Back in January I wrote about stress and you can click Stress Can Kill You if you missed it . I have learned more about stress and want to share that with you now. Stress inhibits normal functions of your body that it needs daily. It also supercharges other functions that are harmful to your body.
We have run several items on stress relief, primarily through exercise. The need to ‘blow off steam.’ Exercise does wonders for us as regular readers know, but in terms of the challenge of stress, it is more of a band aid cure or a crutch.
Hence, relaxation. I’m not talking about sitting on the couch with your feet up eating a bag of Cheetos and watching the tube. Many overweight people really suffer from bad coping strategies. If you deal with stress by diving into a pint of Rocky Road ice cream, read on. You may get a handle on your weight problem.
According to The Mayo Clinic, “Relaxation techniques are an essential part of your quest for stress management. Relaxation isn’t just about peace of mind or enjoying a hobby. Relaxation is a process that decreases the wear and tear on your mind and body from the challenges and hassles of daily life.
“Whether your stress is spiraling out of control or you’ve already got it tamed, you can benefit from learning relaxation techniques. Learning basic relaxation techniques is easy, often free or low cost, and poses little risk. Explore these simple relaxation techniques to get you started on de-stressing your life and improving your health.
The benefits of relaxation techniques
“With so many things to do, relaxation techniques may take a back seat in your life. But that means you might miss out on the health benefits of relaxation.
“Practicing relaxation techniques can reduce stress symptoms by:
• Slowing your heart rate
• Lowering blood pressure
• Slowing your breathing rate
• Increasing blood flow to major muscles
• Reducing muscle tension and chronic pain
• Improving concentration and mental focus
• Reducing anger, fear, frustration and jealousy
• Boosting confidence to handle problems
Some common relaxation techniques include: yoga, tai chi, listening to music, meditation, hypnosis and massage. Clearly these are more than we can cover in a single blog item.
I was fortunate enough to date a yoga teacher some years ago who taught me progressive muscle relaxation which we used at the end of every yoga session.
In this technique you slowly relax each muscle group. You become more aware of physical sensations. You do this lying comfortably on your back or seated in a comfortable chair.
You also practice diaphragmatic breathing, or deep breathing. It is also called abdominal breathing and belly breathing. The reason is that the diaphragm is the powerful muscle spanning the body cavity below the lungs. In diaphragmatic breathing we lower the diaphragm which pushes out the belly and allows much more air to enter the lungs. This is done in a systematic, relaxed way to a slow count of 3 or 4 or 5, depending on how far you can go. I suggest starting with a lower number and working up through the days as you get better at it. Like anything else relaxation is a skill that you can build on. The larger quantities of air entering the lungs bring in added oxygen which circulates throughout the body.
The way I learned it, we would close our eyes, breathe diaphragmatically for a while until we felt our body start to slow down. At that point we would begin muscle relaxation at the feet and work our way up feeling all our energy flow out of our feet and into the floor, after the feet, the ankles, then knees, etc.
You can find an excellent example of progressive muscle relaxation here.
Hobart and William Smith College has a super discussion of relaxation here.
You can listen to a nine minute relaxation exercise here. With a little computer savvy, you can upload this to your iPod, mp3 player or smart phone and have it with you to play any time you need it.
Stress causes our bodies to suffer in numerous ways that include overeating. Practicing relaxation can benefit your mind and body in ways that you will need to experience to believe.
Try it. It couldn’t hurt.