There are three basic components to a well-balanced exercise program: cardiovascular exercise, strength-training exercise and stretching and relaxation exercises. Stretching and relaxing are important parts of an exercise regimen that are often overlooked. Since our world is filled with chaos and uncertainty, it is crucial to our mental health to take time every day to train our brains and bodies to relax. Relaxation techniques help our muscles relax and lower our blood pressure and heart rate. We should try to spend time every day training our “relaxation response,” as most of our day is filled with symptoms of the “stress response” ñ the basic fight or flight response that overloads our bodies with adrenaline and causes stress damage. Consider beginning to practice Yoga to help you with relaxing. Perhaps purchase a basic Yoga DVD to follow at home. Create a relaxing and nurturing home exercise space to perform the following relaxation exercises.
Breathing is at the essence of our well-being. Learning to breathe properly can help you lower your stress and anxiety level and lower your blood pressure and heart rate. Deep breathing involves filling up your lungs slowly with air, as breathing is supported by the muscle under our lungs called our “diaphragm.” Singing lessons or yoga classes will help you learn healthy diaphragmatic breathing. Imagine that your lungs are two balloons that you fill with air slowly, starting at the bottom of your lungs. Many adults breathe improperly and use chest breathing, in which their shoulders rise up when they take in a big breath. Chest breathing only uses one/third of our lung capacity and can make us feel anxious and light-headed.
a) Lie down on your bed or on a comfortable exercise mat. Bend your knees and plant your feet firmly on the bed or floor. Rest your hands lightly on your stomach.
b) Breathe in deeply, using your diaphragm to support your breathing. Inhale for a count of 1-2-3-4-5…6-7-8-9-10… You should feel your hands slowly rise as your lungs fill up with nurturing air.
c) Now exhale in a slow and controlled manner for a count of 1-2-3-4-5…6-7-8-9-10. You should feel your hands lower back down as your lungs empty.
d) Repeat this process of inhaling and exhaling for counts of ten for fifteen minutes.
Play relaxing and soothing music in the background to help you relax and concentrate on your breathing.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
a) Lie down on your bed or on a comfortable exercise mat.
b) Start by tensing all of the muscles in your face (you have 44 facial muscles). Close your eyes tightly, tighten up all of your facial muscles and clench your teeth. Hold this position for a count of ten as you inhale.
c) Exhale and try to relax completely. Relax all of your facial muscles, like if you were asleep. Feel the tension leave your face and enjoy the light and relaxing feeling.
d) Completely tense up your neck and shoulders, inhaling for a count of ten. Then exhale and seek to relax your neck and shoulders and let go of all of the tension you have been carrying.
e) Continue this tightening and relaxing process through your body, repeating the technique with your:
- right arm and hand
- left arm and hand
- right leg and foot
- left leg and foot
Consider playing relaxing music to help you move into the relaxation response.