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What are some relaxation exercises you can do to help reduce tension?

Stress causes muscles to tighten abnormally. Relaxing the muscles reduces the sense of stress. Among the many relaxation techniques, here are some simple ones.

Take a very deep breath. Hold it for a moment, then exhale until the lungs are completely emptied, ending in a sigh with the mouth open. As you exhale, purposely relax your neck and shoulders. Take at least 40 such deep breaths each day.

Remind yourself to do so by connecting them to your daily routine, especially to those parts of it that are tense. You might, for instance, take a deep breath each time you are halted in traffic, the telephone rings, or your child calls “Mommy.”

The deep breath takes only a few seconds, yet it slows the sense of time passing. Some people, in fact, remind themselves to relax by putting a piece of bright-colored tape on an office clock or on a wristwatch. Each time they look to see what time it is, they take a deep, relaxing breath.

Slow breathing also eases the feeling of being rushed and under pressure. Breathe in and out slowly while counting backwards from 10 to 1. As you do so, become aware of which muscles are tense, and purposely let them sag.

Deep and slow breathing can be practiced wherever you are. Other exercises require that you find a special time and place for privacy during the day. Sit comfortably or recline, with your shoes off and your clothes loosened. Close your eyes and breathe deeply several times. Close your mind to activities and cares.

Beginning with your feet, concentrate on one part of your body at a time, and relax it. Then move your concentration to the legs, the knees, and so on, relaxing each part. It may help to fast tense the part of the body. For instance, it is easier to relax the face if you first tighten it into a grimace, then let it go.

As your body begins to feel warm and heavy, imagine that you are floating in warm water or drifting on clouds. Ten minutes far from the ordinary world will give you better perspective upon your return.