I enjoyed talking with Alex Morrall on his Twin Cities Wellness Collective Podcast. Listen to our conversation about relaxation training and wellness:
“Relaxation is the foundation on which almost all of the actor's work is based.” ~ Lee StrasbergRead More
Cellist and St. Olaf College student Mason Tacke will play relaxing music for my event called Relaxing into Finals in Boe Chapel on May 17th at 8 pm (Reading Day). He will incorporate prepared and improvised music to beautifully enhance my guided relaxation program:
Breathing: Exhaling with Sound and Slow and Gentle Breathing
Muscle Relaxation: Progressively Relaxing
Guided Imagery: Creating Confidence (I think this will be perfect before finals!)
Loving Kindness Meditation: Warm Wishes
This event combines so many things that are important to me: music, helping college students, my alma mater, experiential teaching, relaxation training, beautiful spaces, and fostering community.
All St. Olaf students are welcome to this event—let's begin finals week feeling relaxed, refreshed, and confident!
#GuidedRelaxation #StOlaf #stressmanagement #finals
#RelaxingIntoFinals #takingastudybreak #specialevents
St. Olaf College is my alma mater, and some of the students have been inviting me to campus to provide guided relaxation. This month I will be doing a very special event there in Boe Chapel called Relaxing into Finals.
I will guide the students through breathing, muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and loving kindness meditation as a student plays beautiful cello music in the background.
If you know any current students at St. Olaf, please ask them to check out this free event at 8 pm on May 17th. It is my honor and privilege to help the students from my alma mater begin finals week in a relaxed, confident manner. These will be my final words to them as we end the session:
May all that you have learned this semester remain with you
May you be able to express yourself fully and well during your exams
May you end this school year with much happiness and success
#RelaxingintoFinals #StOlaf #guidedrelaxation #takingastudybreak #rechargingwithrelaxation #specialevent #events
This is a guest blog post from Good Night's Rest...
You would think that something so essential to health would be as easy to do as breathing—but sleep can be complicated. These days, it always feels like there isn’t enough time to do everything we need to do. Even when you get a free moment, it’s likely spent overthinking. Maybe you're worried about rent this month or anxious about a work presentation tomorrow. If you’re stressed out all the time, it’s probably making you more scatterbrained and ineffective. That’s when the complications start.
The effects of a cluttered mind cut into the time you should be spending in dreamland. You’ll also often find that it will be hard for you to fall asleep in the first place. Less sleep means less rest and restoration, and that means less alertness and focus when you’re awake. This is a cycle of cause and effect that can quickly turn into a downward spiral if you’re not careful. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try calming your body and mind. Preparing yourself properly is the key to one of the most important bodily functions of all.
Relaxing the Body
Sleeping is an endeavor that requires the cooperation of your entire body, so put your feet up and let yourself unwind. The end goal is to completely relax and loosen up all of your body’s five senses. Some of the suggestions below may feel excessive or overly indulgent; others may strike you as counterintuitive and may be met with skepticism. Think of it this way: We eat to survive, but most of us also enjoy eating. This is how we should approach sleep, too. You should look forward to your bedtime, and the hours leading up to it, as well.
Tune out and Turn Everything Off
You know what we’re going to say: Turn off your smartphones, tablets, anything else with a digital screen, and other artificial light sources. This is usually the piece of advice that isn’t followed to the letter, and it’s easy to figure out why. Some of us grew up falling asleep with the TV on, or made a habit out of late night social media upkeep. Smartphones also serve multiple functions—alarm clock, music player, sleep tracker, smart home system controller, etc.—that can make them non-negotiable bedtime companions. That’s fine—just keep gadget use down and always use it in night mode with minimum brightness. As for bedroom fixtures like lamps and overheads, try to use red spectrum or incandescent light bulbs; preferably with a dimmer switch, if you insist on keeping them on up until you lie down.
De-Stress with Scents and Sip on Decaf
Pamper yourself! Aromatherapy is a great option, but it’s most popular method of delivery—by burning candles—is not so compatible with falling asleep. Instead, use diffusers or pillow sprays. Popular sleep-promoting and stress-relieving scents include bergamot, chamomile, and lavender; but any scent that you love will likely help you relax. This extends to teas and infusions—you’ll notice that chamomile and lavender are popular ingredients in non-caffeinated sleep teas. A drink is better than eating right before you sleep, and it’s easier to curb that late night snacking habit if you have something more flavorful than water on hand. This is why stocking up on decaf beverage options is a good idea. Resist the temptation to drink something high on caffeine, sugar or both—or worse, something alcoholic—as these will disrupt your sleep.
Cool Your Head and Warm Your Feet
There may be a scientific basis for preferring the cool side of the pillow, after all! Researchers believe that keeping your head at a lower temperature can help slow the metabolism and quiet down the accompanying high levels of brain activity that comes with a racing mind that can’t sleep. Conversely, warming cold feet and hands can help your whole body feel at ease. It causes vasodilation, which helps distribute heat properly throughout the body; which, in turn, triggers sleep. A great way to treat yourself to some me time, while also promoting good sleep hygiene, is to take a luxurious hot bath. Light those candles and bring out those bath bombs! Your muscles will relax, your blood pressure will go down, your body’s core temperature will raise—allowing it to fall more quickly when you finally step out—and that pillow will feel even cooler when you lie down to sleep.
Soothing the Mind
Your body is relaxed, but what about your mind? There are many ways to calm and clear your thoughts, but three general approaches that we’ve found effective are to maintain a good sleeping environment, to create a bedtime routine, and to set aside time to wind down before sleep. Combining these three ideas with specific techniques will improve your sleep health by leaps and bounds.
Keep Your Sleeping Space Sacred
Here’s something any sleep expert or specialist will tell you: Your bed should only be for sleep or sex. Some may rephrase this and say “only for rest or romance”—but you get the point. Keep your personal area, especially your bed, clutter-free and comfortable. Keep it cozy enough for cuddles, but not so cozy that you’ll want to be a couch potato. Do not set up a work area or an entertainment system in the bedroom. Anything that can distract you from sleep that isn’t your significant other, you should keep outside. Instead, invest in a good mattress and other things that can help your body relax, as we’ve already covered earlier: aromatherapy diffusers, heavy drapes, good light fixtures, the works. Why is romantic activity not considered a distraction? For one thing, having someone you love with you not only relaxes you and takes your mind off what stresses you out, but it’s also something to keep you grounded and stable. And should you get physically intimate, it may help alleviate muscle tension.
Make Rest and Restoration a Ritual
Humans are by nature creatures of habit, but we’re also very different from each other. What works for you may not work for someone else, and that’s okay. Creating a bedtime routine that you enjoy and benefit from is important. Put together a series of steps to follow in the hours leading up to your bedtime. The idea is that a ritual will help us associate certain habits with sleep onset, so it can be practically anything. Of course, relaxing actions like some of our previous suggestions—dimming lights, sipping a cup of tea, taking a hot bath—can do double duty, and are preferable. Another popular ritual is writing. If you keep a journal, you probably already have this as a nighttime habit; if not, try writing down what’s on your mind—from hopes and fears, worries big and small, to even a simple to-do list. This will help clear your mind.
Take the Time to Slip into Sleep
Bedtime is not when you fall asleep, or even when you close your eyes, but when you lie down with the intent to sleep. Cut yourself some slack and don’t think of bedtime as a deadline. If you’re concerned that you may not sleep enough hours if you don’t sleep by a certain hour, adjust your schedule slightly and give yourself enough time to wind down properly. Keep the hour before your bedtime distraction-free as much as possible; and when your head finally hits your pillow and you’re under the covers, guide yourself to sleep by the form of mental relaxation that suits you. Some find comfort in prayer or spiritual reflection; but if you’re not the religious kind, you can just do 10 or more minutes of deep breathing. There are people who can simply focus on their breathing, or choose to meditate; if you’re not one of them, you can try visualization exercises—like picturing a certain object or imagining an ideal landscape. You can also listen to guided meditation, guided relaxation, or guided visualization tracks; as well as nature sounds.
Thanks to Good Night's Rest for contributing this blog post!
May we all sleep well tonight and every night...
The world of sports is all about going as hard as you can, as long as you can, in an attempt to get to the top of the scoreboards or the top of your team. Athletes are notorious for pushing not only their bodies to the physical limit, but their minds as well. We don’t often associate athletes with relaxation—the sports world is about intensity and reaching the next level. Learning how to relax might not compute with the “go big or go home” mentality. However, for all their drive and endurance, athletes often find using a few relaxation techniques enhances their overall physical and mental performance instead of getting in the way.
Managing Anxiety and Doubts
As with anyone else, even the best athletes in the world are prone to having doubts about their abilities. Athletes face huge obstacles in their chosen field which can flood them with anxiety and doubt. These negative thoughts can occur when an athlete faces an injury, new competition, a huge event, or even just routine practice. For athletes, letting doubt creep in can have serious consequences when it comes to their abilities. Learning to overcome these issues with relaxation techniques is an effective strategy. Certain relaxation techniques such as guided imagery and visualization can help athletes learn how to take their anxious feelings and deal with them in a positive and productive manner.
A major part of any sport is a focus on endurance. It plays a pivotal role in nearly every sport around. For a cyclist or marathon runner, it’s all about making it to the finish line. In soccer, it’s about staying sharp despite running up and down the field for hours on end. Basketball requires endurance to maintain energy even in the very last minutes of the game. Relaxation techniques can give athletes an advantage in outlasting their opponents. With breathing exercises combined with techniques such as self-affirming phrases designed to keep you calm and relaxed, you’ll find an edge in the ability to go that extra mile.
Progressive muscle relaxation is one hidden gem that athletes might find extremely beneficial to their daily routines. This technique involves tensing specific muscles for a few seconds, then letting the tension go. It’s a way to pinpoint where your tension is. A majority of individuals, athletes as well, may not even realize that a certain muscle group is tensed. For example, when you unconsciously let your shoulders relax only to realize they were nearly up to your chin—progressive muscle relaxation is designed to help give you a method to control the tension and detect when certain muscles need a little extra attention.
May you discover how relaxation can enhance your performance and improve your wellbeing.
Team building is vitally important to the health of your organization. You can inspire the feeling of community by a number of different team building exercises meant to foster a sense of closeness with co-workers as well as upper management. Working long hours with the same people and no sense of community doesn’t encourage an emotionally healthy environment. With all team building exercises, it’s important to learn which ones help bring your group together. Relaxation techniques might be the perfect solution if you are having difficulty figuring out how to approach team building exercises. With the gentle guidance of an expert in the field, relaxation training can provide a highly effective, harmonizing experience for your team. Here are a few reasons why relaxation techniques help bring a group together.
Practicing relaxation techniques in a corporation or organization can have many different benefits for a diverse group of people. One of the most prominent can be creating a platform for open communication for people of all backgrounds. Learning about your fellow co-workers can give you a deeper understanding of what is going on in their world. For example, stress relaxation techniques can create space for your team to share what truly stresses them out at work and also provide ways to alleviate the stress. Working together on stress management can create a bond among members that reminds them “we are all in this together and can help each other.” I have observed this happening in many groups, and it is so rewarding to see how well people can work together when they are relaxed and feel connected with each other.
Relaxation techniques create a safe atmosphere that allows people to show their vulnerable side. Learning to let go of the stresses in life, bring down the wall we have built, and breathe in calmness can be hard for those not used to being in an open setting during their relaxation or meditation time. Relaxing in a group on a regular basis is a way to increase a sense of trust with members of your team. Learning that you co-workers are on the same page as you, or seeing that they are just as interested in fostering a mature environment where you are free to practice relaxation techniques can build a new level of trust that may have been untapped. Building trust that allows your group to be completely comfortable with one another is a great step towards working well as a team.
Calm and Collected
One of the most beneficial reasons to practice relaxation techniques as team building is it helps everyone feel more able to handle whatever comes their way. Learning how to relax in a stressful work environment can help you tackle different facets of your professional life with tools you will need to succeed in all aspects of life. Preparing your team with relaxation techniques they can practice both in and out of the office is a great way to give them a leg up when it comes to their work. When members of your organization learn how to manage stress on the job, it can make a huge difference in how your workplace operates. Giving employees an outlet for stress and agitation improves the health of your company as well as the health of inner teams.
May you discover the incredible team-building effects of relaxation!
Heading off to college can be one of the most exciting adventures you will undertake. It is an experience that can change your entire life. Consider how many movies, books, and television shows focus on what happens at college. The fun of experiencing new ideas, making new friends, challenging yourself academically, and being away from home for the first time—your possibilities seem endless. Aside from the social aspect of going to college, there is also the academic part. Working towards a degree in a field you love is an experience you will treasure. While college is an exciting and fun time, it can also be quite stressful. New ideas, new friends, and new challenges can leave you with a sense of drowning if you are unable to balance everything. With so many new experiences hitting you at one time, learning how to cope with the stress of it all is vital. If you are in college or planning on it, check out some stress management tips that can help keep you in a healthy state so you are free to flourish.
When you are incredibly busy, it’s tempting to just power through your work without stopping to take breaks. This is the perfect time in your life to develop some self-care strategies that will take you through college feeling more at ease and on top of things. There are piles of studies that show taking regular breaks will help you get more done and feel a whole lot better doing it. Some examples of good self-care are: stretching every 30-45 minutes while you are on the computer, going outside to enjoy nature as a study break, keeping a stash of energy-boosting healthy snacks, going on a walk with a good friend, unplugging from social media and the computer for a few hours each day, experimenting with aromatherapy, finding something that makes you laugh, and of course—relaxation techniques.
When you first enter college, it is almost inevitable that your sleep schedule is going to be thrown off. A big part of college is meeting new people and enjoying new experiences. All those new adventures can cut into your sleep time. Early classes and loads of homework can also contribute to lost sleep. While you might think that the few hours you get each night are enough to get you through the day, sleep deprivation can sneak up on you. Less sleep means that you are tired throughout the day, and being tired has a way of turning small problems into big ones. Going through a week of getting only a few hours of sleep each night can not only make it difficult to balance your work and social life, it can also open your immune system to unwanted visitors. Please make sleep a priority, and if you need to pull an all-nighter, make sure you take a nap so you can maintain your energy. You can read my blog post about sleep called "A Return to Sleep" and you can listen to samples of my sleep album "A Time for Sleep" for ideas on how to improve your sleep.
It can be easy to fall prey to self-doubt and overwhelming amounts of stress during college. So many new experiences are tumbling your way that it often seems like it is hard to catch your breath. Investing in emotional support both on campus and off can be a major boost in your stress management. Confiding in a trusted friend or family member can give you a better perspective on what is happening in your life, and guidance if it’s needed. Your campus also has mental health resources if you feel like you could use more tools to help manage your stress. Feel free to email me at email@example.com or contact me here if you want more resources.
Remembering Your Hobbies
Hobbies are fun ways to just get away from it all—you might enjoy running, drawing, photography, swimming, reading, listening to music, or other fun activities. These hobbies shouldn’t be cast aside when you go to college. It might take a little more effort to find time for them when you are balancing classes and work, but keeping connected to the hobbies you loved before college can be a way to keep you grounded while you are there.
May you enjoy your college years as you learn, grow and move in a positive direction.
There can be so much pressure this time of year as we make those resolutions and goals in an effort to improve our lives. This can be a worthy effort, as long as it is uplifting instead of anxiety-provoking. I know what we can add to make this an uplifting process—relaxation!
I’m not just talking about the usual relaxation activities such as vacations, massages and movies. These are all good ways to relax, but I am thinking about relaxation techniques that can soothe our minds, bodies and souls so we can feel more at ease as we take on tasks and challenges. Here is an exercise that will help you relax into the New Year:
To begin, settle into a comfortable position. Simply imagine you are someplace peaceful and safe, and your body begins to relax and unwind. You feel warm and comfortable inside despite the fact that the outside air is cold. The trees have lost their leaves and are resting for the winter.
Imagine yourself nestled in front of a warm, cozy fireplace. Watch the flames flicker and flash yellow and orange. The golden glow of the fire relaxes you much further as you enjoy the comforting warmth.
As you enjoy these precious moments of relaxation, wonderful memories from this past year flow into your mind. There were many times of joy and laughter, and you feel gratitude wash over you as you remember them.
It was a good year.
You have grown and changed in positive ways. You have gained some wisdom this year. You know yourself better, becoming more aware of your talents and gifts.
The New Year will bring a new beginning. This is an opportunity to consider all the things you wish to achieve. When you focus on what you want and set your intentions, you can accomplish great things!
So begin to envision all of the wonderful things you wish to happen this year. Perhaps you want to enhance your skills or learn something new. Maybe you plan to volunteer because you enjoy helping others.
Whatever you choose to do this coming year will be a rewarding endeavor. Remember to have confidence in yourself and in your ability to realize your dreams. By letting your heart and your mind work together, you can create a beautiful year filled with joy, love, and fun adventures!
Now take a deep breath and imagine yourself toward the end of the year achieving all these wonderful things you have been pondering. It feels fantastic!
Envision yourself succeeding in a way that is meaningful for you, and let that image resonate deep within you.
Feel happiness and tranquility fill your mind, body, and spirit, giving you a sense of true bliss.
When you are ready, treat yourself to a good long stretch…
May the New Year bring you joy and dreams fulfilled!
We all experience a drop in energy at some point in our day, whether it is physical, mental, emotional or spiritual energy. As with most things in life, our energy levels deplete in different ways. An introvert’s energy levels might deplete faster by being around large groups all day and an extrovert’s energy might drain by not having enough social interaction. Think of different things that drain your energy. These can include tasks, stressful situations, people, sleep deprivation, attitude, and many other things from your personal and professional life. No matter what drains you during the day, there are ways to renew your energy levels. Here are a few tips for helping your energy levels regenerate.
Connecting With Nature
Technology has a way of ruling our everyday lives. Access to social media in our pockets, clicking around on a computer, watching television, movies with the press of a button, and the ability to view news instantly can be a complete energy drain. Spending so much time watching a screen and ingesting everything on the other side can become a draining habit since the world tends to revolve around technology. Breaking free from the blue light and reconnecting with nature can break your dependency on screens, even if only for a short time. Take a walk in the park, relax outside without your phone or computer, go for a hike, or just take a seat and watch the world go by. Reconnecting with simplicity can definitely help boost your energy levels.
Clearing Emotional Clutter
We all have emotional clutter in one form or another. Maybe it’s our tendency to overthink things or the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect throughout our daily lives. Emotional clutter can be worrying about things we can’t change or investing too heavily in things that make us unhappy. Learning how to cope and declutter this part of ourselves can help us balance our energy levels. Mental labor can be just as difficult as physical, so decluttering your mind is an important step. Pinpointing your sticking points, whether it’s overthinking or over-investing, will be a useful tool in knowing where you need the most help. Here is a brief decluttering guided imagery to try:
Settle comfortably and begin to take slow, deep breaths, relaxing the body, clearing the mind.
Bring to mind any thoughts or beliefs that weigh you down and deplete your energy. See if you can remember their original purpose. Do they still have a reason for existing? If not, they are ready to be dissolved.
It's time to let go of emotional clutter—as you would give away a piece of clothing that you never wear anymore. Imagine seeing it dissolve like fog as the sun shines through, or visualize erasing it from a chalkboard to reveal a fresh, clean slate. Close your eyes as you imagine this…
Once you have cleared it away so that it no longer occupies your mind, spend some time enjoying the open space you have created in your inner world. This space you now have doesn't mean the mind is empty. Rather, see the potential of it being filled with positive, renewing energy.
Invite in a new idea or belief in the form of an intention for something you would like in the coming days, weeks, or months. Something that would bring you joy. Close your eyes to imagine this…
Bring your new intention to the forefront of your mind and imagine it growing like a beautiful flowering bush. As it grows, feel your energy replenish. Take a few slow, deep breaths and treat yourself to a nice, long stretch. Proceed with your day feel lighter, at ease, and renewed.
Investing in yourself is one of the most beneficial ways to maximize your energy levels in the long run. Take time out of your day to learn more about yourself as well as what triggers you. Do you obsess about a conversation you had, hoping you came off the right way? Do you struggle with something that happened at work and you can’t seem to come to terms with it? With so many different drains on our emotional and physical energy levels, taking the time to care about yourself will help refill your well. Some self-care ideas are:
- Novelty: taking a new route to work, exploring a new area, hiking a new trail, listening to some new music, etc.
- Day Trips: when is the last time you spent a day enjoying a nearby town or the countryside? It's a great way to recharge!
- Energizing People: which people inspire you, energize you, “get” you? Make time to see these people and, if possible, decrease your time with people with whom you feel zapped.
- Relaxation Techniques: practicing relaxation techniques such as the above guided imagery on clearing is a pleasant, effective self-care strategy. Check out my Relaxation Training page and some of my past blog posts such as “How Relaxation Techniques Can Help You Focus”, “Guided Imagery: Relaxation via Your Imagination”, and “1-Minute Relaxation Break”.
May you find time to renew your energy each day.
I am here as a resource. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.
We can find that balance—being realistic while still maintaining a sense of hope.Read More
Always remember that refilling your inner well is never a sign of weakness.Read More
Discovering the benefits of practicing relaxation techniques can transform the way you feel in your daily life. Finding methods for coping with stress, anxiety, pain, and a variety of other issues can help you handle whatever comes your way. As you build relaxation techniques into your routine, you might begin with a weekly session, work towards practicing daily, and then you can achieve what I consider the ultimate goal of relaxation training—accessing relaxation on the fly, when you need it most. Here is the process I recommend:
Commit to a weekly relaxation time.
If you have trouble remembering or making time to relax, a great way to start is by finding a good time during the week and committing to an hour of relaxation each week at that time. It can be a class, an individual session, or just a time to listen to a guided relaxation recording. It’s important to make it a recurring appointment in your calendar, so other tasks and activities can’t creep into that time slot. If something unavoidable comes up, then make sure to reschedule relaxation training for another time that week. Tell yourself “no matter what happens this week, I know that I will at least have this hour to relax and recharge.” Once you have established this weekly relaxation time successfully, you can work on practicing relaxation techniques on a daily basis.
Develop a daily practice.
How do you move from a weekly relaxation practice to a daily one? I find that if people are able to commit to weekly sessions for an extended period of time, they are much more likely to start fitting in relaxation breaks during each day. On the other hand, people who try to dive right in with daily breaks often struggle to find the time or even remember to do it. It’s like the gradual process of beginning with a weekly practice and then slowly adding in small daily breaks gives the mind and body time to adjust to this new healthy habit. Since they can be as short as 5 or 10 minutes, you can look for times when you have a little space—between meetings or appointments, before bedtime, during a part of your lunch break, waiting in line, riding the bus or train, etc. Once again, treat these breaks as actual appointments in your calendar—writing them in your schedule will help you remember and make them a priority. Then when you find yourself using relaxation techniques each day without struggling to remember, you are ready to enjoy a huge benefit of relaxation training—accessing relaxation when you need it most, aka on the fly!
Use relaxation techniques on the fly.
Whether you are in an argument with someone, taking a test, speaking in front of a group, or some other anxiety-provoking activity, you will greatly benefit from having a set of effective relaxation techniques to access in the moment. Have you ever felt stuck in an argument with no way out of it? Now you can excuse yourself, go into another room (even the bathroom if necessary) use a relaxation technique or two, and return feeling refreshed and perhaps with a new perspective on the situation. Possessing the skills to relax yourself and making it a priority to practice them regularly will make you much more likely to use them when you really need a stress release.
Are you willing to try this process of developing a regular relaxation practice so you can access stress relief on the fly? If you feel some hesitation, I invite you to visualize yourself handling stressful situations with ease and notice how good that feels. It’s worth the time to devote yourself to a relaxation practice—your mind, body, and spirit will thank you!
May you move through your life with more ease and enjoyment…
"You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here." — DesiderataRead More
"The time to relax is when you don't have time for it." — Sydney J. HarrisRead More
I invite you to take a moment to become aware of your breath:
- Is it quick or slow?
- Does it feel shallow or deep?
- Is your breath flowing smoothly or is it irregular?
- Notice if there is any sound associated with your breath.
- Are there any emotions or feelings that come up for you as you pay attention to your breathing?
Breathing is a natural process that we do all day, every single day, without paying much attention to it. However, breathing can also be a powerful tool to calm the mind and body and enhance your wellbeing. Some people only focus on breathing when there is an issue, but practicing intentional breathing will improve your overall health as well as help you access the relaxation response when you need it most.
Intentional (or mindful) breathing is a great technique because you can practice it anywhere, it works for any age or fitness level and you don’t need any fancy or expensive equipment. Your breath practice will support you in whatever activities you are already doing. It’s a simple tool with profound effects that can help you focus your thoughts and feel more grounded and centered. Here are some of the ways intentional breathing can help you:
When You Are Feeling Stressed
When faced with unexpected or trying situations, the following can occur: your blood pressure shoots up, your muscles become tense and stress takes the wheel, leaving you scrambling to overcome the obstacles that are before you. Intentional breathing is one way to combat the sudden stress in your life. Calm, deep breaths have been proven to lower your blood pressure as well as clear your head and allow you to focus better on how to overcome the issue. Since life is unpredictable, having a breathing technique in your back pocket can give you an additional tool to prepare you for what is ahead. One of my favorite breathing techniques for relieving stress is called exhaling with sound:
- Breathe in deeply so that air fills your abdomen.
- Hold the breath for a few moments.
- As you release air through your mouth, make a resonant sound such as “ahhh…”, like a sigh of release.
The combination of breath and sound is very effective in releasing stress and tension from deep inside. Repeat the cycle 3 to 5 times until you feel calmer.
Throughout the world, the art of breathing has been practiced by all cultures and age groups—everyone can benefit from practicing intentional breathing. The different techniques can help depending on your lifestyle, daily routine, and overall level of health. Learning how to include breathing exercises in your everyday life can yield positive results for your health and wellbeing. Deep breathing is a simple and effective technique to prepare your mind and body to enter into a deep state of relaxation:
- Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen. This will allow you to feel your abdomen move as you breathe.
- Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, letting the air fill your lungs and abdomen.
- Slowly exhale through your nose or mouth.
- Repeat 3 to 5 times, or until you establish a slow, regular breathing pattern.
Supplementing Your Relaxation Training
Intentional breathing might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to relaxation. The media often focuses on pursuits such as yoga, Pilates, and meditation. While these techniques are excellent options for a healthy relaxation routine, intentional breathing is the foundation of all relaxation techniques. Reviewing the different types of breathing can give you a deeper understanding of how intentional breathing can give you a new lease on life. Breathing techniques require practice to fine tune and can improve both your mental and physical health by leaps and bounds if you use them on a regular basis. All it takes to begin is dedicating some time and shining the brilliant light of your awareness on something that we all take for granted on a daily basis—our breath!
You can contact me with any questions about breathing and/or other relaxation techniques by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Why are good habits so hard to develop? Not only is it challenging to establish certain regular routines, it can often be a stressful process. If you find yourself struggling to adopt a desired habit, creating a ritual can be an enjoyable, effective way to facilitate positive change.
We all have routines we easily do on a daily basis (e.g. personal hygiene, simple chores, etc.) but others are not so automatic (e.g. getting enough sleep, meditating, eating healthy). Rituals provide more than a process for developing a habit—they also have elements that relieve stress, add meaning and motivate us to keep it going.
The Calming Effect
One of the most important reasons why incorporating rituals into your daily life enhances positive wellbeing is the overall comfort factor. Having a calming ritual can improve your overall wellbeing by helping to ease your fight or flight response. This reaction is activated when you face the unknown. With daily rituals in place, your fight or flight response is softened immensely. Adding pleasant activities to a ritual creates a calming effect, so you actually look forward to the process instead of avoiding it. Even when things at work are hectic or there is an issue in your personal life, knowing that you can rely on the welcome distraction of a comforting ritual makes it much easier to move forward instead of drawing back. For example, if you want to create a bedtime ritual to improve your sleep habits, you could add activities such as drinking soothing lemon balm tea or warm cinnamon milk, doing some gentle stretching, taking a bath, listening to a relaxing recording and/or reading a light-hearted book. The key is to choose activities you truly enjoy so you associate the healthy habit (in this example, getting enough sleep) with the pleasant ritual.
A Way to Add Meaning
As you create a ritual for your desired habit, it helps if you can truly connect it to your daily life in a soulful, meaningful way. Think about what it would mean to you if you could fully embrace your desired habit and succeed in making it a daily practice. Imagine yourself already accomplishing this goal, and what it feels like doing it every day. You could also make a vision board, write in a journal, check in regularly with a friend or coach, or find some other way that works for you to add meaning to this habit you desire. Once you decide, you can incorporate it into your ritual. To use the sleep example again, you could include a brief exercise of imagining yourself sleeping peacefully as a part of your bedtime ritual—each time you do this, it will become easier and easier to accept this image of yourself as a healthy sleeper. Making a sleep vision board with all kinds of positive sleep images and/or using a dream journal are other ways to create a bedtime ritual that is meaningful to you. You can adapt this idea to other types of habits such as healthy eating, meditating, exercising or any habit you want to acquire.
O.K., so you have added some calming elements to your ritual to relieve any stress associated with developing a habit, and you have decided on a way to make the ritual and the habit meaningful to you. Is this enough to keep you on track? Perhaps it is, but if you need more than that to fully embrace the habit, there might be a way to further motivate you to maintain it. This is a time to look deeply within yourself to find what motivates you. Maybe you are already aware of it, or maybe you have to dig a little to discover what could be a reward or motivation you can build into your ritual to keep you going. I will give some examples, but it is up to you to figure out which rewards work best for you. With our sleep example, you could reward yourself with aromatherapy (choose your favorite scent), splurge on some luxurious socks (e.g. cashmere) to wear to bed (the National Sleep Foundation suggests wearing socks to promote sleep), use special sheets on your bed (e.g. high thread count cotton, satin, flannel—whatever feels good to you), wear silk pajamas, affirm yourself for sticking to your routine (more about affirmations here), and/or start doing things you were too tired to enjoy when you were so sleep deprived. What motivates one person might not work for another, but once you discover your rewards and motivation, any habit will be much easier to develop.
Although I used the example of getting enough sleep, you can choose any habit you want to develop, and try applying these ideas to see if they can help you succeed. If you have any questions or ideas to share, feel free to comment below or email me at email@example.com
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I’ve heard it said that two things are better than one. In the case of relaxation, that might not be too far from the truth. More often than not, the idea of relaxation conjures up images of a solitary person walking in nature, taking deep breaths on a park bench, practicing yoga or some other activity to rebalance your state of mind. Relaxing on your own can be very effective, but have you considered just how beneficial it could be to have someone there practicing the fine art of relaxation beside you? Having a partner in relaxation can provide you with benefits you never knew you lacked when practicing relaxation techniques. Below are a few reasons why you might want to consider making part of your relaxation time a group effort.
Discovering New Relaxation Techniques One of the biggest benefits of inviting someone else to join in on your relaxation time is allowing them to bring something new to the table. Since everyone has their own specific techniques, you might be missing out on one which could open a whole new world of stress relief. In turn, you will be able to share with your new partner the ways in which you find the most peace through relaxation techniques.
Focus Assistance If your personality leans towards always-on-the-go, then you might find it difficult to just sit in one place and focus on relaxation for longer than a few moments. Having someone there to help might be the perfect missing piece. A relaxation partner can help you remain focused when your mind tends to wander towards other things going on in your life. Taking time out of your schedule to make sure your needs are met can be a major challenge for many people. With someone at your side helping you stay on the right track, it can make all the difference.
Guilt Eraser As we’ve previously discussed on this blog, many people have a difficult time indulging in “me time”, so to speak. Setting aside time to practice relaxation techniques can often lead to feelings of guilt over being too self-indulgent or not productive on projects you need to get finished. Partnering up with a relaxation friend or small group can help it feel less like an indulgence and more like an actual event that is important enough to put on your calendar. Relaxation time is very important, and practicing relaxation techniques together can help you shed the guilty feelings because you see how it benefits each other.
Bonding Experience By sharing a common experience with another person, you begin to build a bond with them. Through the years as a relaxation coach, I’ve noticed that when people relax together, a peaceful energy occurs that can be a wonderful bonding experience. Whether it’s with a spouse, your children, siblings, coworkers, or even new friends, these bonding experiences can serve to help you reach your optimal level of relaxation as well as ensure a strong connection between you.
As you continue to enjoy individual relaxation, it can be so rewarding to invite others to join you at times. If you ever have questions about relaxation and stress management, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
May you find joy in relaxing together