Archive for Relaxation Response
The holiday season is magical. It is a time filled with family, food, gift giving … and, at times, stress. Learning to manage stress during the holiday season (and throughout the year) is an important skill. Many people consider starting meditative activities like Yoga and Tai Chi.
But taking on a new activity this time of year can add to your already elevated anxiety level. Instead, I encourage clients to take on an easy stress reducing activity such as breathing properly or practicing the relaxation response.
I wrote an article earlier this year on the benefits of breathing properly. The article also described how to become an effective breather. I prepared it because so many of my clients have “forgotten” how to breathe.
When you have the opportunity, look at how an infant breathes. The breathing motion comes from their abdomen. As we tense up, we breathe from our chests. This is inefficient and compounds the anxiety. Many times, you can breathe out and reduce your stress level by following the steps in my article.
The Relaxation Response
The Relaxation Response is a technique developed thirty years ago by Dr Herbert Benson, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, to improve the wellness level of his patients. He describes it as “a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional response to stress and is the opposite of the fight or flight response.” I took his course a number of years ago and have found it to be very effective. He has posted the Steps to Elicit the Relaxation Response on his web site.
During sessions with my clients, issues associated with their stress levels and sleeping patterns occasionally come up. High stress levels and poor sleeping patterns will hinder their fitness goals. The guidance I give them will be addressed in later blog posts.
I hope that you and your family have a safe, happy and low stress Holiday Season.
Nothing comes more natural to us than breathing. The first thing that we do when we enter this world is to breathe. Many of us need to relearn this most natural of activities since it has been altered by the stresses in life. If you watch a baby sleep you will notice that his/her breathing originates from his/her diaphragm. Do you have the same breathing pattern?
What is natural breathing and why is it important?
When we are anxious, nervous or stressed with day-to-day living our breathing patterns are quite often shallow. Stress tells our body to get ready to fight or run and so we start to breath with our upper chest and neck muscles.
By taking time each day to focus on natural breathing we can recalibrate ourselves, address the stress and anxiety we feel and improve our outlook on life. You will also be relieving tension from our neck muscles. Your goal should be to breath naturally and completely from your diaphragm like a child.
How will correct breathing make me stronger?
Your diaphragm is your largest respiratory muscle. It divides the space between you thoracic cavity and your abdominal cavity. It makes up the superior portion of your inner core. The other key muscles that make up your inner core include your back muscles (multifidus), your deep abdominals (TVA) and your pelvic muscles.
Aside from getting more oxygen to your working muscles, when you use your diaphragm correctly, your completing the team of muscles that keeps your spine stable, assisting in your overall stability.
How are breathing and meditation related?
Breathing is an integral component of the meditation process. In order to achieve a meditative state your breathing needs to be rhythmic and full.
Can you describe a breathing exercise that I can use on a daily basis?
If you have never practiced diaphragmatic breathing, a good place to start is laying on your back with a pillow under your thighs and a small pillow under your head and neck.
Once you are in a comfortable starting position:
- Bring one hand to gently rest on the area of your abdomen just below your rib cage and above your belly button.
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose or mouth. Your breathing pattern should be natural and relaxed.
- Allow your diaphragm to come down and pull air into the bottom of your lungs. You should feel your hand rise with each inhalation and fall with each exhalation.