3 Exercises for Reducing Stress

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Relaxed, deep breathing is the key to breaking free of stressed-out feelings and can help to reduce chronic muscle pain. Try these three methods — for beginners to more advanced practitioners. From Muscle Medicine: The Revolutionary Approach to Maintaining, Strengthening, and Repairing Your Muscles and Joints, by Rob DeStefano, D.C., Bryan Kelly, M.D., and Joseph Hooper

Breathing Exercise (5–10 minutes daily)
Try this exercise for a week and see whether it makes a difference in your life. Find a quiet place and comfortable position, either sitting in a chair (spine straight, shoulders down and relaxed) or lying down. Close your eyes if that feels comfortable and doesn’t send you to sleep. Bring all your attention to your breath. Concentrate on the in-breath, concentrate on the out-breath. The rhythm should be regular and relaxed. Don’t exaggerate the slowness or the deepness of your breath. Relax your belly. You may be able to feel the belly rise and fall with each breath. (Don’t worry if this “breathing from the diaphragm” doesn’t come right away. Most people have unconsciously trained themselves to breathe more shallowly from the chest.) Each time your mind wanders, bring it back to the breath without judgment or frustration.

Body Scan Exercise
(5–20 minutes daily, or as often as you find it useful)
Lie on your back on your bed or a foam pad on the floor. Close your eyes and concentrate on your breath, the rising and falling of your belly. After your breath has settled, feel your whole body, head to toe. Feel the parts of your body that are in contact with the bed or pad. Then bring your attention to the toes of your left foot. Feel every sensation going on there, good, bad, or indifferent. Then take a deeper breath, to “wash away” the toes, and move down to the heel of the foot. In this way, cover every region of your body. When your mind wanders, bring it back without judgment or frustration to the breath and to the part of the body that you are focusing your attention on. You may want to bring an element of visualization to this exercise. Picture the breath coming in through the nose, traveling to the body area, then running back out through the nose. If you are in pain, you might imagine refreshing water or a healing light or a cool breeze traveling to the damaged area, bathing it, then leaving the body.

Meditation Exercise (5–30 minutes daily, or as consistently as you can manage)
If you find that meditation agrees with you, see if you can build up the duration of each session to twenty or thirty minutes, and if you can do it without strain and without its becoming the point of the exercise. To begin, assume a comfortable sitting or kneeling position on cushions or sit upright in a chair (spine straight, shoulders down). If you can maintain alertness, close your eyes. Bring your attention to your breath, the in-breath and the out-breath, the feeling of air passing through your nostrils, the rising and falling of your relaxed belly. When your mind wanders, note the thought or the feeling that comes into your head, then without judgment or frustration come back to the breath. If you are aware of physical discomfort or pain, bring your attention to that for a moment. Don’t tell yourself a story about how you feel about the pain, just be fully in touch with the sensation, then return to the breath.

Rob DeStefano, D.C., is a sports chiropractor, a national leader in the field of manual muscle therapies, and an avid triathlete. Bryan Kelly, M.D., is an orthopedic surgeon, specializing in sports medicine and arthroscopic surgery of the shoulder, hip, and knee at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Joseph Hooper is contributing editor/writer for Elle and Popular Science magazines and has been covering health and fitness since 1985. They are the authors of Muscle Medicine: The Revolutionary Approach to Maintaining, Strengthening, and Repairing Your Muscles and Joints (Copyright © 2009 by Rob DeStefano, Bryan Kelly, and Joseph Hooper).



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