Modern life can be crazy hectic. I may be training as a yoga instructor (which you’d think would make your life calm and laid back), but even I struggle to find the time to de-stress between training clients, studying, blogging, running the household and raising our 8-month-old daughter.
Mini relaxation exercises may seem like they’d be too short to have any decent effect but when practiced regularly they can actually be very beneficial.
The neverending stress of modern life
Our body’s natural fight-or-flight reaction to stress would typically be good if it was only kicking in during times of need – such as running away from dangerous things or getting us through an emergency situation.
However, when your body has no time to recover from this stress response thanks to a never-ending stream of emails in your inbox and constantly being on the go all day every day, it can begin to have a detrimental effect on your health. Also take into consideration that some of the activities we’ve come to think of as relaxing such as playing on your phone, going to the movies or watching television don’t actually give your brain a rest.
The stress hormones that should eventually subside are permanently turned ‘on’ which can affect a range of things including blood pressure, heart rate, sleep quality and even throw other hormone levels out of whack.
Here are some of my favourite mini relaxation exercises to help you manage stress throughout a busy day. There’s something for every situation no matter how little time you have. If you can’t find the time to do even the shortest exercise, it’s time to re-prioritise as this is important! And don’t forget, even though these exercises may seem simple, learning to turn off your mind and properly relax can take practice so don’t be discouraged if it’s tricky to stay focused to begin with.
If you’ve got a few minutes
Sit, stand or lie down with a straight back/good posture somewhere quiet – preferably outside where there’s some fresh air.
Relax your face, neck and shoulders, place your hands in your lap if seated, or on your belly or at your sides if lying down/standing. Take 10 slow deep breaths in and out through your nose.
While you’re doing it focus on filling your lungs top to bottom with oxygen; the feeling of your ribcage expanding outwards, and the rise of your chest and belly.
TIP: If you can’t get outside, this beginner’s meditation exercise in mindfulness can be done anywhere – I often do this in the morning when I wake up to start my day, at night just before I go to sleep to finish my day, when I’m especially stressed out or when I’m stuck in traffic in the car! Some other places you can do this is at your desk at work or school, or in the elevator between floors.
If you’ve got 15 minutes
Practice progressive muscle relaxation – a technique where you methodically tense and relax the muscles around your body. This shifts awareness to your physical body which helps take your mind off your busy day. Lie down in a comfortable position with your body relaxed. Work your way around each body part, contracting the muscles for a moment and releasing to relax.
Your sequence could be along the lines of: Hand (make a fist), biceps/upper arm, repeat hand and biceps on other arm, foot, calf/lower leg, thigh/upper leg, repeat other foot and leg. Buttocks (squeeze both at once), belly (tense), chest (exhale deeply), shoulders and neck (shrug shoulders), mouth (purse lips), eyes (squint closed), eyebrows (raise).
If you have half an hour
Exercising helps to detach our minds from everyday busy life by giving us physical movement to focus on. Performing a series of grounding yoga poses can help reduce stress and anxiety, and restore your energy. Perform the breathing exercise above to begin with, then spend 5 minutes in each of the following poses, or asanas:
On all fours, inhale and let your belly drop towards the floor, lifting your sitbones high and looking forward about half a metre in front of you (don’t overarch and take your gaze too far up).
Next, slowly exhale and round your back (like a cat arching up), hollowing at your belly, pulling your bellybutton in and tucking your head down between your biceps to look back towards your feet. Follow this breathing and movement pattern at your own pace.
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Come onto all fours on the floor with hands directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips with toes untucked/the backs of your feet laid flat on the floor.
Take your knees wide, bringing your toes together behind you and sink your butt back and down to rest over your feet.
Stretch your arms long in front of you, lightly pressing into your palms and each of your fingertips, keeping the elbows off the ground to activate the arm muscles all the way from your hands to your shoulders. Rest your forehead on the ground, or you can stack your fists on top of each other and rest your head on them.
Draw your belly in to gently activate it and breathe deep, slow breaths.
Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)
Lie on your back, bring your feet together close to your butt and let your knees drop out to the sides. Have your arms relaxed at your sides, maintain the natural curve/space in your lower back, and breathe freely. If it feels uncomfortable, slide your feet down further away from you.
Viparita Karani (Waterfall Pose)
Find some spare wall space and lie on your back with your legs straight up the wall. Flex your feet (as opposed to pointing your toes) to relax the muscles in your lower limbs. This is a great restorative pose and has the added bonus of helping to relieve tired legs.
Lie in a comfortable position on your back on the floor for 5-10 minutes, empty your mind and try to relax your entire body. If you struggle to lie still for so long, focus on your breathing – try to slow it down, keeping it deep and even. You could also take awareness around your body and relax each part as you focus on it; your head, neck, shoulders, back, arms, belly, hips and legs.
Images / NZ Real Health