You’re stressed, you’re angry, you’re overwhelmed, you’re always feeling a “Calgon, take me away” moment is in order. As much as you’d love to go to that posh spa your friends have been telling you about, to be pummeled, massaged, hot stoned and “aromatherapized” to the point of forgetting all the ills that plague you, we have a more practical solution for your every day stresses: Take a minute… or five to unwind wherever you are, whenever you need to release a buildup of tension. Even if you’re in a busy office setting, there are simple exercises that will allow you to truly breathe easier, find your focus and relax.
It’s a trend! Popular lifestyle magazines are promoting the idea of taking a mind spa or a meditation break that can be done on an airplane, at work, at home or wherever you can find a comfortable seat. Remember, meditation is not about shutting off your mind, but rather, it’s about becoming mindful. Try this mini-break from your cluttered thoughts. Close your eyes, and do the following easy exercises for a quick dose of mindfulness.
1. First, sit upright, but comfortably in a chair. Ensure that your whole body, head-to-toes, is relaxed. It helps to think of the third eye, which allows you to relax the tension frown between your brows.
2. Second, become aware of your breathing. What do you feel as you inhale and exhale in a slow rhythm? If you lose contact with your breath, just acknowledge it and focus on the next inhalation that flows your way.
3. Third, lasso your mind if it should wander. Realize that for each moment that you notice you’ve wandered off, there has been a moment of awareness and clarity. This is your aim. Now pay attention to how you feel. Then become aware of the thinking-awareness-breathing cycle. Use this to allow you to focus with greater intensity when you’re not meditating. Now you can apply it to your daily life.
Yoga breath break
Too anxious to meditate? Need something a bit more allopathic to follow? Then consider some exercises from The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, a guide used by psychologists to reduce the intense stress felt by patients suffering from anxieties and phobias. These are patients who fight panic every time they’re faced with their afflictions. The bonus side effect of these exercises is improved concentration and increased self-esteem, spontaneity and creativity.
It’s no surprise that the calming breath exercise is adapted from the ancient discipline of yoga, which stresses “ujaye” breathing. Here’s how it works: Concentrate on your breathing. With one hand beneath your rib cage, breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose. Pause for a moment when you’ve taken a full breath and then exhale slowly through your nose or mouth. Allow your whole body to release itself to the breath. Do this 10 times, counting to four on each inhale and each exhale. In other words, each time, you’ll do a slow inhale for four counts, pause, then do a slow exhale for four counts. Your aim is to work up to several sets of this, for up to five full minutes whenever you feel stressed. When you get comfortable with the calming breath exercise, you can augment it with the silent words “relax,” “calm” or “let go” each time you exhale. If you do this daily, you’ll find yourself more focused and relaxed on an ongoing basis.
10-step muscle relaxer exercise
Once you’ve mastered breathing, you may want to try progressive muscle relaxation, also outlined in The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook. For this, you’ll need to set aside a bit more time, say 10 minutes, but you can do the mini-version in whatever time you have. Don’t focus on relaxing, just let go. Be detached.
You’ll be working on different muscle groups, tightening them vigorously, but without straining, for seven to 10 seconds each. At the end of the 10 seconds, release the muscles abruptly and enjoy the feeling of looseness. Feel the difference and then repeat or move on to the next muscle group, as needed. Just work on the areas that are achy, tight or uncomfortable if you’re short on time. If not, here are the head-to-toe instructions for a 20-minute break.
1. Begin by clenching your fist, counting to 10 and releasing (the general format for all that follows).
2. Next, tighten your biceps by pulling your forearms up toward your shoulders and flexing both arm muscles.
3. From there, move on to your triceps by sticking your arms out straight and locking your elbows.
4. Now we move to the head: Tense the muscles in your forehead by raising your eyebrows as far as you can and then relaxing them. Next, clench your eyelids tightly shut. Then, tighten your jaw by opening your mouth so widely that you stretch the muscles at the hinges of your jaw. When you release, let your lips part and allow your jaw to hang loose. Next, pull your head as far back as is comfortably possible and tense. Be aware of the weight of your head sinking into the surface on which you’re resting.
5. Next, tighten your shoulders by raising them up towards your ears. Next, push your shoulder blades towards each other (maybe do this one twice, as this area is generally extra tense).
6. Tighten your chest muscles by inhaling deeply and holding.
7. Tighten your stomach muscles by sucking in your stomach.
8. Tighten your lower back by arching it up (don’t do this if you have lower back pain).
9. Squeeze your buttocks together next. Now squeeze your thigh muscles.
10. Last, flex your toes towards you to tighten your calf muscles. Then do the opposite: Curl your toes downward.
Remember to take a little time out, throughout your day to give your mind and your body some time out. You’ll be amazed at how just minutes away from stress can make your day go better and smoother. You’ll be glad that you devoted the time to your well-being to your self!
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