Relaxation techniques are powerful for all sorts of conditions and concerns. Mind/body focused psychotherapist Alena Gerst, LCSW, RYT, uses them to treat symptoms caused by chronic illness, pain, anxiety and depression.
Dezryelle Arcieri, LMFT, a psychotherapist and yoga instructor, uses these techniques to help her clients gain acceptance and create space for their experience. (She prefers not to use the term “relaxation techniques,” because she believes it creates pressure and expectation.) “Our focus is on ‘being,’ rather than ‘doing,’” she said.
When Nancy G. Shapiro’s clients are struggling with anxiety, chronic exhaustion or overwhelmed feelings that affect their daily lives, she talks to them about “fierce self-care.” Shapiro, a coach and workshop leader, uses the term “fierce” to emphasize the significance of self-care. She also believes that self-kindness is a key ingredient. Which she defines as “a progressively deeper knowing that caring for your own body and mind starts with being kind to the one person you may have forgotten—you.”
Below, you’ll find a list of lesser-known relaxation techniques to try.
Practice Ujjayi breathing. Start by breathing through your mouth for several breath cycles, Gerst said. “[N]otice the feeling of the air passing through your throat. Then slightly constrict the back of the throat, so your breath slows down and your breathing sounds like the ocean—or like Darth Vader.” In addition to practicing this when you spot the early signs of stress and anxiety, Gerst suggested doing it as you’re tackling daily tasks.
Label your experience. “This is a practice that’s often done in mindfulness meditation, but it can really be done anytime, anywhere,” Arcieri said. It’s particularly helpful in creating space for difficult thoughts and feelings. As you go about your day, notice what you’re experiencing, and label it. For instance, you might label your experience or emotion as “judgment,” “desire,” “aversion,” “sadness,” “anger.”
“Then, allow this experience to be as it is, and let go of any need to change or alter your experience in any way.” This lets you figure out what you’d like to do with your experience, she said. “You can go on simply noticing your experience as it is, or maybe you will find that your experience is not useful or helpful in any way and decide to change it.”
Use lavender oil. Lavender oil has been used as medicine for thousands of years. Today, research has found that lavender oil, particularly Lavender Angustifolia, may improve sleep and diminish pain and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Before going to bed, Arcieri suggested putting several drops of lavender oil in a diffuser.
Try Viparita Karani. This is also known as Legs Up The Wall Pose, which looks like this. It simply includes kicking your legs up a wall and closing your eyes, Arcieri said. “This restorative posture is naturally relaxing as it reduces blood pressure; stimulates blood circulation; relieves swelling in the lower body; calms symptoms of anxiety; and aids in sleep.”
Find internal and external safety. This is known as “resourcing.” Arcieri uses this technique to help clients find internal safety—thoughts, emotions, sensations—and external safety—objects, behaviors, environment. Resourcing “leads to a natural sense of relaxation or wellbeing,” she said. For instance, to manage your discomfort or emotions, you might try a grounding exercise and breathing techniques. To ensure external safety, you might surround yourself with supportive people and have a plan when you’re facing a potentially anxiety-provoking situation. Think of the different ways you can find internal and external safety.
Face your worries. Sometimes, we try a range of relaxation techniques to no avail. We still feel frustrated or overwhelmed or angry or devastated. That’s because we haven’t tackled the root of the concern. Unaddressed, the issue continues to linger in the background and bother us.
Maybe it’s a small concern but it still keeps you up at night. For instance, one of Shapiro’s clients was moving his office. He had a pile of Post-It notes, each one packed with tiny, scribbled lists. He finally gathered them, and created one cohesive list. “On discovering how redundant the tiny lists were, he told me all the worry and avoidance had left him with a big whoosh,” said Shapiro, author of the forthcoming The Book of Calm: Clarity, Compassion, and Choice in a Turbulent World. “Within two weeks he’d taken care of tasks that had caused him anxiety for over three months.”
Other clients have found it liberating to have difficult conversations with supervisors or family members. “One client said it was like a mountain slid off her shoulders,” Shapiro said. “Another said he could breathe again.”
Gerst stressed the importance of incorporating these techniques into our daily routines—instead of trying them when we’re in the throes of a stressful situation. “[I]f you practice regularly when you are not stressed, you will reduce the impact of stressful situations when they come ahead of time.” Plus, the above techniques are a powerful way to care for ourselves, a powerful way to honor our emotions and experiences.