Deep Breathing, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, and Centering
Stress can cause severe health problems and, in extreme cases, even death. While these stress management techniques have been shown to have a positive effect on reducing stress, they are for guidance only. You should take the advice of suitably qualified health professionals if you have any concerns over stress-related illnesses, or if stress is causing you significant or persistent unhappiness.
Deep breathing is a simple but effective method of relaxation. It is a core component of yoga and Zen meditation, as well as of the common approach of taking "10 deep breaths" to calm down. It works well in conjunction with other relaxation techniques – such as progressive muscular relaxation, relaxation imagery, and meditation – to reduce stress.
Physical Relaxation Techniques
Many people spend much of their time breathing very shallowly, filling only the upper part of their chest with air. This shallow breathing limits the amount of oxygen that your body takes in, and it can also make you feel very anxious in times of stress. By contrast, deep breathing can decrease stress, lower your blood pressure, and slow your heart rate.
Deep breathing – also called diaphragmatic, or belly breathing – takes place when, instead of just breathing with your ribs, you breathe so that your lower belly expands.
When you breathe in this way, your diaphragm moves downward and pulls your lungs along with it. At the same time, it presses against your internal organs to make room for your expanding lungs. When you breathe out, your diaphragm pushes upward, helping your lungs expel carbon dioxide.
It's easy to start practicing deep breathing techniques. All you need to do is sit comfortably, take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, and focus on what feels like filling your lower belly with air.
Progressive Muscular Relaxation
Progressive muscular relaxation, or PMR, is useful for relaxing your body when your muscles are tense.
The idea behind PMR is that you tense up a group of muscles, so that they're tightly contracted. Hold them in a state of extreme tension for a few seconds, and then relax the muscles. Then, consciously relax your muscles even more. This process of moving from intense tension to deep muscular relaxation helps interrupt your body's fight-or-flight response when you're experiencing fear or stress.
Here are a few examples of ways to engage in progressive muscular relaxation. Hold each position for five seconds, and then relax. You might also find it helpful to breathe out slowly as you relax each pose, or even to whisper the word "relax" as you release your muscles.
Raise your eyebrows as high as you can.
Close your eyes as tightly as possible and keep them shut for five seconds.
Open your mouth as wide as possible, as if you're yawning.
Hold your arms in front of you and clench your fists as tightly as possible.
Pull your shoulder muscles up toward your ears.
Bend your arms and tense your biceps as tightly as possible.
As you sit, pull your legs together and push your thighs together, tightening the thigh muscles as you push inward.
Tighten your abdominal muscles.
Curl your toes downwards as much as possible.
What you'll find is that when you tense your muscles first, it's easier, then, to relax these muscles completely. When you try to relax your muscles without tensing them, you'll find that they don't relax as thoroughly.
Centering was developed from the Japanese martial art of Aikido. (Literally translated, "Aikido" means "the way of unifying life energy.") It's a method that you can use to channel nervous energy, increase your concentration, and remain stable and grounded in a stressful situation; and it combines physical and mental approaches to relaxation.
There are three basic steps that you can follow to become centered:
1. Be aware of your breathing.
Focus on your breathing. Breathe deeply and slowly, using your abdomen.
2. Find your center.
This is your physical center of gravity, which is usually just below your waist. Focusing on your center grounds you, and reminds you that you have balance and control when you start to feel stressed. Once you've found your center, focus your mind on it, and breathe deeply at least five times.
3. Release your negative energy.
Visualize all of your negative energy collecting in your center, and then moving up towards your eyes. Then, picture yourself thrusting all of this negative energy away from you, leaving youself feeling calm and quiet.
It can take some practice to learn how to use centering, so it's a good idea to become familiar with it before you need to use it. You can find out more about it in our article on the technique.
(Information taken from
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