Everyone has heard some variation on the saying “it’s the stress that’ll get you.” It is an old idea but one that is still true today, despite – or more likely because of – our modern lifestyle. Many people will tell you they thrive under pressure, and if they mean using deadlines to get stuff done, they may be right. But we now have a depth of research showing many chronic problems are directly linked to stress, from weight gain to hormone imbalances and even diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Obviously there is no one easy answer to this but I have gradually found a few simple things that can make a major difference, including a short breathing technique that, with a little practice, is great for semi-instant relaxation. It may sound a bit hokey but at least give it a try.
I like to spend a few minutes just after waking and before sleeping, and at other random times. But really you can do it anytime, anywhere – I also use a version when I am running late for trains, etc. The following is my morning routine. Make sure you are fully awake for this or you may end up coming to later twisted in some pretty awkward positions… that are not relaxing at all…
Morning breathing routine
✣ Find a comfortable position, close your eyes and relax your body as much as possible. Lie on your back, prop yourself up with a pillow or completely sit up, whichever feels best.
✣ Breathe in gently but deeply through your nose until you feel a light tension in your chest and then hold the breath for a second or two before slowly releasing it through your nose. Wait for a second or two and then repeat.
✣ As you breathe in, try to relax your face and feel the air as it passes through your nose and inflates your chest. Placing the tip of your tongue lightly against the ridge above your top teeth will help to relax your face and open your nose.
✣ Be aware of the light tension in your chest while you briefly hold your breath. When you breathe out, really try to feel this tension melt as your chest deflates. Imagine you are breathing out all the tension in your body.
✣ Continue this for as long as you like. In the beginning, you are controlling the breath but it should naturally start to slow down and soften. Just try to follow its natural rhythm as it enters and then leaves your nose and chest.
✣ After a while, you should feel pleasantly relaxed but clear. Continue for a bit longer, focusing inside your head and enjoying the sensation. This will definitely sound hokey but it also helps to smile lightly. We smile when we are happy but it also works in reverse. Give it a try.
✣ When you are ready, take a few deep breaths, open your eyes and get on with your day. Try to carry that relaxed feeling with you for as long as possible.
The key to the routine is pausing for a second or two as you breathe to feel and then release the tension in your chest and body. Really feel the stress melt away. It is very relaxing and with a little practice even works well when you are outside rushing to be somewhere.