Relaxation and Contemplative Practices
Qigong translates into “energy skills” or “energy techniques”. This practice integrates awareness, movement, posture, and breathing techniques to work towards mind and body wellness. The practice is as simple as doing the Three Intentful Corrections or adjusting the posture, breathing, and mind. Qigong can be practiced seated, standing, lying down, and through moving meditations. Tai chi and qigong work synergistically to promote flexibility, balance, general health, and improve wellbeing. A qigong foundation is required for a tai chi practice.
Tai chi is the most well-known and popular form of moving Qigong. It combines traditional Chinese martial arts exercises with mediation. The basic principles include natural breathing, attention to efficient posture, and an awareness between force and relaxation.
Explore tai chi and qigong practice by visiting the link below.
Yoga translates as “yoke” or “union,” describing the integration of mind and body. The practice of yoga is a beneficial form of relaxation therapy and it has also been found to support positive lifestyle changes that may decrease coronary artery disease risk factors (i.e. blood pressure, inflammation). There are many forms of yoga, but the most popular of the disciplines in the United States is Hatha yoga, which focuses on asanas (postures) and breathing. Hatha yoga formats range from very vigorous, such as ashtanga yoga, to more gentle and mediative forms. You do not have to be extremely flexible to participate in a yoga class, and props such as blankets, straps and blocks may be used to assist you in the asanas.
Breath awareness and good breathing habits can release tension and aid in relaxation to reduce symptoms of stress and increase awareness of your inner sensations. The ebb and flow of our breath changes depending on activity or emotional state. When exercising or in panic our breathing rate increases and slows during sleep or times of relaxation. As you experiement with your practice, bring awareness to your breath when you are excited, angry, surprised, and relaxed and notice the changes. We have some measure of control over our breath and we can use it to help alleviate unwanted stress symptoms.
Belly vs chest breathing
A belly breath uses the diaphragm (i.e. ) and the abdominals to pull down and make room in the thoracic cavity to fully expand and inflate the lungs. This breath is slow and deep and can aid in relaxation.
A chest breath uses the diaphragm and chest muscles to pull up and expand the ribs and thoracic cavity up and out only allowing the upper portion of the lungs to inflate. This breath is short and quick and often seen in individuals with chronic diseases.
Deep breathing exercise
Exhale to a mental count that is twice as long as you inhale. With each breath cycle, increase the duration. Start by inhale counting, “one,” exhale counting, “one, two.” Inhale counting, “one, two,” exhale counting, “one, two, three, four.” Go up the scale to six counts in, twelve counts out. Then reverse.
Breathing exercise from Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Assume a comfortable posture lying on your back or sitting. If you are sitting, as best you can sit in a posture that embodies dignity, keeping the spine straight and let your shoulders drop.
- Allow your eyes to close, if it feels comfortable to you.
- Allow your attention to gently drift to your belly, as if you were coming upon a shy animal sunning itself on a tree stump in a clearing in the forest. Feel your belly rise or expand gently on the inbreath, and fall or recede on the outbreath.
- As best you can, maintain the focus on the various sensations associated with breathing, “being with” each inbreath for its full duration and “being with” each outbreath for its full duration, as if you were riding the waves of your own breathing.
- Every time you notice that your mind has wandered off the breath, notice what it was that carried you away, and then gently bring your attention back to your belly and the sensations associated with the breath coming in and with the breath going out.
- If your mind wanders away from the breath a thousand times, then your “job” is simply to notice what is on your mind at the moment that you come to realize that it is no longer on your breathing, and then to bring your attention back to the breath each and every time, no matter what it becomes preoccupied with. As best you can, continually rest in the awareness of the feeling of the breath moving in and out of the body, or come back to it over and over again.
Practice this exercise for fifteen minutes at a convenient time every day, whether you feel like it or not, for one week and see how it feels to incorporate a disciplined meditation practice into your life. Be aware of how it feels to spend some time each day just being with your breath without having to do anything.