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Relaxation techniques

What is it?

There are many techniques to help you to relax.

Techniques for relaxation and breathing have been part of Chinese and Ayruvedic medicine for thousands of years. Research confirms that these techniques help people deal with stress. Relaxation and breathing techniques are taught by many alternative practitioners and are even taught in a number of hospitals in the United States.

Scientists have found that the way we breathe can affect many other body functions. Fast or shallow breathing is usually associated with stress. It increases our heart rate and blood pressure, speeds our metabolism, slows digestion, increases muscle tension, and slows the immune system. Slow and deep breathing slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure, relaxes muscles, increases digestion, and improves immune function.

In modern society, many people have chronic stress due to job, family, or money. Stress may cause emotional and physical problems, such as heart disease, ulcers, or muscle tension.

Relaxation techniques attempt to interrupt the stress pattern and force the body out of the stress response. Two very simple and effective methods to do this are breathing exercises and muscle relaxation.

The following breathing exercise can help you break the stress pattern. Get in a comfortable position in a quiet place away from distractions. Place one hand on the upper chest and one on your belly button. Notice which hand moves when you are breathing. Try to breathe moving only the lower hand. Once you can breathe moving only the lower hand, try to slow your breathing. Try to breathe to a four count, hold your breath for seven counts, and breathe out on an eight count. Repeat this three or four times. Practice this every day until you can do this for 5 or 10 minutes. If you feel dizzy or faint, stop until you recover. With time, your body will adapt to this new breathing and you will be able to perform it longer.

The following muscle relaxation technique is helpful in stressful situations that cause muscle tension. Lie down and close your eyes. Slow your breathing and focus on breathing out, pausing slightly before inhaling the next breath. Tense all the muscles in your right foot and hold for a few seconds. Release the muscle tension. Repeat this with the left foot. Now tense all the muscles in the right calf and release, then the left calf. Work your way up all the muscle groups on both sides of the body to include the thighs, buttocks, low back, hands, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, neck, mouth, and face. Focus on your breathing again; breathe slowly and deeply. The previous breathing exercise could be done now if you have enough time.

Relaxation techniques can be helpful for all stress-related problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and migraine headaches. Muscle tension, anxiety, depression, asthma, digestive problems, ulcers, and irritable bowels may be improved with the use of relaxation. You may use relaxation techniques to treat chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and immune problems. Other techniques that use relaxation include meditation, visualization, yoga, and biofeedback. If you have problems doing the exercises explained, contact a teacher in one of the other methods.

References:

1. Burton Goldberg Group: Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Future Medicine Publishing, Puyallup, WA; 1994.

2. Cassileth BR: The Alternative Medicine Handbook, 1st ed. WW Norton & Company, NY, NY; 1998:16-21.

3. Inglis B & West R: The Alternative Health Guide. Alfred A. Knopf, NY, NY; 1983: 120-132.

4. Sifton DW: The PDR Family Guide to Natural Medicines and Healing Therapies; Three Rivers Press, NY, NY; 1999.

5. Woodham A & Peters D: Encyclopedia of Healing Therapies, 1st ed. Dorling Kindersley, NY, NY; 1997:90-94.


Last Updated: 4/4/2014

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