You can learn to reduce the effects of stress and achieve relaxation by first learning the basic technique of diaphragmatic or ‘belly’ breathing. This can be done sitting in a chair or lying down. Your breathing pattern is most noticeable when you are lying down. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other hand on your belly near the waistline. Breathe at your normal pace and notice which hand rises and falls most noticeably. If you are feeling stressed, you usually breathe from your chest with short, shallow breaths. If you notice that you are breathing from the chest, now push out the hand on your belly with the breath. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth while you notice the rise and fall of the abdominal area with both hands on the belly. If you are having difficulty being aware of this area, then place a very small book on your abdomen and notice the book rise and fall as you breathe. This will help you achieve a greater sense of relaxation.
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First, get in a comfortable sitting position with your arms and legs uncrossed. Then, begin the belly breathing as described above. As you inhale through your nose, mentally count how many seconds, approximately, it takes you to complete the inhale. Then, exhale through the mouth, again counting how many seconds, approximately, it to complete the exhale. For beginners, breathing in and out to a count of six is a reasonable goal, then build up to about a count of 8-10 on the inhale and 8-10 on the exhale.
A Simple Breathing Exercise Adapted from Qigong
Release Stress With Our Guided MeditationsA similar breathing technique I am now going to discuss is adapted from the Asian technique of Qigong. According to the National Qigong Association, Qigong (sometimes spelled as Chi Kung) is derived from the Chinese words ‘Qi’ meaning ‘Energy’ plus ‘Gong’, meaning ‘work’ or ‘practice’. It is a term that describes a Chinese exercise system that focuses on cultivating and attracting ‘Qi’, the ‘vital force’ or ‘life-force’ energies. Pronounced “Chee Gung”, Qigong is a unique Chinese exercise system. Through individual exercises, practitioners build up their health and prevent illness by combining a discipline of mind, body and the body’s ‘Qi’ (see The NQA’s What is Qigong?).
Qigong draws on many elements. It includes regulating the body through posture, regulating the mind through quiet, relaxation and concentration of one’s mental activity, regulating the breath, self-massage and movement of the limbs. It covers a wide range of exercises and styles, such as “tuna” (venting and taking in), which emphasizes the practice of breath; “still” qigong, which stresses meditation and relaxation; “standing stance” qigong, which emphasizes the exercise of the body by relaxed and motionless standing posture; “moving” and ‘dao-yin’ qigong, which emphasizes external movement combined with internal quiet and practice in control of the mind; as well as various forms of self-massage.
Chinese Qigong has been practiced with a recorded history of over 2,000 years. But it wasn’t until 1953, when Liu Gui-zheng published a paper entitled “Practice on Qigong Therapy” (see http://www.nqa.org/qigong.html), that the term Qigong was adopted as the popular name for this type of exercise system. There have been many Qigong schools in China. Although each school adopts unique methods, they all agree on the basic importance of regulating the mind and deepening the respiration.
The basic breathing technique is a simple one of bringing the palms up slowly toward the chin while inhaling, pause briefly, then push the palms down toward the ground while exhaling through the mouth.
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