Stress Reduction

Stress Reduction – Some Helpful Exercises

Breathing Exercises

Mind–body skills such as breathing techniques and meditation can increase healing and reduce the harmful effects of stress.  Mindfulness exercises such as meditation allow you to stop your busy life and be present in the moment, strengthening your mind/body connection.  Breathing exercises also help you reduce anxiety, bring your mind into the present, and relax tension in your chest and muscles.  These types of exercises or practices are easy to do without assistance from others, and can be done in any setting, situation, or at any time of the day or night.

A simple exercise in mindful awareness:

  • Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
  • Find a comfortable position that minimizes stress on your muscles.
  • Focus your attention on your breath – how your body feels as you breathe in and out.  Breathe naturally.
  • Anchor your attention on the sensation of breathing.  This could be centered in your abdomen, your chest or your nose.
  • Notice your body’s response to your breath – the rise of your chest – the sensations in your abdomen as you exhale.
  • Focus on the length of your breath – is it shallow? Is it deep?  Is your inhale and exhale steady and smooth?
  • Pay attention to the time between inhaling and exhaling.
  • When your mind starts to wander, notice where it has shifted.  A thought? A distraction?  Bring your attention back to your breath.
  • Continue to inhale and exhale naturally – relax into each breath.  Remain present with your breathing – present with your body.
  • Continue to focus on your breath, bringing your mind back to your breathing patterns when it wanders.
  • You can continue this focus for as long as you desire, inhaling and exhaling steadily.  Focus on the sensations of your breath and notice the tension in your muscles disappear.  Relax into your breathing. End your practice by slowly shifting your attention to your environment.  Open your eyes.

The Body Scan 

In this practice, you will scan through the body one area at a time, bringing a relaxed attention to each area. Allow yourself about 15 minutes for this practice.

Begin by taking a comfortable position either sitting or lying down. Once you have settled into a comfortable position, close your eyes and focus your mind on your body as you take yourself through the body scan.  Your goal is to remain focused on your body and its sensations, blocking out any distractions you may encounter.  Stay present.

Take a few moments to feel your body – to relax.  Notice places your body has contact with something – your clothing, your chair, your floor or mat.  How does your body feel?  What do you notice?  Breathe slowly – inhaling and exhaling smoothly and slowly.

Direct your attention to your feet.  Are they warm or cold?  Start with your toes.  Do you notice anything in your toes?  Do you feel pressure or pain?  Focus on your arch, the balls of your feet and your heels.  Notice any sensations in each of these areas.  Shift to the tops of the feet and the ankles.  What do you feel? Continue to breathe steadily – slowly.  Can you imagine inhaling air all the way to your feet? As you inhale, imagine bringing fresh, healing air into your lungs and all the way down to your feet.  As you exhale, imagine your body releasing all anxiety, stress, tension and toxins. Do the sensations in your feet change as you exhale the stress of your feet?  Continue to breathe in and out.

Shift your attention to your lower legs.  What sensations do you feel between your ankles and your knees?  Focus on your calves – your bones, your muscles, even your skin.  What do you feel?  As in the feet, imagine bringing in relaxing, fresh air into your lungs and down to you calves with each breath.  And release any tension on the outgoing breath.  Continue to breathe steadily, slowly, and deeply.

Next shift your attention to your knees.  Are they tight?  Can you relax them?  What about your thighs – do you feel your muscles or skin?  What is different in the front of your upper legs from your hamstrings in the back of your legs?  Do they feel cold?  Are they tense?  What do you feel in your legs?  Imagine that with each breath you are bringing healing, relaxing, air into your legs.  And with each exhale, all stress and tension is drifting out of your body.

Direct your focus now on your hips.  What can you feel?  Are they heavy?  Do they feel relaxed?

What about your lower abdomen and pelvis?  Can you feel the contact with the floor or the chair?  Can you inhale air into the lower abdomen, hips and pelvis?  Slowly release the tension and stress as you exhale.  Feel your body relax with each exhale.  Continue to breath slowly but deeply.

Now shift your attention to your lower back, spine, ribs, and upper back.  Take deep, slow breaths – push the air into your spine.  What do you notice?  Can you feel your clothes against your skin?  Does your spine relax as you breathe in and out?  Notice your shoulder blades.  Do they hurt?  What about your neck?  Breathe in and out imagining your are sending your breath to each area and releasing all stress, tension or toxins from your body with each exhale.  Notice how your chest expands and contracts with each deep breath.  Allow your breath to remove any tension in these areas.

With your next breath, focus on your stomach and your chest.  What do you feel as you breathe?  Does your chest rise and fall with each breath?  Can you feel your intestines or colon as you take deep breaths?  What about your lungs?  Do they expand and contract easily with your breath?  Imagine taking in full, deep breaths all the way into your lower abdomen and then releasing all tension or stress from the belly, chest, and lungs with each exhale. Notice your heart beating.  Is it fast?  Slow?  Let go of all tightness in the chest or abdomen with each exhale.  Continue to breathe slowly and deeply, letting go of any stress in your chest with each breath.

And now shift your focus to your arms and your hands.  Start with your fingers, then your palms and on to the back of your hands.  Extend your focus to your wrists and then forearms.  What do you notice?  Is anything uncomfortable?  Sore?  Can you feel your clothing or the air around you?  Can you you’re your joints?  With each breath, imagine pushing healing, relaxing air down your arms and into each finger.  As you exhale, imagine releasing any tension.  What about your elbows.  Now focus on your upper arms.  Again let go of any tension or stress on each exhale of your breath.

With your next breath, focus your attention on your shoulders.  Are they heavy?  Can you feel any tension in your muscles?  What about your neck and throat?  Scan these areas for places you are holding stress.  With each inhale, bring air deep into your abdomen, chest, and lungs and with each exhale, imagine your shoulders, neck and throat relaxing.  Continue for several more breaths.

Last shift your attention to your head and face.  What is your jaw doing?  Is it clenched?  Relax and let your facial muscles melt.  What is your mouth and tongue feeling?  What about your forehead and eyes?  What do you feel on your cheeks?  What is happening in your nose as you take breaths in and out?  Continue to breathe deeply and slowly, releasing every bit of stress or tension as you exhale.

In your last few moments focus on your entire body.  What are you feeling?  Are you relaxed?  Is your breathing steady and deep?  At this point consider thanking your body for all it does each day.   Continue to breathe steadily for several more breaths.  When you are ready, open your eyes and bring your attention back to the room.

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