13 January 2009

Three exercises to calm your mind

The following exercises are great ways to calm down in the midst of a stressful day or situation. The best thing about them, is that they can be done anywhere.


Regularly calming the mind and body is important when dealing with stressful periods. Various relaxation exercises will help induce the “relaxation response”, which is exactly opposite to the “stress response”.

Although the following exercises are best done in a quiet place, they can be done in a car, or at a desk in an adapted form. The best results are achieved when done once a day for 5-10 minutes.

Here are some practices and habits to calm the mind and promote a positive outlook:

Diaphragmatic breathing
Breathing is one of the few components of the stress response that can be voluntarily changed to induce the relaxation response. When you are stressed, your breathing is usually rapid and shallow. When chronically stressed, the brain may only get one tenth of the oxygen that it gets when it is relaxed.

  • Find a quiet place, if possible, to sit or lie down.
  • Relax the mind and body as much as possible and focus on your breathing.
  • Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, slowly deepening and slowing your in-breath.
  • Use the out-breaths to imagine all the stress and tension leaving your body.
  • Focus your attention on your body. Particularly notice that the belly is moving more or the same as the chest. You can check this by placing one hand on the chest and one on the abdomen while breathing.
  • If only your chest moves, you are still stress-breathing.

Progressive relaxation
When you are stressed out, you often forget what it feels like to be relaxed. Try the following exercise to create an awareness of the difference.

  • Find a quiet place, if possible, and sit or lie down.
  • The basic technique is to contract the muscles maximally in a certain area for a period of one to two seconds, and then to completely relax them.
  • One can start from the head and work downwards towards the feet, or visa versa. Include facial muscles, as well as the shoulders, back, abdomen, arms, buttocks, upper thigh, calves and feet. The more areas covered, the better.
  • This exercise is best when done twice.

Autogenic training
Autogenic training uses verbal suggestion to induce relaxation. It can be done using a tape or by repeating a word or thoughts to yourself in a progressive exercise.

  • Find a quiet place, if possible, and sit or lie down.
  • Start with diaphragmatic breathing. Slowly deepen and slow the breath, releasing tension on the out-breath.
  • From head to toe, area by area, suggest words and images of warmth and relaxation to the body.
  • Using relaxing colours, speaking slowly and using metaphors of relaxation will influence the body via the mind-body connection.
  • Sleep, reading, gentle exercise and listening to music may also help, but may not be as specific in inducing the relaxation response.

(Health24, updated January 2009)


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