Tag Archives: breathing

Everyone needs a quickie – a quick meditation to reduce stress

No time for meditation?
We all need a few good breaths.

  • Most folks today lead hectic lives.
  • Most folks today could use some time for peaceful, quiet meditation.
  • Most folks today don’t have time to turn down the lights, put up their feet, turn on some peaceful music or a meditation CD and take 20 to 30 minutes out of their day to center themselves.
  • Most folks today need to recharge so they don’t over-stress and send cortisol racing through their bodies to wreak havoc on their health.

Here is a quick breathing exercise you can use to take control over your stress and recharge your batteries for the rest of the day. It even works as you sit in your car in your driveway for a few extra minutes before rejoining your family for the evening.

Why breathing? It’s easy, and you already know how to do it.

  • Sit comfortably in your chair, or, if you can, lie on the floor.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Breathe in deeply through your nose to the count of five. (Choose whatever count works for you…don’t obsess about how much air you can pull into your body.)
  • Hold it for the same count you used drawing breath in.
  • Blow it out gently through your mouth, again using the same count you used to breathe it in.

As you do this several times, visualize your lungs filling with lovely fresh oxygen as you breathe in. Imagine the good, fresh breath exchanging with the old, tired air in your lungs. Finally, gently blow the used air out through your mouth, visualizing your lungs empty and ready for the next cleansing breath.

This works, even if you only have time to do it two or three times. Try it…it might turn out to be your favorite quickie coping skill.

Are you a fixer? Check out this article on the Macgyver Syndrome.

Stress Management Classics to Use Everyday

Time-Honored Classic Stress Management Techniques
Yes or No?

The Huffington Post ran an article by Kate Bratskeir, their Food and Health Editor, in April of 2013. She asked Dr. David Posen, and  Dr. Kathleen Hall, if the old stress management techniques still work in today’s more more highly charged environment. Are their some that might not work so well today?

According to Ms. Braatskeir’s article the following methods still have their place in the stress buster lexicon:

  • Squeezing a stress ball
  • Letting yourself have a good cry
  • Letting loose on the dance floor
  • Talking it out
  • Shouting It out
  • A good, old-fashioned time-out
  • Breaking something
  • Writing an angry letter that won’t be seen again
  • Taking a deep breath
  • The pendulum (collision balls) swing
  • Exercising

As you can see, many of these are similar to one another…talking, shouting, writing an angry letter for the shredder are right down the same alley. Letting loose on the dance floor, squeezing a stress ball, breaking something, and exercising take advantage of the release of endorphins that exercise produces. Crying, a time-out, watching the pendulum swing are less involved physically, but can engage you mentally. Few professionals would cross these activities off their list of effective coping tools.

In honor of these traditional methods here is a favorite coping exercise from Donald A. Tubesing, PhD’s series “Structured Exercises in Stress Management  Vol 3”.

Eight-Minute Stress Break
Participants learn a 15-step stretching routine that can be used any time of the day.

To demonstrate the effectiveness of exercise as a stress management technique.
To stretch all the major muscle groups.

Group Size
Unlimited, as long as there is sufficient space for everyone to move freely.

Time Frame
10 minutes

CD player and peppy music.

1)  The trainer briefly describes typical benefits of stretching and exercise as stress management techniques:

  • Stretching and vigorous exercise both help discharge accumulated physical tension from the various muscle groups.
  • The increased flow of blood and oxygen to the muscles usually stimulates an increased energy level.
  • Both types of physical activity provide a distraction from emotional or mental strain.
  • Stretching and exercise are effective preventive measures for dealing with stress by systematically letting go of tension before it accumulates to unhealthy proportions. These techniques also are effective in crisis situations to relieve the physical effects of stress.

2)  The trainer turns on the music and participants join in as he/she demonstrates the Eight-Minute Stress Break routine which can easily be incorporated into a busy schedule.


  • Choose only a few exercises to teach during this presentation (eg, all upper body stretches). Then sprinkle the other routines throughout the remainder of the session.
  • To model how this skill could be used in real life, teach the whole sequence at once and then sprinkle repeat performances as mini stretch breaks during unexpected or particularly stressful moments in the remainder of the learning experience.
  • If the course is several sessions long, go through the sequence once at every meeting in order to entrench the routine in participants’ minds.
  • After Step 2 hand out the list of 14 stretches. Ask people to identify their favorites and make a list of those they especially want to use in the future and the situations where they most need to!

Eight-Minute Stress Break Stretchers

The 360 Stretch

  • Begin with your body relaxed, arms and hands loose at your side. Pull your right shoulder up and with one smooth movement, bring the shoulder back and around, making a complete circle.
  • Repeat this same circular motion with the left shoulder.
  • Continue stretching one shoulder, then the other, 5 times each. The reverse the direction, using alternate shoulders, 5 times each. This should loosen up your neck, back, and shoulder – place where most people store tension.

Starfish Stretch

  • Begin with your arms stretched overhead, slightly bent, eyes turned upward.
  • In a single motion, open your hands, spread your fingers wide, and reach up as high as you can. Hold that position for a few seconds. Then close your fists and lower your arms, with elbows bent. Rest a few seconds and then repeat the starfish stretch/rest sequence 10 to 15 times.
  • For variety, stretch to the side.

Snow Angels

  • Allow your arms to hang loose at your sides. Begin to loosen your wrists by shaking your hands, allowing them to flop as freely as possible.
  • Continue to shake and flop as you slowly raise your arms to the side and up until your hands touch overhead. Then allow your arms to gradually drop, still shaking and loosening the wrists.

Tall Grass Stalk

  • Extend your arms out in front of you.
  • While concentrating on your shoulders, slowly sweep your hands and arms to the side and back, as if pushing tall grass out of the way.
  • You should feel a pull along your shoulders and arms.
  • Stretch your arms out again and “stalk” for 10 more steps.

Bunny Hop

  • Put your hands on your hips and hop twice on your right foot. Now hop twice on your left foot. Continue these double hops, alternating feet and adding a side kick or a cross kick on the second hop.
  • Continue hopping and kicking for 30 seconds, varying your tempo and kick height.


  • Start by getting centered, feet firmly planted, knees slightly bent.
  • Lift your right knee up towards your chest, slap it with your left hand and then lower your leg and stretch it to the side, toes pointing outward. Repeat the hoe-down lift 3 more times and then try the left leg for 4 counts.

Cloud Walk

  • This is a slow step, rolling from heel to toe, one foot at a time, gently stretching the legs and feet. Your whole body should be relaxed.
  • Pick up the tempo of the heel-toe roll until you reach a slow jog, raising your feet slightly off the floor at each step. Continue at this pace for 30 seconds.


  • Start with your legs slightly apart.
  • Dip your body into an easy knee-bend and then spring back to the upright position.
  • Continue to bend and spring back for 30 seconds, adding rhythmic arm swings as you increase your pace.

Arch Stretch

  • With knees slightly bent, join your hands comfortably behind your back.
  • Slowly arch your back, letting your hands and stiff arms pull your shoulders and head down toward the floor.
  • Hold for 5 counts and then relax, allowing your head to fall forward and your shoulders to curl toward the front.
  • Repeat 7 times.


  • With feet shoulder width apart and knees bent, put your hands on your hips.
  • Keep your back straight as you twist your shoulders and trunk to the right 3 times and then return to face forward.
  • Now twist to the opposite side for 3 counts and return to the center.
  • Continue to twist for 8 sets.

Body Bounce

  • With feet apart, arms at your sides, bend sideways at the waist, stretching your hand down to your leg as you straighten up.
  • Repeat the stretch and bounce to the other side. Do 5 body bounces on each side.
  • Now add your arms to the stretching movement. With your left arm, reach up and over as you bounce to the left 3 counts.
  • Do 5 sets on each side.

Sneak Peek

  • Stand straight with your neck, shoulders and back as relaxed as possible.
  • Tilt your head to the left. Now slowly roll your head so that your chin falls to your chest and then comes up as your head tilts to the right. Now look back over your right shoulder, hold the pose and then relax.
  • Repeat the stretch, this time starting with your head tilted to the right and ending with a sneak peek over your left shoulder.
  • Do four peeks on each side.

The Wave

  • Stand straight with your arms at your sides, palms facing out.
  • As you take a long deep breath, slowly (4 counts) raise your arms up over your head. Now, as you exhale slowly, bring your arms back down, palms facing downward (4 counts).
  • Repeat this languid wave 6 times.

Hang Loose

  • Time to shake out your body.
  • Flap your arms, twist your wrists, shrug your shoulders, jiggle  your legs, shake your feet, flex your knees.
  • Bounce your booty until your whole body feels tingly, loose and relaxed.

Breathing for Relaxation

The Breath of Life

From Stressed is Desserts Spelled Backwards
By Brian Luke Seaward, PhD

Approaches to managing stress are as varied as the people who use them. Perhaps because of the complexity of human nature and the daily events we find ourselves in, it is fair to say that no two people will deal with stress the same way. Yet if there were one relaxation technique that could be described as “one size fits all,” belly breathing would win hands down. The long deep sigh, the epitome of taking a moment to relax, is really what belly breathing is all about. Unlike most techniques, it can be done anywhere, at any time, and no one is the wiser.

Breathing is easy, and we pretty much take it for granted because it doesn’t require a whole lot of thought. But by and large, Americans are chest breathers (whether you are a man or a woman, I guess it looks good to have a big chest.) The problem with chest breathing is that it places pressure on a bundle of nerves under the chest bones and can actually trigger the stress response. Of course, when we sleep, the ego is off duty and we revert back to belly breathing—the style most conducive for relaxation.

Ancient mystics tell us that the word breath and spirit are synonymous, suggesting that divine energy is found within the precious movements of inhalation and exhalation. As such, the breath of life is no mere metaphor. Interestingly enough, every technique to promote relaxation employs some aspect of breathing and this is the technique I begin each class with. A wise sage once said, “There are forty different ways to breathe.” Here are two styles I use in class:

Breathing Clouds

This technique can be traced back to the origins of the eastern philosophy and religion in both Asia, with the practice of yoga, and Japan with the practice of Zen meditation. It was introduced as a cleansing process for the mind and body, the end result being complete relaxation. You can do this technique either sitting or lying down.

To begin, close your eyes and focus all your attention on your breathing. Draw air from the belly. Try inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Visualize the air that you breath in as being clean fresh air, pure and energized air, like a white puffy cloud.

As you breathe in this clean pure air, visualize and feel air enter your nose and circulate up through the sinus cavity, to the top of your head, and down the back of your spinal column. As you end the inhalation, image the air circulating throughout your entire body.

Now, as you exhale, visualize that the air leaving your body is dirty, hazy air, which symbolizes all your stressors, frustrations, and toxins throughout your mind and body. With each breath you take, allow the clean fresh air to enter and circulate and invigorate your body, while the expulsion of the dirty air helps rid your body of its stress and tension.

Repeat this breathing cycle for five to ten minutes. As you repeat this cycle of breathing clouds, you may notice as the body becomes more relaxed through the release of stress and tension that the visual color of the air exhaled begins to change from black, to gray, perhaps even an off-white, a symbolic vision of complete relaxation.

Energy Breathing

Energy breathing is a way to vitalize your body, not only by taking in air through your nose or mouth, but in effect, breathing through your whole body as well. In essence, your body becomes like a big lung taking in air and circulating it throughout your entire body.

There are  three  phases  of  this  exercise  and  you  can  do  this technique either sitting or lying down. First get comfortable allowing your shoulders to relax. If you choose to sit, try to keep your legs straight. Now, as you breathe in, imagine that there is a circular hole at the top (crown) of your head, like a dolphin. As the air enters your lungs, visualize energy in the form of a beam of light, entering the top of your head. Bring the energy down, from the crown of your head to your abdomen as you inhale. As you exhale, allow the energy to leave through the top of your head. Repeat this five to ten times, trying to coordinate your breathing with the visual flow of energy. As you continue to bring the energy down to your stomach area, allow the light to reach all the inner parts of your upper body. When you feel comfortable with this first phase, you are ready to move on to the second phase.

Now, imagine that in the center of each foot, there is a circular hole that energy can flow in and out of. Again think of energy being like a beam of light. Concentrating on only your lower extremities, allow the flow of energy to move up from your feet into your abdomen as you inhale from your diaphragm. Repeat this five to ten times, trying to coordinate your breathing with the flow of energy.

Finally, as you continue to bring the energy up into your stomach area, allow the light to reach all the inner parts of your lower body. Once you feel you have this coordination between your breathing and the visual flow of energy with your lower extremities, begin to combine the movement of energy from both the top of your head and your feet, bringing the energy to the center of your body as you inhale air from your diaphragm. Then, as you exhale, allow the flow of energy to reverse the direction from which it came. Repeat this for ten to twenty times. Each time you move the energy through your body feel each body region, each muscle and organ and each cell become energized. At first it may seem difficult to visually coordinate the movement of energy coming from opposite ends of your body, but with practice, this will come very easily.


One summer day while grocery shopping, I ran into a former student of mine, Tom, now a lieutenant in the Navy. His conversation reminded me just how useful belly breathing can really be.

“You know, I used to think that all that breathing stuff you taught us in class was a crock,” said Tom, with a smile on his face. “But I don’t anymore!”

Peering over a pyramid of apples, I inquired, “What changed your mind?”

“It was about a week before graduation, right, and I’m packing to move to Florida with my wife, to start flight school. Did I tell you she was eight months pregnant? OK, so I’m packing these boxes in the basement and Kathy tells me she’s started going into labor. Not exactly good timing, know what I mean?”

Tom takes a step closer, grabbing an apple off the pyramid.

“Yup, you could say that my life was beyond the optimal stress point right about then. So here I am rushing to get Kathy to the hospital, but low and behold, we get in the car only to find we have a flat tire. No problem, I tell her. Take a few deep breaths. I’ll have this fixed in a jiffy.

“So now we’re in the car headed to the hospital and guess what? Another flat tire, except this time we have no spare. I could go off to get help, but I can’t leave my wife alone in the car. So you can only guess what happened.

“Man, that breathing stuff really worked. I kept telling her to take a deep breath, keep breathing, slow and deep, from the stomach, it will be all right. I was breathing right along with her. I’m not sure who it helped more, me or her. What an event! So now I’m the proud father of a little baby boy, Jonathan.”

“Congratulations,” I said, extending my hand.

“Thanks! You know you always hear about babies being born in the back seat of a car, but I never thought mine would be one of them. And now, I’m doing that belly breathing technique every day.”

It is said that the soul enters the body with the first breath and each breath after invigorates the spirit. Remember to breathe—from the belly!

Relaxation: Stop the Stresses!

There are a few more simple ways to reduce stress physically. Gentleness and relaxation skills help you unwind by being kind to yourself. There are many ways you can relax, but if you’re not sure, try a tension test: from head to toe, tense all the muscles you can one by one. Do some feel tighter than others? Try breathing exercises as you do this. When you tighten a muscle, take deep breaths in, and as you release it, exhale. Give yourself time to relax every day. Take 20 minutes a day and spend it any way you want – a long bath, a long walk, it doesn’t matter. Taking some time to unwind is especially helpful before sleeping. Instead of running yourself all day and crashing at the end, put yourself to bed. Developing a sleep pattern for your body will help reduce tension.

Being gentle with yourself is part of relaxing. Listen to what your body is telling you. It will let you know how you’re treating it. You may already know some of the ways it tries to tell you to slow down; a headache, a stiff neck, a sour stomach, or backaches are all signs.  If you’re looking for new ways to relax, try finding a hobby that lets you relax gently rather than intensively. Painting or yoga are examples.

  • What are some ways you’re too hard on yourself?
  • Where do you carry your stress? Can you trace the tension back to its cause?