Relaxation techniques for stress relief

Many relaxation techniques can help you achieve the relaxation response. Those whose stress-busting benefits have been widely studied include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, visualization, yoga, and tai chi.

Learning the basics of these relaxation techniques isn’t 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 you’d like to get even more stress relief, aim for 30 minutes to an hour.

Keep in mind that there is no single relaxation technique that is best. Many techniques are effective, but only when practiced regularly: so choose a relaxation technique or combination of techniques that resonates with you and fits your lifestyle.

Starting a daily stress relief practice

The best way to start and maintain a daily stress relief practice is by incorporating it into your daily routine. Schedule a set time either once or twice a day for your relaxation practice. You may find that it’s easier to stick with your practice if you do it first thing in the morning, before other tasks and responsibilities get in the way.

All you need to start a relaxation practice 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 cross-legged or lotus position.
A point of focus –
Pick a meaningful word or phrase and repeat it throughout your session. You may also to focus on an object in your surroundings to enhance your concentration, or alternately, you can close your eyes.
A passive attitude –
Don’t worry about distracting thoughts that go through your mind or about how well you’re doing. If thoughts intrude during your relaxation session, don’t fight them. Instead, gently turn your attention back to your point of focus.

You can either stick to this straightforward relaxation exercise, or branch out into other relaxation techniques. Keep in mind that traditional relaxation techniques aren’t the only effective stress reducers. Spending time in nature, talking to a friend, listening to music, curling up with a good book, writing in a journal—anything that you find calming can relieve stress.

Deep breathing for stress relief
If you’d like to explore relaxation techniques, deep breathing is a good place to start, since it is used in many relaxation practices including yoga, meditation, and visualization. Deep breathing involves not only the lungs but also the abdomen, or diaphragm.

Most of us don’t breathe from the diaphragm. Instead, we take shallow breaths from our upper chests. When we’re stressed, our breath becomes even shallower. The problem is that shallow breathing limits the amount of oxygen we take in—which makes us feel even more tense, short of breath, and anxious. Deep breathing, on the other hand, encourages full oxygen exchange throughout the chest and lungs.

Chest Breathing vs. Abdominal Breathing

When you breathe from your chest, you inhale about a teacup of oxygen. Instead, you should breathe from your abdomen. When you breathe from your abdomen, you inhale about a quart of oxygen. The more oxygen you inhale, the better.

How you breathe also affects your nervous system. Chest breathing makes your brain create shorter, more restless brain waves. Abdominal breathing makes your brain create longer, slower brain waves. These longer and slower brain waves are similar to the ones your brain makes when you are relaxed and calm. So, breathing from the abdomen helps you relax quickly.

With its focus on full, cleansing breaths powered by the diaphragm, deep breathing can help you get your stress levels in check. The next time you feel uptight, try taking 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 sitting up, lie 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. Breathing techniques can be practiced almost anywhere and can be combined with other relaxation exercises, such as aromatherapy and music. All you really need is a few minutes and a place to stretch out.

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