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Deep relaxation — a twenty minute exercise to help with stress

It’s been a stressful week at our house, and I’m reminded how helpful it can be to use a daily relaxation process. I learned it from my therapist, and it’s certainly common knowledge to many, but I thought it would be helpful to put it here as well.

This is something to try to do daily, because it literally teaches your body and your mind to relax and let go of stress. It also helps to reduce overall stress since, by giving your body and mind a chance to “reset”, you reduce the accumulation of stress and its negative effects.

Find a quiet spot where you won’t be interrupted. Don’t set a timer. You can have a clock in view if you want to check on yourself. Sit in a comfortable position, with your legs uncrossed and your hands at your sides.

Close your eyes, and allow yourself to quietly and slowly breathe, in for 4 counts, out for 8 counts, so that you are filling your lungs gently, and gently emptying them as well. Notice that your chests rises and falls, and that your belly can do so as well. That’s your body breathing.

As you slow your breathing, allow yourself to visualize the number “1” for the first breath in, “2” for the breath out, then “3” for the next breath in, then “4”, and so on …. up to 10 is usually good. The purpose here is simply to give your brain something to do. When you notice other thoughts come in, just let them pass through, and replace them with the count.

Another way to do this is to visualize and hear internally “breathe in peace”, “breathe out stress”, or whatever other words you would like to substitute.

While you are relaxing into your breathing, you can also let your body relax part by part. You may chose to start at your feet, and slowly work your up to your head, neck and face. Or, you might choose just to notice how wonderfully heavy and relaxed your hands and feet can feel, while you are gently breathing in and out.

That’s really all there is to it. You might start by trying this for 5 minutes, and work your way up to 20 minutes. Or, you might find yourself comfortable with relaxing this way for 20 minutes right from the start.

You can check on the time by opening your eyes, and of course just close them and continue to breathe gently if you aren’t yet ready to stop. There is no right or wrong to do this. When you are finished, give yourself a minute or two to re-orient to the room with your eyes open, before getting up to resume your day.

The main idea is to try to do this daily if you can. It is such a nice break from the stresses of the day, and it can really help your physical health and your mental outlook. Give it a try!

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