By Anne Williams
This article is from the Summer 2012 issue of Body Sense magazine.
Do you ever find yourself unconsciously holding your breath when you’re tense? This can cause tension to build in your body and may let the chest collapse, leading to misalignment.
Proper breathing provides oxygen to the muscles and body, helps you stay relaxed and centered, and even helps you maintain correct body alignment throughout your day.
You can also use breathwork as part of a stress-reduction program by following this progressive relaxation exercise.
1. Begin by lying in a comfortable position without crossing your arms or legs, and focus on your breathing to create a slow, deep pattern. Inhale through your nose while counting to 10 and expanding your abdomen. Hold the breath for one second, and exhale through your nose on the count of 10. Inhale and exhale in this pattern five times.
2. Beginning with your head, tense your facial muscles as tightly as possible and count to five. Release the muscles completely, and sense the muscles feeling heavy and still. Work down your entire body, tensing muscle groups and then relaxing them. After the head, move to the neck, chest, arms and hands, abdomen, back, thighs and gluteals, lower legs, and feet.
3. After relaxing each set of muscles, mentally scan your body for any areas of remaining tension and ask those areas to relax completely.
4. Repeat the slow breathing exercise.
5. Gently begin to move your body to come out of the deeply relaxed state.
Try using progressive relaxation directly before or after your massage sessions, directly before bed, or at any time during the day as a pick-me-up. Focus on taking full, deep, even, rhythmic breaths. With a little practice, you can become more aware of your own breathing patterns and use breathwork effectively as you move throughout your day.
Anne Williams is the director of education for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals and author of Massage Mastery: from Student to Professional (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012). She can be reached at email@example.com.