— Leslie E. Packer, PhD
There are many relaxation techniques that work. Some people enjoy meditative techniques. Others find listening to their favorite music, reading a book, or soaking in a warm tub relaxing. Whatever works for you is fine. But a piece of advice: if your technique can only be done under specific circumstances or in particular settings, then it’s not likely to be available to you as you go through your day — whether at work, at school, or out in the community.
Here’s a simple breathing-based technique that’s easy to learn in principle. How much benefit you derive from it depends on how often you practice it. When I first started using this technique almost 30 years ago, my initial sessions didn’t produce the kind of deeper relaxed states that I was able to accomplish months later. Then, too, in early sessions, it might take me 15 – 20 minutes before I’d feel more relaxed. After practicing the technique daily, I was eventually able to go into a deeply relaxed state in less than a minute. These days, I don’t even practice the technique anymore, but know that if I need to relax myself quickly, I can just start it, and within a minute, I’ll feel calmer. This is particularly helpful to those, who like me, are stuck in rush hour traffic feeling frustrated, or just got cut off by some maniac on the road — or who have to stop themselves from punching out the next person who stupidly comments, “Your kid could just control himself if he tried harder.”
Get yourself into a comfortable position. Some people like recliner chairs, but you could lie down on your bed. And if need be, you can even doing this sitting up in a chair — just place both feet flat on the ground if you’re sitting in a chair.
Place one hand over your belly — a few inches below the belly button. Your hand will be giving you feedback as to how you’re doing on the breathing.
Close your eyes (not yet, though — read the rest of the directions first!). Then slowly breathe in through your nose. You do not have to take a particularly deep breath: what you are trying to do is take a slow breath. As you breathe in, you should feel your belly move out/up against your hand. This is important, because most women breathe incorrectly and were taught to suck in their stomachs and to stick their chests out. Not now, ladies! As you breathe in, your chest should stay relaxed and your belly should move out against your hand (if you’re sitting up) or up against your hand (if you’re lying down).
Once you have inhaled slowly, hold the breath for a few seconds — don’t wait until you feel anxious or panicky, though. Then breathe out even more slowly than you inhaled — but breathe out through pursed lips to keep yourself breathing out slowly.
As you breathe out, feel your belly come back down and feel your shoulders and neck relax and sag.
Wait a few seconds and then do another breathing cycle.
Practice for about 15 – 20 minutes once a day. If you have time to practice it more often, great, but it will still work with a once a day schedule. I usually suggest that people practice at night when they’re already in bed and want to relax so that they can fall asleep.
If you find yourself getting distracted during the exercise — that thoughts about things you forgot to take care of or need to do are intruding — you can focus yourself by reminding yourself to feel your belly against your hand. You can also help focus yourself by thinking “1” as you breathe in and “2” as you breathe out. It really doesn’t matter what you use as long as it’s not too complicated.