Practice these exercises for about five minutes several times a day. Use them to help you get in touch with your feelings and to release any tension or numbness in your body, especially in your emotional center: your head and face, throat, chest, abdomen and pelvic areas. Relaxing your belly and feeling your entire torso expand with each breath is your first step to greater relaxation and body awareness.
Sit with your back comfortably straight in a chair and place your hands on your belly. Notice if you’re holding your belly in, or if the muscles of your belly feel relaxed. Now take a deep breath and blow out and feel how sucking in your abdominal muscles aids in emptying the air in your lungs. Hold your abs in and hold tight for a few seconds and then blowing out through slightly puckered lips, let your belly go as loose and limp as possible. Now release your breath in a "hah" through an open mouth completely and consciously and let your belly completely relax as you might never do in public. Do this exercise for about thirty seconds to a minute.
This exercise enables you to see if you unconsciously hold your belly tense or conversely, let it be limp. Ideally, you don’t want your belly either tense or limp but rather engaged—energized and relaxed at the same time.
Sitting with your back straight in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, place both hands on your belly, finger tips almost touching and take a deep inhale through the nose all the way up to the top of your breath. Keep your shoulders down and see if you can keep all movement in the belly, diaphragm and ribcage expanding as you breathe in. As you start your inhale the belly opens out, the diaphragm flattens, which pushes the ribcage out and makes room for the lungs to fill. In belly breathing the chest does not lift. All the action is in the diaphragm and rib cage.
The Complete Breath
In this exercise you will breathe slowly and deliberately, feeling the breath move through all three sections of your torso--belly, ribcage and chest. You will also feel the breath moving up the back so that the whole torso, front and back is involved.
Lying on the floor or sitting with your back straight, start your breath by releasing the belly, keep inhaling slowly as you feel the breath widen your ribcage and continue up as your chest fills without raising your shoulders. When you get to the top of you breath blow out slowly through slightly puckered lips all the way down to the bottom of the exhale until you run out of air. Use your abdominal muscles when you get to the bottom of your breath to push the last bit of air out of your lungs.
When you have emptied your lungs as much as you can without forcing, the next inhale will happen naturally. In this way your whole torso works efficiently as the bellows it’s designed to be, taking in fresh air and getting rid of the old stale air.
Do this breath three times, and with each new breath see if you can release your abdominal muscles to get more movement in your torso. This exercise should take you thirty seconds to a minute.
The Sighing Breath
After you have taken several deep belly breaths, take a quick inhale with an open mouth and exhale through the mouth in a deep sigh. Take three quick sighs in this way and notice how this breath is felt mostly in the shoulders, upper chest and upper back. Don’t lift your shoulders as you breathe and don’t hold your breath at the top of your inhale.
As you inhale and exhale, the chest quickly fills and releases, the upper back widens and releases. Make it a smooth breath in and a smooth breath out. If you’re in a private place, you may enjoy vocalizing the sigh in a "hah" sound. This exercise will typically take about fifteen to thirty seconds.
Taking a Felt-Sense (Emotional) Inventory
After you have taken several belly breaths and a few deep sighing breaths tune into the sensations in your torso. With your eyes closed, scan your body and notice any tension you may feel in your emotional center, that area of your body between your head and your pelvis. If you notice tension, breathe deeply and see if you can let go and relax.
HEAD: Start with the top of your head, forehead, eyes, cheeks, mouth and jaw, breathe deeply and see if any of these areas are tight. Make a mental note of what you notice here. Tension in this area is usually a sign of mental stress, negative thinking, and a tendency to overanalyze situations and to try to figure things out. A tight mouth and jaw can be a sign of anger. Breathe deeply and relax.
THROAT: Take a deep sigh and tune into your throat and see if you have a grip or lump in your throat. Make a mental note of what you notice here. A grip in this area is often a sign of anxiety; a lump usually has to do with feeling sad. Breathe deeply and relax.
CHEST: Take another deep sigh and check your chest. See if there is a weight on your chest, a band around your chest, or a grip in the center of the chest. Make a mental note of what you notice here. A weight suggests you’re feeling sad, hurt or disappointed. A grip or band usually indicates anxiety. Breathe deeply and relax.
DIAPHRAGM: From there take a sigh and feel for any knot in or a band across your midsection, just below you solar plexus. Make a mental note of what you notice here. A knot in your gut can be an indicator of guilt, feelings of heavy responsibility and obligation. Breathe deeply and relax.
BELLY: Check your belly and see if you have a knot in your belly or butterflies. Make a mental note of what you notice here. A knot can be fear or anger. A feeling of butterflies often indicates dread about the future. Breathe deeply and relax.
PELVIS: Finally, take a deep sigh and see if there is any tension in your genitals, thighs, or buttocks. Make a mental note of any tension here. Holding tension in the pelvic region can indicate feelings of shame. Breathe deeply and relax.
Making a mental note of your present experience is an operational definition of mindfulness. Whenever you feel stressed and tense, do a few deep belly breaths and blow out some of the stress you feel. Ask yourself what else you might do to safely and effectively deal with the situation to reduce your stress and be more relaxed.
This exercise is very helpful for developing greater mindfulness and down-regulating stress. It can be very helpful even after only a minute or two of practice.
There is an enormous untapped potential for pleasure in every one of us that has yet to be fully explored. We can reconnect with our most authentic joys, and the more we do, the more deeply and unequivocally we can contact our truest self and truest selves of the people we love.
Skills in breath control and body awareness help root our intellectual insights and interpersonal skills in our bones, hearts, and guts in a palpable, and not just figurative, manner.
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