The premise behind these exercises, for me, has been the idea that my body was designed by God. By doing relaxation exercises, I'm just helping my body to behave as God designed it to. This means that I tend to put God in the center of these activities. The other premise is that the exercise is not as important as the effect. If the exercise makes me feel ill or makes me more tense, I'm not going to keep doing it.
Exercise #1: Prayer
Prayer is an invaluable tool in staying calm and fighting off stress. Often, I need to decompress, but no one is around to do that with. My best tool is prayer. It helps me focus on God, not the circumstances. I like to memorize scripture because it helps to have a ready defense when the negative thoughts come.
Exercise #2: Blogging
Blogging gives me a lot of comfort. Thinking about what I can write about today helps me not think about stress or pain. In thinking about these exercises, for example, I'm not thinking about the pain or stress. This is a healthy way to find out about yourself and your thoughts.
Exercise #3: Breathe
One of the hallmarks of relaxation is deep breathing. I've heard multiple ways to do this, so I don't think there's any wrong or right way to do this. The goal is just to breathe from your stomach or diaphragm. This gets more air into your lungs. Do this as slowly as you can; remember, the goal is to relax, not pass out.
Exercise #4: Imagery
Imagery is a good way to take your mind off your troubles. Here, you want to find an image that works on whatever goal you have for yourself.
If your goal is stress management, find an image that relaxes you (a pond, a peaceful meadow or a stream, for example). If pain management is your goal, try to find an image that represents your pain getting better.
What does your pain or stress feel, smell, look, sound and taste like? What would make those sensations go away? One image I use is a dragon's flame being put out. Another, which represents the nerves behaving themselves is to imagine a healing light traveling from my head down my spine and through my left leg. This is the most successful for me.
Remember that you won't always agree with or like everyone elses' image. Your image is uniquely yours, so don't try to change it just because it isn't like mine.
Exercise #5: Relaxing your muscles
This exercise is based somewhat on imagery. Imagine each muscle group getting more relaxed. Some people prefer to use a technique called progressive muscle relaxation. Here, you tense each muscle group, them relax it. I can't do this comfortably, so I don't like it, but you may find it helpful.
Exercise #6: Aesthetic Appreciation
In this exercise, distraction is key. Find an object, food or place that makes you feel good. Then, think about what in this object makes you feel good. Do you like the smell? The taste? The color? The texture? The sound? Focus on these ideas as though you were trying to describe it to your friend. What would you tell her? You don't have to write it down, but it can be helpful if you enjoy writing.
I do this over at Brewberry's or even on a walk. The sensation of Julio's pull against the harness. The smell of the flowers and the freshly-cut grass. The taste of the latté and muffin. All of these things are positives. Focusing on them lifts the mood.
Exercise #7: Listen to music
This one is great if you have chronic pain. Studies say that music can reduce pain and depression linked to it by about 20%. Music is a form of distraction, and it works incredibly well.
Create your own!
These are just a few of the things I've used to deal with my stress and pain. You may find others, such as reading a good book or using nice-smelling lotions or essential oils. Whatever you do, just remember, it's not the exercise that's important. Don't critique your breathing technique or beat yourself up if you do it differently than I say. Just relax!