Breathe. Have you ever thought about how your breathing changes when you are stressed, exercising, or relaxed? Learning how to relax is an integral component of stress reduction that is often overlooked. Experts have learned over the years that exercise plays a key role in the ability to relax, but as yoga has become more popular we are finding out that the breath can also help increase relaxation.
Spring is a great time to check in with your mind and body to see how you are feeling. Winter is a time when more people are inside and sedentary but once the weather begins to warm up spending time outside is mentally refreshing and relaxing. Notice where you are holding tension in your body, and think about your breath, paying attention to whether or not you tend to hold your breath or take shallow breaths. Mental stress tends to tighten the muscles in the body, which in turn creates more tension, then raises the heart rate and tightens the muscles creating additional physical stress. Soften the jaw and watch how the shoulders and hips relax. Breathe slowly and deeply and notice how the body relaxes.
Relaxation Through Breathing Exercises
Yoga can be a great stress reducer and mind/body relaxer. If practicing yoga on a regular basis is not in your daily routine, just learning diaphragmatic breathing can help tremendously. And, this type of deep breathing can be done anytime, anywhere:
- Find a comfortable place to sit
- Close your eyes and take slow deep breaths
- When inhaling, expand the diaphragm, and then exhale completely
- "Talk" to the muscles in your body and tell them to relax and melt
- Softening the jaw releases tension in the neck, shoulders and hips, and leads to total body relaxation
How Regular Workouts Create Relaxation
While aerobic exercise raises the heart rate when engaging in activity, regular cardiovascular exercise also produce mental and physical relaxation. When the heart rate is elevated for extended periods of time, endorphins (or natural pain killers) are released, creating a sense of relaxation after the exercise is completed. Regular exercise can produce weight-loss, resulting in less stress about body weight. Physical fitness also promotes mental fitness - if activities are enjoyable you'll be more likely to make time for exercise on a regular basis. Exercise doesn't always have to be in the form of aerobic exercise - lifting weights, pilates, yoga, or other physically demanding exercises will help to relax the body if a routine is followed.
Many methods of stress reduction exist, including breathing, meditation, progressive relaxation, and exercise. All tend to reduce anxiety, depression, heart rate and blood pressure, and enhance or produce a feeling of relaxation and well-being. As we enter the hot summer months, relaxation through exercise can be a great way to beat the heat and help us release the stress of daily life.
What exercise routines do you use with your clients to reduce stress? Share your tips in the comments below.
Additional ACSM resources:
- Stress Management for the Modern Adult
- Selecting and Effectively Using a Yoga Program
- Exercise Important in Shrinking Your Stress
Mindy Caplan is an ACSM Certified Health Fitness Specialist, Certified Advanced Yoga Instructor, Certified ACE Fitness Personal Trainer, Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist, and Group Fitness Instructor, and has been in the fitness industry for almost 30 years. She currently serves on the ACSM Certified Personal Trainers Committee for Certification and Registry Board.
Her passion is teaching yoga in groups and individually, and when she isn't teaching she loves interior design, the outdoors, and planning her next yoga adventure.