Awareness] [Rhythmic Breathing] [Muscle
Perhaps the most important and yet simplest tools available for reducing
the impact of stress are the relaxation exercises. When someone is tense and on
edge, and has been so for a while, the worst advice is, Relax; take it easy.
That advice is guaranteed to put anyone further on edge as they work at trying
to relax! The sad fact is that few people retain the innate skill of relaxation
- a pity, but there it is. Relaxation is a skill that must be relearned and
There are many relaxation techniques, some based on breathing, some on
muscle control, some on visualization, and some that simply involve listening to
music. Its a matter of finding which is most suitable for the individual
concerned. Of the many possibilities, we will focus on three:
o muscle awareness,
o rhythmic breathing,
o muscle contraction.
Muscle awareness is examined more
closely to show the general approach to take in such exercises. The following is
written in a form that may be given to patients.
The muscle-awareness technique was
designed to develop awareness of the larger muscles. It works most effectively
if you let yourself be physically passive, yet mentally aware and alert. It is
the act of conscious attention that allows the muscles to relax.
Initially, it is best to
consciously practice this awareness at specific times, but gradually it will
become automatic, unconscious, and continuous. Sometimes this muscle awareness
is really all thatís necessary for the brains muscle-control centers to learn
deep relaxation, and since muscles comprise a large portion of your body weight,
learning to let them relax will often lead to relaxation of your entire body.
For the first few sessions, you might want to have someone read the
technique instructions aloud to you, slowly, one sentence at a time, with ten-
to fifteen-second pauses between sentences. Donít worry if you feel foolish
and self-conscious at first; youíll get used to it! By the third or fourth
session, try doing the technique on your own, as best as you can remember it.
Donít be too concerned about precision, or about remembering the exact details
of every sequence. Instead, focus on adopting the correct general style.