Breath, meditation and other relaxation and well-being techniques
The ability to relax and let go of tension and stress is as important for our health as building up strength, stamina and endurance through our exercise programme.
Finding a way to relax and deal with stress and tension is probably the most important change we can make in our lives. Stress has a wide ranging effect on our physiology, affecting our immune system, hormones, creating inflammation and much more. Stress is known to lead to many diseases that affect our bodies and minds.
Numerous studies suggest that relaxation can be a useful part of an overall treatment plan for a wide range of health issues, including high blood pressure, pain, anxiety, depression, headaches, premenstrual syndrome and insomnia. It even seems to help people with epilepsy reduce the extent and frequency of their seizures. Relaxation therapy is generally safe. However, never delay diagnosis for your condition by a qualified health care professional, like your GP, a professional counsellor or similar. Relaxation therapy is a useful complementary therapy. However, unless indicated by a qualified health care professional, it is not a treatment in its own right. If you have experienced severe trauma, I would advise you to seek professional help as you may benefit from a combination of appropriate stress-release techniques and counselling.
So what does relaxation mean? Relaxation is defined as the state when your mind and body are free from tension and anxiety.
There are many different ways to deal with tension and stress, including exercise, Yoga or Chi Gong, meditation and mindfulness, a great film, massage, counselling or hypnosis… Everyday activities can be as relaxing as are therapeutic relaxation practices. What we need to relax is a personal choice and depends on many factors – our personality, our lives and lifestyle, the situation that is causing us stress…. We are all different and so are the ways to relax. Even if you decide that you need a therapeutic relaxation practice, find one that suits your personality and your present situation. Don’t trust the one-size-fits-all approach: just because your best friend, partner or neighbour rave about a particular method or teacher that method or teacher doesn’t have to work for you. You are unique and your situation will be unique. So it is important to find the method and teacher that suits you. Just as we have medicines for different ailments we also have different relaxation techniques for different people.
So how can these techniques help our body and mind from tension and anxiety?
Studies have shown that meditation (one relaxation technique) affects those brain areas involved in relaxation response, namely the limbic system and the frontal cortex. Meditation appears to have a sedative effect. Meditation also has been shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate, improve immune response, increase the body’s oxygen consumption, change brain-waves and to aid attention and decision-making mechanisms. Kat has trained in meditation techniques as part of her yoga teacher training and includes meditative practices in her insomnia class
Another techniques is progressive muscle relaxation, including Yoga Nidra. Muscles can hold tension because we are stressed. It has also been shown that tension in certain muscle groups (particularly muscles of the neck and shoulders) without an outside stressor caused anxiety and a stress-response in individuals. Kat has trained in progressive muscle relaxation (Yoga Nidra techniques) as part of her Yoga teacher training and includes practices that promote muscle relaxation in her insomnia class .
Breathing techniques, particularly deep belly (diaphragmatic) breathing, alternate nostril breathing or humming can help us relax. Each of these will bring about a slightly different physiological effect. Humming, for example, affects the nitric oxide levels which relaxes our blood vessels and stimulates the release of certain hormones. Belly breathing and nostril breathing have many benefits including lower heart rate and blood pressure amongst much else. Other techniques that involve lengthened exhalation compared to inhalation appear to stimulate the parasympathetic (“relaxation”) nervous system. Kat has trained in breathing techniques as part of her Yoga and Feldenkrais teacher training and includes breathing practices in her insomnia class.
Exercise can also help the body to release tension and also the mind by getting us “into the zone”. Have you ever walked, cycled or run around the block and found yourself going into a trance-like state where all that matters is the next footstep or breath or maybe your mind even goes blank? That’s a sign of your brain wave activity changing from the alert ‘beta’ state to a more relaxed, meditative ‘alpha’ or ‘theta’ state. Some people get there with meditation or breathing, others by taking a walk or run or a Yoga class.
Other practices that may help with stress are techniques that affect the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve that has a unique and quite complex role in our stress response. Breathing and “social engagement” practices, such as face yoga (movement and self massage techniques of the face), laughter or singing may be useful.
Our environment is important when we are trying to relax. Ensure that you are in a quiet, comfortable environment that has a comfortable temperature for the practice of your choice. Make sure you will not be disturbed: If possible switch off any distractions (phone, email notification etc) and ask others not to disturb you. If you know you will be disturbed by household noise you may want to use a white noise app (you can find one for free https://www.tmsoft.com/white-noise/ for your phone). Choose a constant sound such as the air conditioner choice on the app.
Regularity of practice is also important: the more regular your practice, the more successful you will become at relaxing and may improve a person’s control over their response to stress in the long-term, even though you may not feel immediate benefits at the moment of practice. So don’t just try to relax when you are stressed. Do a small relaxation practice, such as breathing, micro movements or meditation every day if possible – whether you think you need it or not.
Hope to see you in class!
I hold a level 2 in mental health first aid, have a diploma as an insomnia coach and in Relax and Restore Yoga.
Please note: Whilst I am highly trained in various techniques that may help you to relax I am not a professional counsellor nor qualified to diagnose. If your illness or trauma is severe, you are suffering from severe depression, anxiety, high blood pressure or any other health issues that you are hoping to resolve through relaxation techniques, please be aware that this alone may not be sufficient. Therapeutic relaxation techniques can be very effective adjuvant therapy but do not delay to seek a diagnosis from a qualified health care professional.
However, if you are looking for general relaxation, I will be delighted to hear from you.
I also offer a range of classes and therapies that are targeted to improve well-being:
Sleep is vital for our mental and physical well-being and health. But maybe it is even more than that: “We are somewhat more ourselves in our sleeps; and the slumber of the body seems to be the waking of the soul” Thomas Browne
Most of us have the odd sleepless night. But for some of us, our sleep is disrupted on a regular basis – either we find it difficult to fall asleep or have disturbed sleep, waking up during the night and finding it difficult to go back to sleep. This may be due to medical reasons so you should always check with your GP if you suffer from chronic insomnia. Mostly, though insomnia is caused by stress and tension – physical or mental.
The Relax-and-Restore-Sleep class is designed to help the body to release tension and let go of stress-related thinking. The class combines breathing exercises with small micro-movements.
Monday nights 7.45 fortnightly. For dates contact me.
Face Fitness: our face doesn’t just reflect our life and our emotions, it also affects how we feel. A frown apparently sends signals to the brain that says that we should feel sad. So releasing the muscles of the face may just change our attitude to life and might even make us happier. Face yoga also improves lymphatic flow and blood supply to the face and brain. It is said that face yoga can help reduce headaches, help us enunciate better and lift our mood. It might even make us more intelligent but I can’t promise that…. But who cares when we are having fun pulling all those funny faces together in the classes (Online class on Saturday and Tuesday mornings from 9-9.20 from the end of September)!
Meditation and Breathing
Body Mind Centering