Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Release Stress with Restorative Yoga

Are you looking for a way to release stress and tension from your body?  What not try restorative yoga.  Restorative yoga focuses on relaxing the body in restful postures.   Typically this form of Hatha Yoga involves the use of props to support the body.  Supported and passive yoga poses allow the body to naturally release and deeply relax.  Restorative yoga soothes the nervous system and quiets the mind.  It is appropriate for anyone at any stage of life.  

Follow the link below to  learn a few yoga poses that will relax both mind and body.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Meditate to Reduce Stress

During the day our mind spins.  We are thinking about work, our health, the interaction with the grocery store clerk, the person who cut you off in traffic, our family and friends, financial concerns.  This continuous internal dialogue and the emotions triggered are often a significant source of stress. Most of us aren’t even aware of this dialogue or the stress it causes.  Meditation is a wonderful tool to quiet the mind and decrease this stress.

So just what is meditation?  Meditation is a state of thoughtful awareness.   The practice of meditation brings clarity.  It clears the fog, quiets the brain and promotes mindfulness allowing us to be in the present moment rather than worrying about the future or lost in the past.  The goal of meditation is not to make your mind devoid of thought.  Simply try not to linger on any particular thought or follow it off on a tangent.  Acknowledge any thoughts or images and then allow them to fade away. 

Meditation has many research proven benefits.  These include:

  • Decreased blood pressure and hypertension
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Decreased production of stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline
  • Improved immune function
  • Decreased anxiety, depression and insomnia
  • Enhanced concentration and memory

Meditation isn’t difficult.  Guided meditation MP3s or CD can be a great tool for beginners.  These meditations provide step by step instructions that are easy to follow.  When learning to meditate it does help to practice consistently.   Research has shown that it takes 30 days to create new neural pathways in the brain and establish a new habit. Try meditating for 15 minutes a day either in the morning or evening before bed and commit to practicing for a month before evaluating the effects or deciding meditation isn’t for you. 

I enjoy being outside and using my natural surroundings as a focus for meditation.   You can focus only on sound or bring your awareness to everything that you experience in your surroundings including smells, the temperature of the air, the breeze, the feeling of the sun on your skin. Below is a basic listening meditation.  Why not give it a try.

Bird Song Meditation

  • Go outdoors and find a place away from car and mechanical noises.  Make sure it is a place where you will not be disturbed.  Practicing this meditation in the early morning or evening works best.
  • Turn off your cell phone
  • Find a comfortable position either sitting or lying down
  • Take a few deep belly breaths to help you relax and center
  • Now close your eyes and focus your attention on the bird songs and calls.  Don’t try to identify or visualize the birds that you hear, just enjoy the varied sounds both near and far.
  • Gently bring your attention back to the bird songs when your mind begins to wander.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Breathing for Relaxation

Working with the breath is one of the simplest and most powerful techniques to relieve stress and tension.  Below are three breathing techniques that will bring about a state of deep relaxation and well-being. Try them and see what you think.

1.       Abdominal or Diaphragmatic Breathing
When we are stressed our breathing becomes rapid and shallow.  By slowing and deepening our breathing we become more relaxed.

  •   Find a quite place where you will not be interrupted.  Lie down on your back.
  • Place your right hand on your abdomen just above your belly button.   Place your left hand on your chest.
  • Close your eyes and breathe in and out through your nose.  Your breathing should come from your diaphragm meaning your right hand should rise and fall with your breathing while your left hand remains still. 
  • Bring your attention to the flow of your breath.  Do not rush your breath but let it flow gently and smoothly.
  • Practice this technique for at least 10 minutes a day.

2.       Ocean Breath
This breathing technique relaxes the body, calms the mind and increases the flow of energy through the nervous system.

  •  Sit in a chair.  Do not slouch as it rounds the spine, compresses the abdomen and prevents the free flow of breath.
  • Close your eyes and focus on the breath
  • Slightly contract the back of the throat, causing the breath to make a sound like the rise and fall of ocean waves against a beach.  To make this easier at first imagine that you are holding a mirror. Open your mouth and exhale to “fog the mirror”.  Next try making the same sound exhaling with your mouth closed.  Now try it on inhalation continuing to keep the mouth closed. Practice until you can sustain ocean sound inhaling and exhaling with the mouth closed.
  • Smooth out the flow of breath by shifting between inhalation and exhalation as smoothly as possible.
  • Sustain ocean breath for several minutes. 

3.       Alternate Nostril Breath
This technique will quiet the mind and nervous system.  As you consciously engage both nostrils you allow your body to become more balanced.

  •     Sit comfortably in a chair.  Don’t slouch. 
  •    Exhale. 
  •    Place your thumb gently against your right nostril closing it completely and inhale slowly through the left nostril.
  • As soon as you finish inhaling gently close your left nostril with your index finger as you release your thumb from the right nostril.  
  •  While keeping the left nostril closed exhale through the right nostril and then inhale through the right nostril.        
  • Release your index finger and close your right nostril with your thumb.  Exhale and then inhale through the left nostril.
  • Repeat this pattern of breathing for several minutes

Monday, April 1, 2013

April is National Stress Awareness Month

Take a deep breath and RELAX..…. April 1st marks the beginning of National Stress Awareness Month.  Sponsored by The Health Resource Network, Stress Awareness Month is a cooperative effort to 
inform people about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic.

Just what is stress?  Stress is the body’s way of responding to any type of demand or perceived threat.   The body enters a state of alertness - muscles tense, breathing becomes faster, heart rate and blood pressure increase as does the production of certain hormones including adrenalin and cortisol.  Some stress is good.  It motivates us and can lead to positive change and personal growth.  Stress becomes problematic when it is chronic and the body never has a chance to wind down.   Chronic stress can cause a host of symptoms including irritability, fatigue, headaches, weight gain, insomnia, difficulty concentrating and stomach aches or intestinal distress.  

 We can’t avoid all stress but we can counteract its negative effects by learning how to evoke the relaxation response.  The relaxation response is a powerful antidote to stress.  It brings the nervous system back into balance.  There are a variety of techniques to produce the relaxation response.  These techniques include progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, tai chi, yoga and meditation.

Over the next few weeks I will discuss several of these relaxation techniques, and provide tools that you can start using immediately to reduce stress and increase well-being.   Experiment with several of them until you find the technique that works best for you.  Learning the basics of these techniques isn’t difficult, but achieving continued benefit does take regular practice.   Most experts recommend setting aside 10-15 minutes a day for your relaxation practice. 

Awareness is the first step in coping with stress.  Do you suspect that stress might be a problem?  Take The Stress Test  to find out.  Looking for stress relieving suggestions that you can implement today? Read my post  Ways to relieve Stress Naturally.  Until next week.…just remember to BREATH.