Stressed? Easy exercises to help relax you..

Breathing

Many people do not realize the importance of breathing properly. Poor breathing habits decrease the flow of proper oxygen, making it harder to eliminate and therefore harder to cope with stressful situations. Certain breathing patterns may actually contribute to anxiety, panic attacks, depression, muscle tension, headaches, and fatigue. As you learn to be aware of your breathing and practice slowing and normalizing your breaths, your mind will quiet and your body will relax. Breath awareness and proper breathing habits will enhance your moods and physical well-being, whether you practice then alone or with other relaxation techniques.

If you watch the breathing of a baby or infant, you will see diaphragmatic or belly breathing. With each inhale the belly extends and with each exhale it deflates. However, as we grow older, we begin to breathe from our chest, where when inhaling our chest expands and shoulders rise. Chronic shallow chest breathing can be associated with chronic stress, tension, poor posture, tight clothing, purposely holding in the stomach and pushing out the chest or long periods of focused attention in which people forget to breathe regularly.

By increasing your awareness of your breathing patterns and shifting to more abdominal breathing, you can help bring increased oxygen to your body, normalize your heart rate, and reduce muscle tension and anxiety naturally.

HOW DO YOU CURRENTLY BREATHE?

1. To answer this question, close your eyes. Put your right hand on your abdomen at the waistline, and put your left hand on your chest, in the center.

2. Without trying to change your breathing, simply notice how it feels as cool fresh air enters your nose, passes through the hairs in your nasal passage, reaches the back of your throat, and descends into your lungs.

3. Notice what happens as that air enters your lungs. What happens when you exhale? Observe your breathe for a while without making any effort to make it different. Take your time.

4. Which hand rises the most when you inhale- the hand on your chest or the hand on your abdomen?
If your abdomen expands and rises the most when you inhale, you are breathing properly using your diaphragm. If your abdomen doesn’t move or if it moves less than yo0ur chest, you are shallow chest breathing.

DIAPHRAGMATIC OR ABDOMINAL BREATHING

1. Lie on your back and gently place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest and follow your breathing. Notice how your abdomen rises with each inhalation and falls with each exhalation. Alternatively, put a book on your abdomen, place your hands at your sides and follow your breathing.

2. If you experience difficulty breathing into your abdomen, try one of the following:

a. Exhale forcefully to empty your lungs. This will create a vacuum that will pull a deep breath into your abdomen. If you find yourself drifting back to shallow chest breathing, you may need to repeat this.

b. Press your hand down on your abdomen while you exhale and then let your abdomen push your hand back up as you inhale deeply.

c. Imagine that your abdomen is a balloon and that as you inhale you are filling it with air.

d. Lie on your stomach with your head resting on your folded hands. Inhale deeply into your abdomen so you can feel your abdomen pushing against the floor.

3. Is your chest moving in harmony with your abdomen or is it rigid? Although most of the action is in your abdomen when you breathe diaphragmatically, your chest does move a little. As you inhale, first your abdomen, then your middle chest, and then your upper chest will rise in one smooth movement. You might want to imagine filling a glass with water from the bottom to the top as you inhale.

4. Once you know what it feels like to breathe diaphragmatically, you can use this option to deepen and slow your breath even more. Smile slightly, inhale through your nose, and exhale through your mouth, as though you are breathing out through a straw. Take long, slow, deep breaths that raise and lower your abdomen. Focus on the sound and feeling of your breathing as you become more and more relaxed.

5. When thoughts, feelings, and sensations catch your attention, just notice them and return to your breathing.

6. Practice this kind of breathing for about five or ten minutes at a time, once or twice a day. Gradually extend the time you do this to twenty minutes.

7. At the end of each diaphragmatic-breathing session, take a little time to notice and enjoy how you feel.

8. Optional: You may want to scan your body for tension at the beginning and end of each breathing practice session. Compare the level of tension you feel at the end of the exercise with the tension level you felt when you began.

SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS

1. Once you become at ease with breathing diaphragmatically, check in with how you are breathing from time to time during your day. Are you breathing diaphragmatically? Maybe set the alarm on your phone to remind you to check in on your breathing and tension. Are you holding your breath? Take a few diaphgragmatic breaths. Concentrate on your abdomen moving up and down, the air moving in and out of your lungs, and the feeling of relaxation that deep breathing gives you.

2. If you have difficulty checking in with your breathing during the day, perhaps try it while in the bathroom. Believe it or not this exercise will help constipation as breathing helps with circulation and therefore with movement of the bowels as well.

3. When you’ve learned to relax using these methods, you can use it anytime and anywhere to lower your stress and tension levels or even before a stressful event. Although it’s not a cure all, most people report that this belly breathing helps them get through difficult situations more easily.

BREATHING FOR TENSION RELEASE AND INCREASED AWARENESS

LETTING GO OF TENSION

1. Inhale diaphragmatically as you say to yourself “breathe in”.

2. Hold your breath a moment before you exhale.

3. Exhale s.l.o.w.l.y. and deeply as you say to yourself “relax.”

4. Pause and wait for your next natural breath.

5. As you inhale slowly and then hold your breath for a moment, notice the parts of your body that tense up.

6. As you exhale, feel the tension naturally leaving your body. With each exhalation, you will feel more and more relaxed, as you let go of more and more tension.

7. When thoughts, feelings and sensations catch your attention, just notice them and return your focus to your breathing.

8. Practice five to twenty minutes at a time.

9. Once you’ve mastered this exercise, practice using it several times a day in neutral situations, which is non-stressful situations. Finally, start using it in stressful situations to reduce your tension.

10. Remember you may need to exhale before you can breathe in deeply.

LITTLE TENSION RELEASERS

During the day, there are many moments when you can benefit from a short time-out. For example, when you catch yourself sighing or yawning – it is a sign that your body is not getting enough oxygen. Since a sigh or yawn does actually release a bit of tension, you can practice sighing or yawning as a way to relax while working. Make an effort to sit or stand up straight when you do this.

Sighing

1. Sigh deeply, letting out a sound of deep relief as the air rushes out of your lungs.

2. Don’t think about inhaling- just let the air come in naturally.

3. Repeat whenever you feel the need for it.

Yawning

1. Open your mouth wide.

2. Stretch your arms over your head.

3. Yawn (loudly if you can).

4. Repeat as needed.

Diaphragmatic breathing

1. Step back mentally from what you are doing.

2. Notice how you feel.

3. Take three slow, relaxing, deep diaphragmatic breaths.

4. Notice how you feel.

5. Repeat as needed.

NOTE: Sometimes you don’t have the time to step back mentally and check in with yourself about how you’re feeling. Nevertheless, you can still get a bit of tension release by breathing diaphragmatically a few times.

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