Many of us mistakenly believe that stress is something that we should just grin and bear, even if it decreases our general feeling of well-being. However, there are many changes we can make in our lives to dramatically reduce stress, enabling us to feel more fulfilled in both our personal and professional lives. We're only here for a short while, we may as well make it an enjoyable experience!
These are simple exercises and have been successfully employed by many of our clients. They report being able to relax themselves very quickly with practise at home and at work. Ideally you would want do the exercise at least 3 times a day, the more often the better. You may want to experiment with all of them and see which one suits you best.
Believe it or not, changing the way you breathe can change the way you feel, because when our physiology is relaxed, our minds naturally respond. When we are stressed we tend to breathe shallower and from the chest, rather than from the stomach. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your lower stomach now. As you breathe, which hand is moving the most? Ideally you want to move more towards breathing with the stomach rather than the upper chest, as this allows 30% more oxygen into your lungs and relaxes your physiology. Practise breathing with your stomach muscles expanding and contracting so that the hand on your stomach moves far more than the hand on your chest.
Now for the actual technique which is the most powerful in our experience. During the day find a place where you will be undisturbed if possible for a few minutes. You can also do this exercise at your desk at work with your eyes open or closed as long as you feel comfortable doing so. Its is also useful to do whilst travelling. Close your eyes and take in a few slow deep breaths using the stomach. Then
Breathe in to the count of 5 and so on...
Don't gasp for air but allow the oxygen to gently and slowly come in and go out. Once you have practised doing the breathing by itself, you can then put it together with the following:
As you breathe in, imagine that the air you are breathing in is clean and bright and is going in through your nose, penetrating all parts of your body, and cleaning out any tension in your muscles or stresses in your mind (some people imagine breathing in a bright white light)
As you breathe out, imagine these tensions from the body and stresses of the day travelling up to your nose and being literally breathed out of your nose. Visualise those negative feelings as whatever seems appropriate to you (some people see them as little black lines disappearing off into the distance). As you do this, imagine yourself feeling more comfortable and your muscles more relaxed after having breathed out all those old tensions
Ideally you may want to do this for 5 minutes rather than 2 minutes, and the more you practise the more your mind and body will master the new "skill" of de-stressing quickly and effortlessly. Remember, if you are at work, you may feel that you can't take the time out to do the exercise. However, spending as little as 2 minutes every couple of hours to do the exercise is not much time, and the benefits of being able to work more effectively far out-way the time put in.
Exercise 2 - The "Wide Angle" Technique (To focus in and spread awareness)
Take in a few deep breaths from the stomach, and then focus on a spot slightly above head level, say on the wall opposite you. Then, whilst keeping your eyes open, begin to broaden your field of vision (or peripheral vision) and begin to become aware of what you can see in the corner of your eyes on each side. There is nothing else you have to do apart from just to notice and become aware of what is around you. You can then expand your level of awareness to cover 360 degrees. Obviously you can't see behind you, but just use your other senses to become aware of what's behind you.
As you become more aware of your peripheral vision in this manner, you may also become aware that your breathing has become more deep and slow, and your muscles have loosened slightly. Simply remain focussed on the space around you and allow your breathing to deepen itself.
This powerful technique seems to work by allowing your mind to observe rather than be active, and there is something about focussing in this way which seems to stimulate the body's relaxation response rather than the body's stress response.
Exercise 3 - Bodily Awareness Technique
You can schedule certain times of the day to do this exercise. Whenever you find yourself feeling slightly rushed or overwhelmed with what you are doing, simply STOP for a couple of minutes. Close your eyes and become aware of your body and all the sensations in your body. Become aware of your feet on the floor, and your arms, and your legs. Become aware of the sounds around you. Then focus your attention on any tightness or uncomfortable sensations in the body or in the head. Don't judge the sensations or recoil from them, but simply notice and observe. As you observe with a feeling of stillness you may find that those areas begin to loosen and relax. Don't actively try and make them relaxed, let those areas of the body do it by themselves whilst you simply observe dispassionately and in a still manner.
Gently open your eyes after a period of time and see how you feel! This technique is so simple yet it works wonders, once again as long as you make the time in your day to practise the technique.
Exercise 4 - Relaxing Inner-Place
Make yourself comfortable. Sit, or, if you like, lie down.
Close your eyes and imagine your favourite place where you feel most relaxed, calm and peaceful. For a lot of people they imagine a place where they went on holiday, their favourite garden or beach, or even a room at home. Begin to focus on what you can see around you, and what you can hear in that place. Next imagine any smells around you. Now you are ready to soak up the feelings that you feel in that special inner place. Imagine the feelings you get when you go back to that place, and imagine really being there and enjoying that peace - nothing expected of you, nothing you have to do, nothing you have to achieve. For those few moments you can just BE in the moment (we are human beings, not human doings!). Once you have really immersed yourself in that scene, you can notice your breathing beginning to deepen and your muscles loosen. When you're ready, you can open your eyes and go about your day knowing you can go back to your inner-place anytime you like.