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An Easy Way to Relieve Your Stress - by Jerry Ryan, Ph.D.

Did you ever wish that there were a nice, easy way to control your stress? Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some way that you could relax your neck and shoulders, relieve your headache, and get rid of that knot in your stomach? Well, there is a way to take care of all these things and you have full control of it twenty-four hours a day. All you need to do is focus on your breath.

 

Let me explain why breathing is the key to stress relief. Quite a bit of research has been done at the National Institutes of Health on the benefits of proper breathing. Taking long, deep breaths is the most natural way to relax. Of course, no one who has taken yoga, practiced martial arts, or studied meditation will find this surprising. Long thought to be a mystic aspect of these disciplines, scientists are now discovering that there is a direct relationship between the mind and body that can be accessed by proper breathing.

 

The traditional breathing methods in Western civilizations revolve around breathing with the chest only. If you ask someone to take a deep breath, you will see them push out their chest and raise their shoulders. This way of breathing does not fill the lungs to their full capacity; it only uses the top portion, leaving about one-third of the lungs. The Eastern civilizations teach a way of breathing that fills the lungs completely, resulting in a better exchange of oxygen in the process.

 

This method is done by breathing with the stomach, expanding it outward to draw the air to the bottom of the lungs first. Breathing with your stomach moves the diaphragm downward, allowing the lungs to fill more fully. This is followed by expanding the chest to fill the upper part of the lungs. It’s like filling a glass of water; you fill it from the bottom up.

 

You are probably wondering – ‘How does this deep breathing help reduce stress?’ It has to do with our nervous system. We all know that we have a central nervous system. But most people don't know that we also have an autonomic nervous system that works in conjunction with our central nervous system. The autonomic nervous system controls our heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, breathing, and other functions that we believe are totally involuntary. However, breathing is one part of the autonomic nervous system that we have control over whenever we wish to have control over it. The problem is that we let our breathing control us instead of controlling our breathing.

 

The autonomic nervous system consists of two separate parts -- the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The good way to look at these two parts of our body is like the accelerator pedal and the brake pedal on our car. The sympathetic nervous system speeds things up. It causes our heart rate to accelerate, our blood pressure to go up, our blood vessels to constrict, and the smooth muscles of our digestion system to slow their function. The body's reactions to the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system end up giving us the tight neck and shoulders, the nagging headache, and the tension in our stomach.

 

By contrast, the parasympathetic nervous system slows things down. Stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system slows our heart rate, decreases our blood pressure, dilates our blood vessels, and allows proper digestion to happen. When these changes occur, you feel less muscle tension, your headache subsides, and the knot in your stomach goes away.

 

So the next time that you feel tense and stressed out, look at your breathing. More than likely, you’ll be taking short, quick breaths that are all in your chest. Focus on breathing down into your stomach for a few moments and you’ll feel the tension start to drift away.

 

This article is a small sample of my personal coaching program called ‘The Answer Is Right Under Your Nose.’ It’s available under the Personal Coaching section of my website. You can become a better person in eight weeks through some simple steps like those that I have described in this article.



Jerry Ryan, PhD is a Natural Health Coach who teaches individuals and group classes on the scientifically documented benefits of natural health techniques.  He is also an internationally published author and has been a guest speaker at such places as NIKE World Headquarters.  For more information, his website is www.JerryRyanPhD.com



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