Relaxation exercises will help you to ease tension and to relieve headaches, backaches and insomnia. It releases the body's own painkillers, called endorphins, into your system. It also helps you to gain a sense of emotional wellbeing and a feeling of being more in control.
All relaxation exercises involve deep breathing. When you are under stress, your muscles tense and your breathing becomes shallow and rapid. One of the simplest ways to stop this stress response is to breathe deeply and slowly.
How deep breathing works
Most adults breathe from the chest. Shallow breathing allows oxygen to be taken in with each breath. As a result, the blood is forced to move through the system quickly so that enough oxygen gets to the brain and organs. Take time to practice deep breathing each day. You can do this sitting or lying down, at work or at home.
- Begin by breathing through your nostrils. Inhale for five counts, silently saying the word "in". Concentrate on breathing deeply. Fill your lower abdomen with air.
- To the count of five, exhale slowly, silently saying the word "out" as you let the air escape through pursed lips.
- Repeat this exercise for about two minutes. Gradually you will be able to build up to ten counts or higher. Increase your relaxation by imagining a peaceful scene or breathing in fresh air or pleasant smells.
Progressive muscle relaxation
This exercise helps to ease tension and alleviate pain.
How to do it:
- Choose a quiet room and find a comfortable chair to sit in. If you want to, you could play soothing, relaxing music in the background.
- Rest your hands in your lap and your feet on the floor. Make yourself as comfortable as possible. Use extra cushions if need be or loosen any tight clothing.
- Take a deep breath, letting it out slowly.
- Extend one arm in front of you. Make a tight fist and tense the muscles as hard as you can. Hold for a count of five. Concentrate on how tense the hand feels.
- Relax your hand partly. Clench it again for a count of five. Notice and remember the difference in sensation between the clenched and unclenched muscles.
- Now release the tension completely, allowing your hand to feel completely relaxed. Take a deep breath and exhale slowly.
- Repeat this sequence for the other hand, then for your arms, shoulders, neck and facial muscles. Take deep breaths between each muscle group until the entire upper body is relaxed.
- Using the same routine of tensing and then relaxing muscles, go on to your stomach, buttocks, legs and feet.
- After tensing and relaxing your entire body, close your eyes and sit quietly for at least five minutes. Breathe deeply and concentrate on a pleasant thought or peaceful scene.
It may seem that some muscles just do not want to relax. Be patient. It takes time to change bad habits. Spend a few extra minutes on those muscles each day. If it is your hands, flex and un-flex the fingers and then try to relax the entire hand.
(Health24, November 2006)