Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

By Val Silver

Mindfulness based stress reduction exercises and techniques help reduce anxious and stressful feelings. Mind body exercises work well because as you put your attention on your breath or other point of focus, you take yourself out of the past or future. Only when fully present, even for brief moments, can you relax, heal and be creative.

Much of what we stress and feel anxious over is in the past or future.  But the past is over. The only place it lives and comes to life is in your mind. You will save yourself much stress and grief if you take steps to deal with past trauma and future worries. 

What we fret about in the future rarely materializes as we imagine it.  Even if our worst fears do come to pass, unproductive worry sacrifices the precious time and energy you need to live fully in the present.

Remember this:

Only the present is real and it is happening at this very moment.

stress reduction exercises, yesterday is gone quote by mother Teresa

3 Mind Body Stress Reduction Exercises

Mindfulness based stress reduction exercises help you stay present. A key point of mind body exercises is focus. You focus on something you can observe. It can be something in your environment or something you are doing. To instill a sense of calm and connection with the self, the focus is often on the breath.

The following mind body exercises for stress relief may seem simple, but do not let that fool you. Sometimes simple things are the most powerful and beneficial, especially when done with intention and focus.  

Practice Mindfulness

The beauty of this mindfulness based stress reduction exercise is that it takes almost no time and can be done anywhere. Try fitting into your routine a few times during the day.

Every once in while, simply check in with your mind and body. Focus only on yourself and what you notice in the present. Do you feel tension anywhere? Is your mind stressed? If so, take a slow deep breath and let it out. Close your eyes and enjoy a big stretch to help release physical and mental tension.

Mindfulness can also be practiced by listening attentively to someone else or by focusing on the world around you. While riding my bike or taking a walk, I spend a few minutes noticing all I see, and then all I hear. It's amazing how much you notice once you bring your attention to your environment instead of the images and stories going on in your head.

One of the great benefits of stress reduction techniques like medtation and hypnosis is that by focusing on the breath, mantra or relaxing scene, you are being present for a period of time so your mind and body relax and slow down.

CDs that play music with binaural beats work by slowing your brain waves so you relax and are receptive to visualization, affirmations and suggestions for manifesting wellness and your other desires.

A nice way to practice mindfulness if you don't want to sit still is to do a walking meditation. Walk at a leisurely pace and observe the sights, smells, and sounds around you. Really tune in to each sense. This a great way to focus on the present moment instead of what's troubling you, even if it's just for a few minutes. 

Speaking of walking...

Practice mindful exercises

If you are hyped up and distressed, find an excuse to get moving.

Exercising is an important strategy for reducing stress and building health. When stress hormones flood the body, any kind of brisk movement and exercise help your body return to normal faster. Go for a bicycle ride, run, clean your house, dance. As you exercise, pay attention to your breath. Notice how your arms and legs are moving and they feel as they are moving. Make sure the type and intensity of exercise you choose makes you feel good and not more stressed out. 

Tai Chi, Chi Gong, and Yoga are ancient mind body exercises designed to give you the benefit of moving the body while focusing on the breath and postures. They have a long history of connecting mind and body while reducing stress.

It is best to incorporate these practices into your regular exercise routine and at times when you need a break from the thoughts and situations that are worrying you or making you feel overwhelmed.  

Try qigong stress reduction exercises with the video below titled "Qi Gong for stress relief simple exercises". Don't be fooled by the apparent simplicity of the routine - all the better to help you focus on your mind-body connection and relax. Masters spend years perfecting mind body exercises. 

Practice conscious breathing

The act of breathing sounds so basic and automatic it hardly sounds like a mind body exercise for stress relief. Breathing is one body function you can consciously control. Ignore it and it will resume automatically. With conscious effort, you can stop breathing for a time or alter how you breathe. 

The simple act of taking a conscious deep belly breath and letting it out slowly has a profound effect on mind and body. It sends a message to the nervous system to calm down. It is a wonderful mindfulness based stress reduction exercise that can be done anywhere at any time for immediate relief.

According to Dr. Andrew Weil, "Practicing regular, mindful breathing can be calming and energizing and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders."

When feeling stressed or anxious we tend to take lots of shallow chest breaths. These shallow breaths actually signal your mindbody to feel more anxious. Slow down and take a deep focused breath. Let it out slowly or with a woosh.

Some people enjoy counting breaths. This is based on the practice of Pranayama, the breathing exercises of yoga. One controlled breathing method is to breathe in to the count of four, hold one count, exhale to the count of four. Sometimes a spontaneous releasing breath follows right after a controlled breath. Let it happen. Those feel great!

Watch as Dr. Mercola demonstrates the 4-7-8 breath in this video titled "An important breathing exercise".

The 4-7-8 breathing exercise:

This stress reduction exercise acts as a natural tranquilizer for your nervous system. It tones your other systems as well and sends lots of rich oxygenated blood to the cells.

You may feel that breathing in this way is difficult at first. With practice it will get easier. It may help to shorten the counts at first. Build up with time.

The main idea is to focus and relax during the exercise. If your body initiates a deep spontaneous breath before completing the cycle, let it. Then continue with the exercise until you complete four rounds.

1. Sit up straight.
2. Keep the tip of your tongue up against the back of your front teeth.
3. Breathe in silently through your nose as you count to four.
4. Hold your breath for seven counts.
5. Exhale through your mouth for eight counts while making the “woosh” sound out loud.
6. This is one full breath. Repeat steps 1-5 for a total of four rounds.

Repeat this stress reduction exercise up to four times throughout the day. After a month or so, start building up to eight full rounds if you wish. 

These three mindfulness based stress reduction exercises help you ease daily stress and bring you back to the present moment where there is greater ease and ability to deal constructively with whatever is troubling you. When you are mindful and present, it is not possible to fret about the past or the future. Eventually, the goal is to be mindful and present as often as possible. You can maintain this state of mind even as you make plans for the future.

Related Pages

Mindfulness based stress reduction exercises page updated 12/2020

Source: MBSR: 25 Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Exercises and Courses

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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