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Relaxation 101

Posted in Health

Meet Diego who lives a thoroughly stress-free life
Meet Diego who lives a thoroughly stress-free life

I am trying to write this post on stress and relaxation techniques and nothing comes to mind but a bunch of platitudes that can be found on a million websites at the click of a finger. I stare at the dogs, sleeping by my desk, hoping their furry backs, undulating slowly in a rhythmic motion, will provide inspiration. The sock monkey on the electric blue rocking chair mocks me with his fixed grin. Now I am stressed.

Time to do something else: shame that walking with the dogs or cocoon on the couch with a book at 11 am would make me feel like a lazy bug. I opt for the middle ground and unfurl the yoga mat – doing some yoga will relieve the stress, if not provide some inspiration. Why do I keep on forgetting it? Why don’t I practice consistently what I know? Why is it I find myself more and more often holding my breath, to rival Jacques Cousteau? We have the means (or, at least, the knowledge) to de-stress and yet we fumble along holding our breaths. There is a form of masochism I can lay claim to.

“Have a glass of water, dear. Take a deep breath. I will fetch you a cup of tea.” How many times have we witnessed this in the movies? Or experienced it ourselves in a moment of upset? Does it actually work to gulp down tap water or circle our fingers on a hot mug? Amazingly, it does. It refocuses our attention, ever so slightly, onto something outside our mind, relaxing a bit the tight grip of stress. Grandma had it intuitively right.

I have touted the benefits of meditation many times before but maybe you are not the type to willingly sit and control your breathing. It does help, though. A few nights ago, after a sleepless night, I went to bed exhausted but worried sleep might elude me again. I tossed and turned for half an hour before coming to my senses and telling myself I knew what to do. Lying very still, I deepened my breath, one breath at a time and, before I knew it, it was morning and the dogs were waking me up.

Sock monkey
Unhelpfully staring at me as I write

No need for fancy Lulu Lemon pants or even a commitment to a yoga studio: refocusing our attention on our breathing is an easy and powerful tool we forget to use, one that can be used at any time. Now that schools are back in full swings, the holidays will be upon us before we know it and, at least in Los Angeles, traffic will increase proportionally to the drop in temperature, I thought I would share a couple of de-stressing techniques for both beginners and old hands alike: because we all need to be reminded, now and then, to just breathe.

The techniques (which she calls Minis – as in mini meditations) are taken from Dr. Kathy Gruver’s book Conquer your Stress with Mind/Body Techniques, which is packed with information on what stress does to you and techniques on how to permanently get rid of it.

Mini #1: As you breathe in, count slowly up to 4; as you breathe out, count slowly back down to 1. As you breathe in, you say quietly to yourself, “1..2…3…4”, and as you breathe out, you say quietly to yourself, “4…3…2…1.” Do this several times.

Mini # 2: This is counting the space between the inbreath and the outbreath. After each inbreath, pause and count, “1…2…3”, after eachout breath, pause again and count, “1…2…3.” Do this several times. [this is an effective tool to release anxiety].

Mini # 3: You might have heard of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author of many books on Buddhism and meditation. This is his favorite mini.
On the inbreath, you think “I am” and on the outbreath you think “at peace”. Repeat this several times. This is also an excellent mini to use while walking.

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17 Comments

  1. Love the post. I teach a belly breathing exercise at the end of my classes, and my clients say it’s their favorite part. Maybe it’s the fact that they get to lie down & possibly nap, but it’s all good. I’m going to use the “I am” “at peace” tomorrow. They’ll love it. Happy Napping 🙂

    September 28, 2014
    |Reply
    • Hope they enjoy it as much as the belly exercise – which sounds mighty good to me.

      September 29, 2014
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  2. Firstly you have my permission to loll on the couch with a book and the dogs at 11 am. Sounds delightful. You’ve inspired me.
    The mediation and yoga is on my list of things to investigate but for a later time…now what chapter was I on..?
    🙂

    September 28, 2014
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    • Next time, I will seek permission from you and will feel much better about my sloth….but you can fit 10 minutes of meditation in between chapters.

      September 29, 2014
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  3. A dog in a motorcycle helmet?! That’s my stress buster right there. Thanks Moke xx

    September 26, 2014
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    • Diego belongs to a friend of mine who couldn’t stand dog and now he is so obsessed with his pup he keeps on sending me the weirdest photos!

      September 26, 2014
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  4. I love meditation. I try to do it for 20 minutes a day, but life happens so very often that I find myself unable to do it for days – then I get cranky for missing it! Maybe I need a meditation for my meditation 🙂

    September 26, 2014
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    • I completely relate…I let it go for days until I find I am in dire need…

      September 26, 2014
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      • In a horrible way, I’m glad I’m not alone :p

        September 26, 2014
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  5. I know what’s causing all your stress, its that scary sock monkey.OMG that would give me nightmares!

    September 26, 2014
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    • Someone I love gave it to me but maybe I should just position him differently…or offer him the guest room.

      September 26, 2014
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  6. Nope didn’t do it for me so I got up and made a cup of coffee! I know that’s the worst thing to do but maybe I will be inspired to write a beautiful haiku or blog post? Or maybe I’ll just sit here and talk to the dog- she’s awake now too!

    September 26, 2014
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    • Sorry it didn’t work for you but, at 5 am, you are right to give it up. Did you get a haiku out of it? It’s my favorite time of the day.

      September 26, 2014
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  7. Oh I needed this! It’s 5am and I just can’t sleep so I will now do the breathing and see if it works! Night night x

    September 26, 2014
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  8. “Lying very still, I deepened my breath, one breath at a time and, before I knew it, it was morning and the dogs were waking me up.” So right and better than Mogadons.
    BTW the man who does the deep sea diving is William Trubridge – he is a renowned yogi.

    September 26, 2014
    |Reply
    • It makes sense he would be a yogi. Jacques Cousteau did use tanks…

      September 26, 2014
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