In a world where everyday stress is often the rule rather than the exception, we could all benefit from practical moment-by-moment methods to deal with what is being thrown at us. Everyone tells us to let things go, but they don't give us any clue how to better train ourselves to do so.
Yoga offers many techniques in which to practice conscious relaxation, so that even in extremely challenging situations you can center yourself and skillfully deal with the situations at hand.
One of the best ways to deal with stress is to learn how to control your breathing. Relaxation through breathing techniques are an integral part of learning how to meditate. Merely watching and being conscious of a single inhalation and a single exhalation, a complete cycle of breath, can effectively relieve stress. This may sound ridiculously easy and simplistic but on many occasions, this simple meditation has lifted me out of dark situations.
- Take a comfortable position. The best way to start any breathing awareness exercise is to lie down on the floor on your back. Your legs are straight, about eight inches apart and dropped open, completely relaxed. Your arms are straight, with your hands about eight inches from your hips, palms face up. If this position is uncomfortable or painful for your lower back, place a rolled up blanket under your knees. Place a thin pillow under your head, enough to keep your forehead slightly higher than your chin.
- Scan the body. First just scan your body, from toe to head, and feel every part of yourself relax deeply. Let every part of your body be supported completely by the earth. Especially relax your face and your sense organs.
- Begin to focus on the breath. In this deep state of relaxation, begin to notice your breath. Continually bringing your attention back to your breath is the main practice. To help you do this, begin to watch the completion of the exhalation and the natural pause at the end of the exhale.
- Extend the pause at the end of the exhale. Spend at least 10 minutes completing your exhalations and slightly extending the natural pause at the end of your exhalations for one to two seconds. If at any time this exercise brings tension, go back to just scanning your body and observing any place in the body that is binding or uneasy.
- Winding down the practice. After 10-15 minutes of this breathing practice, return to normal breathing without any manipulations. Come back to simple conscious relaxation for about five minutes. Bend your legs and roll to your right side and then use your hands and arms to push your torso up to sitting. This simple breathing exercise will help you become more aware of your breath all day long. Your breath is always in the present moment, so by observing your breath it will bring you to the here and now. Especially when you are irritated or angry, returning to the breath will become a sanctuary, the eye of the hurricane.
- During the day, pick something to remind you to come back to your breath. Sometimes I pick something irritating like the ringing of cell phones to remind me to take one conscious breath. Throughout the day, when I hear a cell phone, I am reminded to return to my breath. This centers me and returns me to balance, even if it is only for a second. Little by little these seconds compile into something significant and at the end of the day I have succeeded in being free of so much stress. Practice this and it will help you with stress management.
- Additional focus during breathing practice. You can further the effects of this breath work by visualizing that you are receiving golden light every time you inhale and that you are becoming amazingly light every time you exhale. Also, relax your neck and head as you inhale and lengthen your body as you exhale. Your inhale can absorb all the vibrations of the present moment while your exhale can return you to profound silence. Your breath is one of your most powerful tools in achieving and sustaining peace; it is, by far, one of the best stress management techniques. Learn how to utilize this ally through daily attention to your breath. Take it slow and be consistent in your observations and experiments with your breath. It takes many years to learn the language of your breath, but after some mastery you will see how the breath is the ruler of the mind and the body.
Peace and compassion,