Since breathing is something we can control and regulate, it is a useful tool for achieving a relaxed and clear state of mind. Here are some simple breathing exercises:
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of seven.
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. When you take a deep breath in, the hand on the abdomen should rise higher than the one on the chest. This insures that the diaphragm is pulling air into the bases of the lungs.
After exhaling through the mouth, take a slow deep breath in through your nose imagining that you are sucking in all the air in the room and hold it for a count of 7 (or as long as you are able, not exceeding 7)
Slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. As all the air is released with relaxation, gently contract your abdominal muscles to completely evacuate the remaining air from the lungs. It is important to remember that we deepen respirations not by inhaling more air but through completely exhaling it.
Repeat the cycle four more times for a total of 5 deep breaths and try to breathe at a rate of one breath every 10 seconds (or 6 breaths per minute). At this rate our heart rate variability increases which has a positive effect on cardiac health.
Once you feel comfortable with the above technique, you may want to incorporate words that can enhance the exercise. Examples would be to say to yourself the word, relaxation (with inhalation) and stress or anger (with exhalation). The idea being to bring in the feeling/emotion you want with inhalation and release those you don’t want with exhalation.
In general, exhalation should be twice as long as inhalation. The use of the hands on the chest and abdomen are only needed to help you train your breathing. Once you feel comfortable with your ability to breathe into the abdomen, they are no longer needed.
Meditation can relieve pain, and it does so by activating multiple brain areas, according to an April 2011 study in the Journal of Neuroscience. Fadel Zeidan of Wake Forest University and his colleagues scanned people’s brains as they received uncomfortably hot touches to the leg. When subjects practiced a mindful meditation technique that encourages detachment from experience while focusing on breathing, they reported less pain than when they simply paid attention to their breathing. Likewise, different patterns of brain activity emerged under the two conditions, with mindful meditating resulting in more activity not only in executive centers that evaluate experiences and regulate emotions but also in lower regions that control the signals coming from the body.
The volunteers learned the meditation technique in only four 20-minute sessions, which means this pill-free analgesia could be a feasible way to help real patients suffering from pain. “People can reap some of the benefits of meditation without extensive training,” Zeidan says.
When I work with patients using mindfulness I start by asking who has experience with any type of meditation, breathing techniques and/or relaxation exercises. We than have a brief explanation and question and answer period and I focus on removing any doubt, fear, or skepticism. I usually than do a 10 to 12 minute body scan moving right into a mindful meditation that focuses on the breath.
With the co-occurring patients I work with this process seems to work the best. The chat in the beginning warms people up, the body scan relaxes which helps the meditators enter into a more meditative state.
A study of students in California universities showed that those who practiced a bit of meditation in their personal lives performed better on tests. This applied to students who practice the art of Zen, as well as those who simply meditate for a few minutes before class.
The research, published in the journal Mindfulness, showed that meditation worked best for first year students, which led researchers to speculate that younger students tend to struggle with concentration more.
Professor Robert Youmans, of George Mason University in Virginia, co-lead the study with University of Illinois doctoral student Jared Ramsburg. According to Professor Youmans:
“One difficulty for researchers who study meditation is that the supposed benefits of meditation do not always replicate across different studies or populations, and so we have been trying to figure out why. This data from this study suggest that meditation may help students who might have trouble paying attention or focusing. Sadly, freshmen classes probably contain more of these types of students than senior courses because student populations who have difficulty self-regulating are also more likely to leave the university.”
The researchers said that coaching students on proper meditation could improve academic results. Ramsburg’s own personal experiences inspired him to undertake the study (he is a Buddhist).
“I think that if mindfulness can improve mental clarity, focus and self-discipline, then it might be useful in a variety of settings and for a variety of goals.”
For anyone uncomfortable with meditation (even though it is not necessarily a religious practice), Ramsburg says that taking long walks in the morning before you start your day could inspire the same outcome.
“Basically, becoming just a little bit more mindful about yourself and your place in the world might have a very important, practical benefit – in this case, doing better in college.”
I started engaging in relaxation tools as a teenage in the mid 1070’s when I first started practicing Hatha and Raja Yoga. After 38 years I can say with confidence that it works for me. Since 1983 amongst other things I have taught Hatha Yoga, and relaxation techniques.
In the past 30 years, there has been considerable interest in the relaxation response and how inducing this state may benefit health. Research has focused primarily on illness and conditions in which stress may play a role either as the cause of the condition or as a factor that can make the condition worse.
Currently, there is some scientific evidence that relaxation techniques may be an effective part of an overall treatment plan for some disorders, including:
- Anxiety. Studies have suggested that relaxation may assist in the treatment of phobias or panic disorder. Relaxation techniques have also been used to relieve anxiety for people in stressful situations, such as when undergoing a medical procedure.
- Depression. In 2008, a major review of the evidence for relaxation in the treatment of depression found that relaxation techniques were more effective than no treatment for depression, but not as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy.
- Headache. There is some evidence that biofeedback and other relaxation techniques may be helpful for relieving tension or migraine headaches. In some cases, these mind and body techniques were more effective than medications for reducing the frequency, intensity, and severity of headaches.
- Pain. Some studies have shown that relaxation techniques may help reduce abdominal and surgery pain.
Relaxation involves practice and willingness to fully engage in the process of relaxing. Stay tuned for some great relaxing tools.