singing Smell the pine trees Feel the cool water on your bare feet Taste the fresh, clean air

Yoga for stress relief Yoga is an excellent stress relief technique. It involves a series of both moving and stationary poses, combined with deep breathing. The physical and mental benefits of yoga provide a natural counterbalance to stress, and strengthen the relaxation response in your daily life. What type of yoga is best for stress? Although almost all yoga classes end in a relaxation pose, classes that emphasize slow, steady movement and gentle stretching are best for stress relief. Look for labels like gentle, for stress relief,

or for beginners. Power yoga, with its intense poses and focus on fitness, is not the best choice. If youre unsure whether a specific yoga class is appropriate for stress relief, call the studio or ask the teacher. Since injuries can happen when yoga is practiced incorrectly, its best to learn by attending group classes or hiring a private teacher. Once youve learned the basics, you can practice alone or with others, tailoring your practice as you see fit. Tips for starting a yoga practice:

Consider your fitness level and any medical issues before joining a yoga class. There are many yoga classes for different needs, such as prenatal yoga, yoga for seniors, and adaptive yoga (modified yoga for disabilities). Hot or Bikram yoga, which is practiced in a heated environment, might be too much if you are just starting out. Look for a low-pressure environment where you can learn at your own pace. Dont extend yourself beyond what feels comfortable, and always back off of a pose at the first sign of pain. A good teacher can show you alternate poses for ones that are too challenging for your health or fitness level. Click here for a searchable, international directory of yoga classes, provided by YogaFinder. You can also look for yoga classes at local gyms and specialized yoga studios. Community centers or community colleges often offer yoga classes at discounted prices.

Tai chi for stress relief If youve ever seen a group of people in the park slowly moving in synch, youve probably witnessed tai chi. Tai chi is a self-paced, non-competitive series of slow, flowing body movements. These movements emphasize concentration, relaxation, and the conscious circulation of vital energy throughout the body. Though tai chi has its roots in martial arts, today it is primarily practiced as a way of calming the mind, conditioning the body, and reducing stress. As in meditation, tai chi practitioners focus on their breathing and keeping their attention in the present moment. Tai chi is a safe, low-impact option for people of all ages and levels of fitness, including older adults and those recovering from injuries. Once youve learned the moves, you can practice it anywhere, at any time, by yourself, or with others. Making tai chi work for you

As with yoga, tai chi is best learned in a class or from a private instructor. Although tai chi is normally very safe and gentle, be sure to discuss any health or mobility concerns with your instructor. Tai chi classes are often offered in community centers, senior centers, or local community colleges. Click here to find a qualified instructor recommended by the Tai Chi Network.

Massage therapy for stress relief Getting a massage provides deep relaxation, and as the muscles in your body relax, so does your overstressed mind. And you dont have to visit the spa to enjoy the benefits of massage. There are many simple self-massage techniques you can use to relax and release stress.

Self-Massage Techniques Source: Northwestern Health Sciences University Scalp Soother Place your thumbs behind your ears while spreading your fingers on top of your head. Move your scalp back and forth slightly by making circles with your fingertips for 15-20 seconds. Easy on the Eyes Close your eyes and place your ring fingers directly under your eyebrows, near the bridge of your nose. Slowly increase the pressure for 5-10 seconds, then gently release. Repeat 2-3 times. Sinus Pressure Relief Place your fingertips at the bridge of your nose. Slowly slide your fingers down your nose and across the top of your cheekbones to the outside of your eyes. Shoulder Tension Relief Reach one arm across the front of your body to your opposite shoulder. Using a circular motion, press firmly on the muscle above your shoulder blade. Repeat on the other side. The most common type of massage is Swedish massage, a soothing technique specifically designed to relax and energize. Another common type of massage is Shiatsu, also known as acupressure. In Shiatsu massage, therapists use their fingers to manipulate the bodys pressure points. Although self-massage is good for stress relief, getting a massage from a professional massage therapist can be tremendously relaxing and more through then what you can do yourself. When booking a massage, try types like Swedish or Shiatsu, which promote overall relaxation. Deep tissue and sports massages are more aggressive. They often target specific areas and may leave you sore for a couple of days, making them less effective for relaxation and stress relief.

The American Massage Therapy Association provides an online directory of massage therapists. If you are on a budget, look around for massage schools. They often provide massages at reduced prices while training students.