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Taking Time to Breathe: An easy, scientifically proven, way to relax your mind and body

Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. This is because when you breathe deeply it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Those things that happen when you are stressed, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax. This response has been extensively studied and is known as the Relaxation Response.

Eliciting the relaxation response is actually quite easy. There are two essential steps:

  1. Repetition of a word, sound, phrase, prayer, or muscular activity.
  2. Passive disregard of everyday thoughts that inevitably come to mind and the return to your repeated word or phrase as a means of focusing your attention.

Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer that is firmly rooted in your belief system, such as "one," "peace," "love" etc.

  • Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Relax your muscles, progressing from your feet to your calves, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, head, and neck.
  • Breathe slowly and naturally, and as you do, say your focus word, sound, phrase, or prayer silently to yourself as you exhale.
  • Assume a passive attitude. Don't worry about how well you're doing. When other thoughts come to mind, simply say to yourself, "Oh well," and gently return to your repetition.
  • Continue for ten to 20 minutes. Even 1 to 5 minutes can reduce tension when needed.
  • Do not stand immediately. Continue sitting quietly for a minute or so, allowing other thoughts to return. Then open your eyes and sit for another minute before rising.
  • Practice the technique once or twice daily. Good times to do so are before breakfast and before dinner.
  • Regular elicitation of the relaxation response has been scientifically proven to be an effective treatment for a wide range of stress-related disorders. In fact, to the extent that any disease is caused or made worse by stress, the relaxation response can help.

Other techniques for evoking the relaxation response include imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, repetitive prayer, mindfulness meditation, repetitive physical exercises and breath focus.

Last Updated: 12/4/2013