Hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis frequently use breathing techniques, as do many other natural healing and meditation methods. So what really happens when you alter your breathing?
Dr. Candace Pert, in her book Molecules of Emotion
, explains how making breathing a conscious process releases endorphins, the body’s natural opiates:
"Endorphins are neuropeptides, chemicals produced by the brain, but can also be found in the respiratory center. When you do something to alter your breathing pattern, such as holding your breath or breathing extra fast, you create an imbalance in your body. In an attempt to restore balance, the brain stem releases peptides (including endorphins) rapidly through the cerebrospinal fluid. It’s a natural feedback mechanism, and a sure fire way to reduce pain and stress."
A wealth of scientific data support the “powerful healing effects of consciously controlled breath patterns.” Try this simple breathing exercise:
• Sit down and close your eyes.
• Relax your body as much as you can. Pay attention to your back, shoulders, neck, jaw, and facial muscles.
• Breathe naturally, and focus on the physical sensations of breathing.
• At your own pace you will find that you occasionally want to take a deep breath. When you do, breathe as deeply as you can, and exhale freely. Do this without restraining the exhale.
• After that deep breath, breathe naturally again until your body wants to take another deep breath.
• Repeat this process for 3-10 minutes.• Have a passive attitude when your mind wanders, and bring your focus back to the sensations of breathing.
• Practice this daily, and chances are that you will find yourself taking more conscious deep breaths throughout the day.
3 Easy Ways to Reduce Stress
Here are three simple things that can help you relax in an instant.
1. Drink Water.
Even mild dehydration can make you feel tired, and studies have shown that dehydration can increase stress hormone levels. The next time you feel like you are stressed or dragging, ask yourself whether you are thirsty.
A simple way to stop your thoughts from racing is to look directly at an object and take in every detail visually. With each inhalation and exhalation, project all of your visual and mental focus at that single point, imagining a direct line or cord connecting your eyes to that object.
Many animals stretch and yawn instinctively after sleeping. Stretching gets the circulation going in your muscles and tells your brain that it’s time to move. When you notice yourself stretching, make it last and enjoy it. It can give you that boost of energy you need.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
“An anxious mind cannot exist in a relaxed body.”- Edmund Jacobson
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a systematic technique for releasing muscular tension and achieving true relaxation. When practiced regularly, PMR can have a significant positive effect on a host of physical and mental conditions. The exercise is easy and enjoyable, and anyone can learn it.
PMR was developed in the 1920s by Dr. Edmund Jacobson, the American physician who founded biofeedback and whose work was the basis of natural childbirth. Jacobson found that a muscle can be relaxed effectively by first tensing it and then releasing it, and that the release of muscular contraction decreased the stress response of the central nervous system.
Jacobson also found a connection between excess muscular tension and various disorders of body and mind. Like other natural, mind-body techniques, such as autohypnosis (self hypnosis), autogenic training, Dr. Herbert Benson’s “Relaxation Response,” and meditation, Jacobson’s PMR is an excellent way to maintain general health of body and mind. In fact, published medical studies have shown that PMR, on its own and in combination with other interventions, has helped patients with:
Anxiety with elective surgery
Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes
Asthma during pregnancy
Irritable bowel syndrome
Shortness of breath in COPD
Phantom limb pain
Low back pain during pregnancy
Chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome.
Chronic facial pain associated with chewing.
Quality of life and state anxiety for patients with cardiac disease, cancer, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, and undergoing dialysis.
Anxiety and other adverse reactions to chemotherapy, including nausea and vomiting.
Emotional distress and attention in school children
Night eating syndromeRead published studies on the effectiveness of PM.
Jacobson’s books and articles suggest hundreds of exercises and sequences that take months to complete, but the following basic PMR exercise can be effective:
Recline (preferably) or sit comfortably.Close your eyes.Contract each muscle group hard (but not so much that you hurt yourself), for about 8 seconds. Keep the rest of your body relaxed. As you contract each muscle group, focus your attention on the physical sensations of muscular tension.Release the tension suddenly. As you relax each muscle group, focus your attention on the physical sensations of relaxation flowing into the muscles.Relax for about 10 seconds in between each muscle group.Breathe comfortably as you practice this exercise. Most people find it natural to release the muscle tension and exhale simultaneously.The most important aspect of this exercise is to pay attention to the difference between the physical sensations of tension and relaxation.
IMPORTANT: If you have a history of injury, muscle spasms, or any other musculoskeletal problem, consult with a medical professional before practicing PMR. PMR is not meant as a replacement for medical advice or attention.
SequenceHere is a sequence to follow, and some tips for contracting the muscles. With practice you can discover what works best for you:
• Right hand (first making a fist, then stretching your fingers).
• Right bicep (flex your bicep by bringing your forearm to your shoulder).
• Right tricep (flex your tricep by holding your arm out stiff).
• Right tricep and hand.• Left hand
• Left bicep
• Left tricep
• Left tricep and hand.
• Forehead (raise your eyebrows).
• Eyelids (squeeze your eyes shut tightly).
• Jaw (first clenching the jaw lightly, then stretching your mouth open as wide as you can)
• Neck (back and front)
• Shoulders (raise your shoulders)
• Shoulder blades (push them back as if touching them together)
• Abdomen (either by sucking in, or clenching)
• Lower back
• Buttocks (squeeze them together)
• Right thigh
• Right calf (pointing your toes up toward your knee)
• Right foot (first curling the toes, then stretching them)
• Entire right thigh, calf, and foot
• Left thigh
• Left calf
• Left foot
• Entire left thigh, calf, and foot
This sequence takes about 15 minutes. Ideally, PMR is practiced twice daily for 20 minutes per sitting (40 minutes total daily). Establish a consistent routine. Daily practice can train your mind to notice when you are tensing your muscles for no reason and to release tension throughout the day, consciously and unconsciously. You might be even be surprised to find yourself stretching and taking a deep breath more often.
This Guided Progressive Muscle Relaxation
will take you through this sequence.
Jacobson’s book You Must Relax
was written in 1934 and became a best-seller. You can read it here.Sources:Jacobson, E. (1938). Progressive relaxation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2015.
The Relaxation Response
The Relaxation Response is a technique developed by Dr. Herbert Benson in 1975, as a version of Transcendental Meditation adapted for the west.Official site: How to Elicit the Relaxation Response.