Relaxation techniques for stress and anxiety With Phil Aston

The breath is the perfect object for your attention. It’s free, non taxable, you take it everywhere you go, if you forget it, you can find it again, you are NEVER too busy to do it. It is your passport to the here and now, the present moment.  

It is said that your appointment with life only exists in the present moment, yesterday is today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s fantasy.  We breath in and out over 21,600 times a day, please use the following exercises to help you re-connect with your life in the here and now.

In normal or uncontrolled habitual breathing most people do not breathe efficiently, and as result, use only a fraction of their lung capacity. When people are stressed or anxious they breathe from their chests, taking rapid shallow breaths or worse they hold their breaths. Without sufficient oxygen, we become fatigued and lethargic.  You may wish to print this page off and tape yourself,  and then play it back to follow the lessons at your own pace.

Basic Breathing technique 1
The following exercise will introduce you to the three parts of the lungs and the complete yogic breath.

This is a simple technique, which introduces you to your own respiratory system and breathing patterns.
It is very relaxing and maybe practiced at anytime. Awareness of the breathing process is itself sufficient to slow down the respiratory rate and establish a more relaxed rhythm.

  • Sit in any comfortable position or lie in shavasana and practice complete body stillness, for a few minutes. 

  • Start to become aware of your natural breath – do not try to change your breathing pattern – whatever it is, just become aware of it – total awareness of your natural incoming and outgoing breath. 

  • Observe this natural process that has been occurring throughout your life, and which has always been taken for granted.

    We breath day and night, and yet we are normally not aware of even one breath. Be aware now of each and every breath that you take.
    Do not interfere with the natural rhythm of you breathing. Simply be aware as a witness of each respiration.
    Become increasingly more conscious of your breath.
    Let yourself relax into its continual smooth ebb and flow.

  • Come closer and closer to your breath, notice how your breath is flowing, is it coming fast or slow?, shallow or deep?, irregular even, are you sometimes gasping for breath? 

  • Do not alter or try to control your breath, just make a note as silent observer of how you are breathing, keep your awareness on each and every in breath and out breath, without missing a single breath. 

  • Begin to say mentally, ‘I am aware that I am breathing in, I am aware that I am breathing out’ continue in this way in your own time.

  • Continue to observe the natural and spontaneous breathing process.
    Developing total awareness of the rhythmic flow of the breath.

  • Feel the breath flowing in and out of the nose.
    Do not control the breath in anyway.

  • Notice that the breath is cool as it enters the nostrils and warm as it flows out.
    Observe this with the attitude of a detached witness.

  • Feel the breath flowing in and out at the back of the mouth above the throat.
    Bring the awareness down to the region of the throat and feel the breath flowing in the throat.

  • Bring the awareness down to the region of the chest and feel the breath flowing in the trachea and bronchial tubes.

  • Next, feel the breath flowing in the lungs.
    Be aware of the lungs expanding and relaxing.

  • Shift the attention to the rib cage and observe the expansion and relaxation of this area.

  • Bring the awareness down to the abdomen. Feel the abdomen move upward on inhalation and downward on exhalation.

  • Finally, become aware of the whole breathing process from the nostrils to the abdomen and continue to observe for sometime.
    Bring the awareness back to observing the physical body as one unit and open the eyes.

  • Additional counting element (optional to basic breathing)
    Now, begin to count your respiration back from twenty seven to zero, continue mentally saying, ‘I am aware that I am breathing in, I am aware that I am
    breathing out, twenty seven.

    I am aware that I am breathing in, I am aware that I am breathing out, twenty six. Continue in this manner down to zero.

    If you miss one breath then begin again from twenty seven.
    The object is not to reach zero but to keep your awareness fixed closely on every breath. When you reach zero, become aware of your body sitting or lying on the floor, gradually extravert your awareness.

    Now slowly open your eyes.

Basic Breathing technique 2 – YOGA NIDRA 
This technique is more meditative.  Visualisation and body awareness can help anchor the mind to the breath which in essence help the student stay relaxed but aware.

Before you start

Relax your toes, flex your ankles, loosen your legs, without bending your knees.  Roll your hips from left to right and lower them down. Lift them up and down gently. Relax the lower part of your body.

Move your fingers. Flex your wrists. Relax your arms and shoulders. Keeping your head and hips on the ground lift your chest gently up and down. Roll your head from left to right. Keep your head straight. Relax your upper part of your body. Detach your mind and lie peacefully for a minute.

Now we will practice the rotation of awareness as you move your mind from one part of the body to another – keep your body still.

  • One
    Be aware of your left toes, one by one, from the little to the big toe, the sole of the foot, the heel, the ankle, the top of the foot and back again to the toes. Move the mind from your left ankle up your leg to the knee, becoming aware of the calf muscles, your shin bone, your knee joint, then downward, feeling the relaxation and regeneration of each part. Imagine the flow of prana, or a gentle current, along the leg, upward as you inhale and downward as you exhale. Repeat a few times. Move your mind up your thigh from your knee to your pelvis, and down again. Be aware of the muscles, bones ligaments and joints, as you inhale and exhale freely. Repeat along the right leg

  • Two
    Be aware of the rise and fall of your abdomen, as you inhale and exhale. Feel the muscles relaxing and being re-generated.
    Move your mind to your abdominal organs. Dwell on each for a few seconds: the colon, the bladder, the sexual organs, the intestines, the spleen to the lower left, and the liver to the upper right, the pancreas, the stomach.

  • Three
    Be aware of your buttocks, your lower and upper back. Move your mind along the spine upward and downward, from the coccyx to the cervical vertebrae, feeling the regeneration of the discs, joints and the spinal cord. Synchronise the movement with your breath, inhaling with the upward breath and exhaling with the downward.

  • Four
    Be aware of the movement of your chest, feeling the relaxation and re-generation of the muscles.
    Place your awareness in your left lung, then the right lung, the bronchial tubes connecting the trachea, up and down it, and feel your heartbeat. Move your awareness from the left kidney to the right.

  • Five
    Be aware of the fingers of your left hand, from the little finger to the thumb, the palms, the back of your hand and wrist.
    Move upward along your forearm, from the wrist to the elbow, and downward towards the wrist. Repeat with your upper arm. Do the same with the right arm.

  • Six
    Be aware of your throat and neck, the back of your head, your jaws, your cheeks, your chin, your lips and nose.
    The inside of your mouth and nose, your left eye lid, the same with the right eye, your left and right eyebrow, your forehead. Relax it.
    Move to your left and right temple, your left ear and inside it, the same with the right ear, then the top of your head. Feel the coolness of your breath inside your head, as you inhale. Detach your mind and lie peacefully for about five mins.

  • Body/floor Awareness
    Become aware of the space occupied by the body. Become aware of the body…. And this space that is occupied by your body….body and space…become aware of the whole body and the floor, the whole body in relation to the floor….and at the same time become aware of the meeting points of the body and the floor.

    Feel the meeting points between the back of your head and the floor……shoulderblades and the floor….the elbows and the floor…..the back of the hands and the floor…..the buttocks and the floor….the calves and the floor…..the heels and the floor…………

    Awareness of all the meeting points between body and floor. Go on feeling these points clearly and distinctly, please do not sleep. Now switch your attention to your eyelids….feel the narrow line of meeting between the upper and lower eyelids and now your lips – the line between the lips.

  • Heaviness
    Now awaken the feeling of heaviness in the body, become aware of heaviness in every part of the body, imagine yourself sinking into the floor, every time you breath out feel your self sinking further in the floor.

  • Lightness
    Now awaken the feeling of lightness in the body. A sensation of lightness and weightlessness in all the parts of the body. Imagine your body feeling so light that it seems to be floating away from the floor, with every out breath your body is feeling lighter.

    Basic Breathing technique 3Yoga of the small exit 
    I now want you create a beautiful and restful place. Imagine yourself lying in the sunshine on a beautiful beach

    Can you feel the sand?

    How warm is the sand

    Are there flowers nearby?

    If so, where and what kind?

    What scent do they have?

    Can you hear the sea

    Can you smell the sea air?

    What season is it?

    What time of day?

    Is there a breeze?

    If so, how strong?

    Are there any other scents?

    How hard is the ground?

    What is touching your body?

    Are there any other sounds – birds? If so what kind?

    Build your scene in your mind with details from all the senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

    Now just relax and experience being there, don’t try to imagine it anymore thoroughly; just experience the feeling and sensations of being in that special place.
    Allow life to come to you, without reaching out for anything at all. Whatever is there is your life in that moment.

    Now bring your awareness back to your breathing , become aware of your arms and legs and your body lying stretched out on the floor……the meeting points of your body on the floor.
    Develop awareness of the room, walls, ceiling…noises in the room and noises outside.

    Start moving your fingers and toes…. take your arms straight over head and stretch through the body.

    And being gentle with yourself slowly come up to sitting.

    Notes on Yogic Complete breathing 
    The complete yogic breath encompasses the three components of complete breathing – abdominal, thoracic and clavicular. This entails breathing into the bottom of the lungs, after this full abdominal expansion the chest is expanded outwards and upwards, at the end of this movement inhaling in continued feeling the collarbone and shoulders being drawn towards your head. This fills the upper lobes of the lungs and completes one inhalation. The whole process is one continuous movement.

    Bibliography  [back]
    Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
    (Bihar School of Yoga 1997) books

    Prana Pranayama Prana Vidya by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
    (Bihar School of Yoga 1998) books

    Yoga Nidra by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
    (Bihar School of Yoga 1998) books

    Breath by Breath by Larry Rosenberg
    (Shambhala 1998) books

    Awakening The Buddha Within by Lama Suryadas
    (Bantam Books 1997) books

    Moon over Water by Jessica Macbeth
    (Gateway Books 1997) books