Three basic relaxation techniques you can learn to employ at a moment’s notice are: abdominal breathing, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), and visualization. The beauty of these exercises is that you can take them with you and use them anywhere at anytime to cope with daily stress. It is best to become proficient first with abdominal breathing and PMR before practicing visualization.
Most of us are shallow breathers which can deprive our bodies of the precious oxygen needed to carry on normal body functions. The best way to practice abdominal breathing is to place your body in a relaxed posture: sitting, standing or lying down while taking a full breath and expanding the chest cavity to its fullest with air. Place your hands on your abdomen, and if you are breathing deep enough your abdomen will rise as you inhale. Now exhale and allow all the air in your lungs to be removed. The next time you feel tense, practice abdominal breathing.
PMR involves tensing and relaxing different groups of muscles in your body. This technique teaches you how different muscles feel when you are tense and when you are relaxed.
- Find a comfortable room
- Find a comfortable chair
- Dim lights
- Find a pleasant temperature
- Loosen your clothing if it is tight or uncomfortable
- Remove shoes- (only if wearing clean socks)
- Close your eyes
Make sure you are comfortable and ready to relax before you begin the exercises and when doing PMR, do not forget to practice your deep breathing exercise with it.
Warning: If your are not used to contracting muscles, start slowly, as over-contracting can cause painful spasms. Taking calcium magnesium tablets as a regular dietary supplement will act as a natural muscle tranquilizer. (Before taking any supplement, first check with your doctor).
- Begin by tensing the muscles in your legs and feet by pulling your toes toward your head (Don’t raise your feet off the floor and hold for five seconds then release). If you are doing the exercise correctly, you will feel a sensation of heaviness ,warmth and tingling in each muscle group you relax.
- Push your toes down away from your body. Hold for five seconds then release.
- Tense your leg muscles tightly. Hold for five seconds then release. Let the tension drain from your legs – they should feel heavy and relaxed.
- Tighten your abdomen muscles. Hold for five seconds then release.
- Arch your back and contract the back muscles. Hold for five seconds then release.
- Tighten up your fists, (clench them) forearms and upper arms (should feel trembling). Hold for five seconds then release.
- Shrug your shoulders. Pull your shoulders up as if you are trying to touch your ears with them. Pull tight! Hold for five seconds then release.
- Tense your facial muscles. Hold for five seconds then release.
Once you have mastered abdominal breathing and PMR, you will be able to find ultimate relaxation by letting your imagination focus on relaxing images by employing the visualization technique. Start by thinking of a pleasant scene from your past. Examples might be the beach, a mountain top view scene or just the comfort of your quiet bedroom. Playing quiet music will help you concentrate. Try to clear your mind of all thoughts except the scene you are focusing on. An example to use might be a beach scene. With eyes closed visualize the white, sandy beach, feel the warm rays of the sun on your half naked body while breathing in the cooling sea spray. Listen to the sounds of the beach, the crashing of the waves on the beach and the seagull’s distant noise.
The next time you find yourself facing a stressful situation, prepare for it by using this three step stress saver technique. Good Luck!
Dr. Joel Desaunliers