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Simple Deep Breathing Exercises:
Techniques to Reduce the Effects of Stress Your Body

I know you hear all sorts of things about the negative effects of stress on your body and overall health. Even Oprah Winfrey had a guest on her show about how deep breathing could help you look and feel younger since it can reduces stress levels. I could go over it all again, but itemizing all the potential mental and physical misery brought on by stress would probably increase your stress. My rule of thumb is this: if something goes wrong with your body, if you get sick, have bad dreams, get blotchy skin or fight with your sweetheart, and if you can't find a physical cause for your problems, there's a good chance that somehow, some way, stress has a hand in your unhappiness.

They've been researching stress reduction for decades, and the evidence comes back again and again that the most effective, easiest way to counteract stress is through deep breathing exercises. As we grow tense, the tendency is to take shallower breaths--perhaps a leftover strategy from when stress meant there was a sabre-toothed tiger just around the mouth of the cave. Today's tigers look like bosses or irritable teenagers or insane freeway drivers, but our bodies don't know the difference between a wild beast and the maniac in the next cubicle.

--Editors Tip ----------------------------------------------------------------------

Home Pilates Can Be a Stress Reducing, Relaxing Exercise Habit

Pilates workoutsRelaxation involves more than sitting still: exercise is a well-known method for relaxing the body and easing the mind. Exercise increases endorphins, lifting your mood and reducing physical aches. It puts you in a different mind-set, as you work your muscles and increase your heart rate. Exercise can help you sleep better and make you feel refreshed. But at the end of a long day, who wants to go to the gym? You don't have to! Get your exercise mat and start relaxing with exercise.

There are all sorts of exercise fads, but the trends that stay around year after year do so because they work: people like them! Pilates is one such trend: the stretching and muscle strengthening exercises combine with a certain type of deep breathing to help energize your body and mind. The exercises are fun! And for weight loss, muscle toning and relaxation, you can't beat an at-home Pilates workout.

See a variety of pilates workouts and simple equipment to start a relaxing workout plan today.


Understanding Common Breathing Problems

Shallow breathing means less oxygen getting to the brain and muscles, which increases your physical tension as your body tries to adjust to the new demands you place on it. Ordinarily, we don't notice that we aren't using our lungs fully until something causes us to take a deep breath.

Hyperventilation is the most recognizable extreme of shallow breathing. Brought on by anxiety, breathing becomes so shallow that the sufferer experiences the feeling of not being able to catch her breath: she tries to compensate by breathing faster, and winds up gasping uncontrollably. Hyperventilation has traditionally been treated by having the person breathe into a paper bag: I don't know the chemical reason this would work, but I would surmise that having the distraction of breathing into a bag may be enough to calm the person and turn the mind away from the anxiety that brought on the attack in the first place.

Benefits of Practicing Daily Deep Breathing

Taking a few minutes once or twice a day to practice deep breathing techniques can lower your blood pressure, aid your digestion, increase alertness and decrease fatigue, reduce tension headaches and migraines, and generally increase your quality of life (these are just a few of the benefits). People tend not to try deep breathing for a couple of reasons. They're afraid it sounds too simple to work. They feel like they can't make time for it in their already over-committed lives. And, because deep breathing has been linked with meditation and eastern religions, some people are wary that deep breathing may make them susceptible to "foreign ways". The mystical reputation of deep breathing scares them away from doing something that's sensible, healthy and free.

In fact, deep breathing is not a mystical practice in itself. It is simply a way of resetting the body's stress levels to pre-tiger states. You don't have to take a particular pose or chant anything, if you don't want to. For a busy, worried mind, it may help to count each breath in and out ("one" on the inhale, "one" on the exhale, then "two" and so on). Counting your breaths is a simple exercise technique that helps keep the mind from wandering off to more distracting and more upsetting ideas. Ideally, the time you spend in deep breathing is not spent ruminating, planning, agonizing, or scheduling. You should just be breathing.

Deep Breathing Exercise Technique to Try

To practice deep breathing, you will need ten minutes of uninterrupted time and a kitchen timer.

  1. The first step is to give yourself permission to practice deep breathing, forgetting any ideas of multi-tasking. Promise yourself 5-10 minutes, twice a day, every day.

  2. Turn off the cell phone, shut the office door (or go sit in your car) and make sure you can give your full attention to doing nothing.

  3. Get yourself in a comfortable position. You may be sitting or lying down: it doesn't matter.

  4. Loosen tight clothes, and take off your shoes if they aren't comfortable.

  5. Set your timer for 10 minutes (or 5 if you're just starting and fear that 10 minutes of sitting quietly may drive you mad. It won't, though, and you can work your way up to it gradually.)

  6. Relax your body. Those muscles you usually suck in, let go of. Let your face droop, too (many of us hold lots of tension in our jaws and foreheads. Especially if you're prone to headaches, relaxing your face will be most helpful.

  7. Close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Usually, the chest rises when you breathe. In deep breathing, your stomach will rise. Feel your stomach rising and falling. If your mind is racing, count your breaths. Otherwise, just concentrate on your breathing. Usually, your mind will wander, so when it does, gently remind it that you are just breathing now and will think of other things later. Don't get mad at yourself, and don't give up after only a few tries.

And that's all there is to it. When your time is up, the timer will ring. If you've managed to fall asleep, it may be because you've been so tightly keyed up that releasing your anxiety for a few minutes gave you some much-needed rest. Don't feel bad about that!

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