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Calming exercise or motions and controlled breathing can have dramatic stress and tension-reducing effects. Maintaining flexibility by stretching routines can enhance balance and reduce injuries. Yoga, Tai Chi, abdominal breathing and Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) are among many techniques that have been used successfully to deal with the effects of stress and generally improve health.
Tai chi chuan stimulates the central nervous system, lowers blood pressure, relieves stress, and gently tones muscles without strain. It also enhances digestion, elimination of wastes and the circulation of blood. Moreover, tai chi's rhythmic movements massage the internal organs and improve their functionality. Perhaps tai chi's greatest attribute, however, is the fact that it channels the flow of chi (intrinsic energy) through the body's meridians. According to traditional Chinese medicine, as long as this flow is uninhibited, a person will remain healthy. If the flow of chi becomes obstructed or unbalanced, illness will result.
Some of the benefits of abdominal breathing include increased oxygen supply to the brain and musculature and stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system. This branch of your autonomic nervous system promotes a state of calmness and quiescence. It works in a fashion exactly opposite to the sympathetic branch of your nervous system, which stimulates a state of emotional arousal and the very physiological reactions underlying a panic attack. There is a greater sense of connectedness between mind and body. While anxiety and worry tend to keep you "up in your head", a few minutes of deep abdominal breathing will help bring you down into your whole body.
Here is one training technique that people have found useful when faced with a stressful situation or when feeling threatened. It is very useful in helping one remain calm and relaxed. It is presented in three easy steps. Start with the first step, until you've mastered it, then progress to the next step. Once you have reached the third step, you will have learned the Calming Breath Technique. Once steps 1 and 2 are learned, step 3 is the exercise that is used daily or in times of stress.
Wear loose fitting attire, if opportunity allows, so that you are comfortable. Make sure that you can breathe through your nose. If you have a cold, do not practice this exercise until you can breathe clearly.
Lie flat on your back. Put one hand on your stomach, and the other hand on your chest. Relax. Inhale so that the hand on your stomach rises, while the hand on your chest is still. Exhale so that the hand on your stomach goes down again, and the hand on your chest remains still. Repeat for 5 breaths.
Now, when you inhale, breathe in so that the hand on your chest rises, while the hand on your stomach is still. Exhale so that the hand on your chest goes down again, while the hand on your stomach remains still. Repeat for 5 breaths.
Alternate between stomach and chest breathing for 5 minutes. Make sure you've mastered this step before moving on.
This step combines stomach and chest breathing into one breath. This is the Calming Breath. Lie flat on your back. Put one hand on your stomach, and the other hand on your chest. Relax.
Begin by stomach breathing. When you feel you can't inhale any more in this manner, switch to chest breathing, until the upper part of your lungs are filled. Then exhale by chest breathing first, progressing to stomach breathing so that you empty the lungs fully. Repeat for 5 minutes.
Breathe slowly. If you feel dizzy, slow down, you are breathing too fast. If you are out of breath, you are breathing too slowly. Listen to your own body's messages. If you are having difficulty distinguishing chest breathing from stomach breathing, go back to Step One.
Stand or sit with your back straight. Use the Calming Breath and follow this pattern. You will have to count the rhythm in your head. Count to 4 while inhaling, hold your breath and count to 4, then count to 4 while exhaling. Once you've mastered this you may use a 4-4-4-4 rhythm is you prefer. It adds and extra step of holding your breath after exhaling and counting to 4. Take care not to hold your breath too long. Again, listen to your body. Repeat for 5 minutes, or until you are calm.
Practice so that the Calming Breath Technique becomes effortless, and inaudible. This technique can be used in almost any setting.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
Edmund Jacobson developed this technique in the 1920s-40s. He believed that if a person could learn enough skeletal muscle control that they could promptly relax the muscle from a tense state, it would greatly reduce the ensuing stress response. In other words, a person might be able to stop the vicious cycle of stress by intervening during the muscle-tensing stage. This is accomplished by intentional tension/relaxation routines. Tense specific muscles/muscle groups, then specifically relax them. Move on to the next muscle/group. This can initiate the relaxation response, induce sleep and reduce muscle pain.
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Anxiety: Apprehension of danger, or dread, accompanied by nervous restlessness, tension, increased heart rate, and shortness of breath unrelated to a clearly identifiable stimulus.
Cholesterol: A waxy, fat-like substance manufactured in the liver and found in all tissues, it facilitates the transport and absorption of fatty acids. In foods, only animal products contain cholesterol. An excess of cholesterol in the bloodstream can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis.
Chronic: Usually Chronic illness: Illness extending over a long period of time.
Nervous System: A system in the body that is comprised of the brain, spinal cord, nerves, ganglia and parts of the receptor organs that receive and interpret stimuli and transmit impulses to effector organs.
Panic Attack: A brief, irrational episode of fear that is perceived as so real that an individual may be driven to escape from the place or situation where it occurs. The attack is sudden and increases in severity until it leaves, usually within ten minutes. Panic attack symptoms are numerous and involve both mental and physical signs and symptoms. A panic attack can occur in other anxiety states such as agoraphobia and with certain activities and places. It may occur spontaneously without an apparent cause.
Parasympathetic: Usually Parasympathetic nervous system: Portion of the autonomic nervous system that is generally associated with increasing digestion and intestinal muscle activity; decreasing blood circulation and respiration.
Stomach: A hollow, muscular, J-shaped pouch located in the upper part of the abdomen to the left of the midline. The upper end (fundus) is large and dome-shaped; the area just below the fundus is called the body of the stomach. The fundus and the body are often referred to as the cardiac portion of the stomach. The lower (pyloric) portion curves downward and to the right and includes the antrum and the pylorus. The function of the stomach is to begin digestion by physically breaking down food received from the esophagus. The tissues of the stomach wall are composed of three types of muscle fibers: circular, longitudinal and oblique. These fibers create structural elasticity and contractibility, both of which are needed for digestion. The stomach mucosa contains cells which secrete hydrochloric acid and this in turn activates the other gastric enzymes pepsin and rennin. To protect itself from being destroyed by its own enzymes, the stomach’s mucous lining must constantly regenerate itself.
Varicose Veins: Twisted, widened veins with incompetent valves.