4 Simple Breathing Practices To Relieve Stress & Tension

Written by Florence Parot
Florence Parot is a Sophrology practitioner, stress and sleep expert, and author.

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It's easy to get stressed from day-to-day to-do lists and ongoing projects. It's helpful to have some expert-approved techniques to calm your nervous system so you can recharge for what's to come. Sophrology is a wellness philosophy that blends teachings from Western and Eastern meditation practices to provide mental and physical relaxation. Florence Parot, an expert in stress management and author of the new book The Sophrology Method, helps people to tune into their body and environment for greater clarity, relaxation, and resilience. In this excerpt from her new book, you'll learn four simple breathing and movement practices for releasing stress. No matter the time of day or situation, these are sure to help you unwind.

1. Shoulder pumping

Five minutes

This dynamic relaxation exercise is one of my personal favorites for stress-busting. It also gives me a lot of energy. Give it a go, moving your shoulders gently or with a lot of energy, depending on what feels right and paying attention to any pain you may have. Always be respectful of how you feel on the day. 

Standing up and with your eyes closed, perform a short body scan.

Breathing in, bring your shoulders up, fists closed. Holding your breath, do an "up and down" movement with your shoulders. Make it as brisk or as gentle as you want. When you need to, breathe out loudly and let go of shoulders, arms, hands. 

Repeat three times.

Come back into the room. How do you feel in your shoulders, back, whole body? Generally speaking?

2. Tense and release

15 minutes

You can practice this dynamic relaxation exercise sitting, standing, or lying down. The exercise here uses all parts of the body, but you can also use just one area or skip one if something is painful. Always adapt the strength of the muscle contraction to what feels right—it can be very gentle or more intense, depending on what suits you in the moment. It is the release after the tension that is the most important thing, and that reaction helps the body relax. 

Standing up or sitting down, with your eyes closed, perform a body scan.

Breathe in and gently contract the muscles in your face, sensing any tension or discomfort. Breathe out loudly, let go, and completely relax the muscles, letting the tensions flow away. Do this three times and listen to how you feel inside. 

Repeat the same thing with your neck, then with your arms, chest, abdomen, back, legs, and then your whole body. Each time you breathe in, tense the muscles in the relevant area, then breathe out and relax deeply. 

Do three times on each part of the body and three times with the whole body. Take time to listen in after you have worked on each area and again at the very end, after you have focused on the whole body.

Come back into the room. How do you feel?

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3. Bubble breathing

10 to 20 minutes

This is my "signature" exercise, my personal take on a classic Sophrology practice. It was a huge help to me when I was battling burnout. The image of the bubbles can make it easier to visualize the positive and negative. Breathe naturally as you do this exercise.

Sitting down and with your eyes closed, perform a body scan. Now bring your attention to your breathing. Don't change anything, keep breathing naturally.

Each time you breathe out, imagine that a flow of dark bubbles is leaving your body, taking away the stress, tensions, anxieties... 

Each time you breathe in, imagine that a flow of golden bubbles is coming into you, bringing in peace, calmness, and quiet or anything else you may be needing at this moment. 

Keep going for as long as feels right for you. Then stop and take a little time to simply listen to your body, to how you are feeling now.

Come back into the room. How do you feel? How easy or difficult was it to use the different colored bubbles? Were they leaving and coming into one part of your body in particular or the whole body? 

4. Back-home visualization

15 to 20 minutes

This technique is particularly useful if you have difficulty letting go of work stress once you are home—thinking about it, worrying about it. If you work from home, you can adapt it, imagining you are closing the door to your study for instance. 

Sitting down and with your eyes closed, perform a body scan.

Imagine yourself leaving work. Picture yourself closing the door behind you. See the journey back home: the train or the car or any other means of transport you use.

Then see yourself in front of the door of your house or flat. Go in the way you usually do—inserting the key, ringing the doorbell or whatever it may be. Picture your entrance. Perhaps there is someone to greet you. Stop on the doorstep and have a look at what you see inside, the hallway, the room, whatever it is you see on first arriving home.

Once you've gone in, choose a place in the house that you particularly like. You can see yourself choosing it, where you need to go to get there, the place you settle in, where you sit or lie down. Notice your body position, your arms, your legs. Be aware of how your body feels after a day's work. Then take a break and relax. Enjoy the present, being there. 

Take a little time to listen to how you are feeling. Stretch, rub your hands, and open your eyes. How do you feel?

Based on excerpts from The Sophrology Method by Florence Parot with the permission of Octopus Publishing. Copyright ©2019.

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