Category Archives: Relaxation

Stress and movement

Stress can be indicated when a person becomes stuck/frozen or stopped in a bodily movement that can be described as either gestural, ( movements isolated to parts or part of the body) or postural ( movements carried constantly through the whole body). When  there is a continuous flow of movement from gesture to posture and vice versa than the person is considered moving in balance and not not indicated to be in stress. one example of this is something that has come up in the last 20 years of leading stress reduction exercises with groups. I ask the participants how they know they are stressed out and the top answers are:

I notice I am gripping the steering wheel- I notice I am making a fist- I am clenching my teeth-I am clenching my butt.

Each one of these actions is a frozen gesture and they generally use the most “force”, muscle, blood flow of any other component of the body while they are active.  Think about it, if you clench your fist the blood flow increases due to the sudden contraction of the muscles, a part of your attention is brought to the area because its being engaged, the rest of the body begins to respond to the clenched fist starting with the arm, shoulders, spine, abdominal muscles and so on ad so on. Suddenly your attention increases to the area dramatically and you realize; “oh I’m clenching my fist….”

The first step to releasing this body stress is the breath. When stressed we tend to hold our breath and/or it becomes shallow breathing. Taking a big breath in and a big breath out begins to increase the oxygen to the brain (and the rest if the body). That big breath also automatically signals to the body on a primal level that the stressor is less and the body begins to relax its muscular contractions. Also when we consciously are taking in a big breath we are exerting voluntary control over our bodies which is the opposite of the stress response which is a involuntary response. This voluntary and controlled breath also signals to the brain on a primal level that the stressor is lessen, resulting in the muscles lessening their contradiction.

Of course simply breathing does not seem like much of an answer for someone who experiences chronic stress/anxiety. But it is one more tool that one can use. Like mindfulness, visualizations, and other techniques, breathing is something that needs to be practiced and the more you practice the more effective it becomes.

Meditation has Long-term Effects on the Brain

According to scientists from Harvard and Boston University, meditation produces enduring changes in emotional processing in the brain according to an article published in November of 2012 in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Researchers trained people with one of two different types of meditation, mindful meditation and compassionate meditation over an 8 week period. They measured activity in the brain using functional MRIs 3 weeks before the study and at 3 weeks after and noted what happened to areas of the brain related to compassion. They found the those people who learned compassionate meditation had a different and more loving response 3 weeks after the course even when not meditating.

Relaxation to Reduce Stress, Anxiety, & Depression

Here is another handout that I often give to clients/patients. I should add that I do all of the ideas in my handouts. No point talking about something if you can walk it too.

The body’s natural relaxation response is a powerful antidote to stress. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, and yoga can help you activate this relaxation response. When practiced regularly, these activities lead to a reduction in your everyday stress levels and a boost in your feelings of joy and serenity. What’s more, they also serve a protective quality by teaching you how to stay calm and collected in the face of life’s curveballs.

The relaxation response is not: The relaxation response is:
laying on the couch

sleeping

being lazy

a mentally active process that leaves the body relaxed

best done in an awake state

trainable and becomes more profound with practice

Starting a relaxation practice

A variety of relaxation techniques help you achieve the relaxation response. Those whose stress-busting benefits have been widely studied include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, visualization, yoga, and tai chi. f-202

Learning the basics of these relaxation techniques isn’t difficult. But it takes practice to truly harness their stress-relieving power: daily practice, in fact. Most stress experts recommend setting aside at least 10 to 20 minutes a day for your relaxation practice. If you’d like to get even more stress relief, aim for 30 minutes to an hour.

Getting the most out of your relaxation practice

Set aside time in your daily schedule. The best way to start and maintain a relaxation practice is by incorporating it into your daily routine. Schedule a set time either once or twice a day for your practice. You may find that it’s easier to stick with your practice if you do it first thing in the morning, before other tasks and responsibilities get in the way.

Don’t practice when you’re sleepy. These techniques can relax you so much that they can make you very sleepy, especially if it’s close to bedtime. You will get the most out of these techniques if you practice when you’re fully awake and alert.

Choose a technique that appeals to you. There is no single relaxation technique that is best. When choosing a relaxation technique, consider your specific needs, preferences, and fitness level. The right relaxation technique is the one that resonates with you and fits your lifestyle.

Do you need alone time or social stimulation?

If you crave solitude, solo relaxation techniques such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation will give you the power to quiet your mind and recharge your batteries. If you crave social interaction, a class setting will give you the stimulation and support you’re looking for. Practicing with others may also help you stay motivated.