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July 14, 2008

Relaxation Exercises
Mark Doolittle, PhD

First, either sit or lie down and get as comfortable as you can. Initially, it's useful to eliminate as many distractions as possible. A quiet, darkened room helps. As you practice, letting go becomes easier and easier, even in less than ideal settings. Stretch your muscles a little until you feel more relaxed. Then let your eyes gently close. Let your legs uncross and let your arms just lie by your side.

Next, take a nice slow, deep breath through your nose, feeling your lungs fill up and your stomach expand. When your lungs are full, hold the air in for just a second, then slowly let the air go out, feeling yourself letting go all over. When you feel the air exhaled, don't hurry to inhale, just slowly take another smooth, deep breath, feel yourself fill up, hold it for a second, then slowly and completely let it all go, and really let do. Get lost and absorbed in simple listening to your breathing and feel you body letting go. Let the process go on for a few more breaths, then just let your breathing go. Let the process go on for a few more breaths, then just let your breathing go naturally without trying to take especially deep breaths.

Next, let your attention drift down to your toes. Slowly and gently tense the muscles in your toes. Become aware of how the tension feels, then let the toes relax, and feel the difference. Notice the sensations you feel in the toes as you let them relax.

Next, repeat this same cycle of tensing and relaxing with each major muscle group as you move up your body. Just as you became absorbed in your breathing, get lost in feeling and enjoying the sensations you produce in directly relaxing all your muscles, moving up your calves, thighs, hips, stomach, back, shoulders, arms, neck, jaws, eyes, and so on.

After going through each muscle group separately, stretch your arms and legs out and tense up as many muscles at once as possible feet, legs, hips, stomach, back, and so on. Then let your body go limp and relaxed taking a few deep, slow breaths. If you notice any residual tension in any part of your body, repeat the tense - and - relax cycle there to see if you can loosen up that area.

Finally, before opening your eyes, take a brief journey around your body, sensing how it feels to be deeply relaxed. Become familiar with the felling. Then, when you are ready, take another deep breath and slowly open your eyes.

Note: Slow, deep breathing and overall muscular relaxation are perhaps the two easiest and most direct ways to calm down. Most of us breathe sixteen to twenty times a minute, with slow, deep breathing we cut that in half or less. Combined with muscular relaxation, the ultimate effect is to slow down your heart rate, lower blood pressure, relax muscles, increase blood flow to the hands and feet--in short, to produce the opposite of the flight-or-fight response.

The relaxation technique can be modified in many ways. As often - helpful maneuver is to silently repeat a particular sound, word, or phrase in rhythm with breathing, such as, "I am...." as you breathe in"...relaxed " (as you breathe out).

The key is to keep it simple and enjoyable. If the process isn't enjoyable, the chances are good it won't be effective, and eventually won't be done. If you make it a chore it will tend to maintain or increase tension. Stress reduction should be viewed along with food, sleep, and exercise as a vital element in maintaining health.

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