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  Calming / Stretching Exercises  
 
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Calming exercise or motions and controlled breathing can have dramatic stress and tension-reducing effects. Maintaining flexibility by stretching routines can enhance balance and reduce injuries. Yoga, Tai Chi, abdominal breathing and Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) are among many techniques that have been used successfully to deal with the effects of stress and generally improve health. Yoga
Yoga is a collections of postures and breathing techniques that can be done at any age, in any state of health, and anywhere. The many claimed physical benefits of yoga include:

  • improved flexibility and muscle joint mobility
  • strengthened, toned, and increased musculature
  • improved posture and strengthened spine
  • improved muscular/skeletal conditions such as back pain, bad knees, tight shoulders and neck, swayback and scoliosis
  • improved stamina and balance
  • stimulation of the glands of the endocrine system
  • improved digestion and elimination
  • increased circulation, and can be particularly beneficial for varicose veins.
  • improvement of heart conditions and breathing disorders
  • better immune response
  • decreased cholesterol and blood sugar levels
  • easier weight loss
  • increased body awareness
  • relief of chronic stress patterns in the body
  • relief of muscle strain which in turn refreshes the body
  • relaxation of the mind and body
  • more centered attention and sharpened concentration
To the beginner, yoga can present a bewildering array of schools, traditions, and claims. If you're young and in great condition, power yoga might be just what you're looking for. Hatha yoga is more for those who are interested only in the physical benefits of yoga. When looking for a class, ask questions that reflect your level of interest and abilities. Ask the instructor how difficult the class is and inform them of any disabilities you have.

Tai Chi
Tai chi chuan stimulates the central nervous system, lowers blood pressure, relieves stress, and gently tones muscles without strain. It also enhances digestion, elimination of wastes and the circulation of blood. Moreover, tai chi's rhythmic movements massage the internal organs and improve their functionality. Perhaps tai chi's greatest attribute, however, is the fact that it channels the flow of chi (intrinsic energy) through the body's meridians. According to traditional Chinese medicine, as long as this flow is uninhibited, a person will remain healthy. If the flow of chi becomes obstructed or unbalanced, illness will result.

Abdominal Breathing
Some of the benefits of abdominal breathing include increased oxygen supply to the brain and musculature and stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system. This branch of your autonomic nervous system promotes a state of calmness and quiescence. It works in a fashion exactly opposite to the sympathetic branch of your nervous system, which stimulates a state of emotional arousal and the very physiological reactions underlying a panic attack. There is a greater sense of connectedness between mind and body. While anxiety and worry tend to keep you "up in your head", a few minutes of deep abdominal breathing will help bring you down into your whole body.

Here is one training technique that people have found useful when faced with a stressful situation or when feeling threatened. It is very useful in helping one remain calm and relaxed. It is presented in three easy steps. Start with the first step, until you've mastered it, then progress to the next step. Once you have reached the third step, you will have learned the Calming Breath Technique. Once steps 1 and 2 are learned, step 3 is the exercise that is used daily or in times of stress.

Preparation
Wear loose fitting attire, if opportunity allows, so that you are comfortable. Make sure that you can breathe through your nose. If you have a cold, do not practice this exercise until you can breathe clearly.

Step One
Lie flat on your back. Put one hand on your stomach, and the other hand on your chest. Relax. Inhale so that the hand on your stomach rises, while the hand on your chest is still. Exhale so that the hand on your stomach goes down again, and the hand on your chest remains still. Repeat for 5 breaths.

Now, when you inhale, breathe in so that the hand on your chest rises, while the hand on your stomach is still. Exhale so that the hand on your chest goes down again, while the hand on your stomach remains still. Repeat for 5 breaths.
Alternate between stomach and chest breathing for 5 minutes. Make sure you've mastered this step before moving on.

Step Two
This step combines stomach and chest breathing into one breath. This is the Calming Breath. Lie flat on your back. Put one hand on your stomach, and the other hand on your chest. Relax.

Begin by stomach breathing. When you feel you can't inhale any more in this manner, switch to chest breathing, until the upper part of your lungs are filled. Then exhale by chest breathing first, progressing to stomach breathing so that you empty the lungs fully. Repeat for 5 minutes.

Breathe slowly. If you feel dizzy, slow down, you are breathing too fast. If you are out of breath, you are breathing too slowly. Listen to your own body's messages. If you are having difficulty distinguishing chest breathing from stomach breathing, go back to Step One.

Step Three
Stand or sit with your back straight. Use the Calming Breath and follow this pattern. You will have to count the rhythm in your head. Count to 4 while inhaling, hold your breath and count to 4, then count to 4 while exhaling. Once you've mastered this you may use a 4-4-4-4 rhythm is you prefer. It adds and extra step of holding your breath after exhaling and counting to 4. Take care not to hold your breath too long. Again, listen to your body. Repeat for 5 minutes, or until you are calm.

Practice so that the Calming Breath Technique becomes effortless, and inaudible. This technique can be used in almost any setting.


Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
Edmund Jacobson developed this technique in the 1920s-40s. He believed that if a person could learn enough skeletal muscle control that they could promptly relax the muscle from a tense state, it would greatly reduce the ensuing stress response. In other words, a person might be able to stop the vicious cycle of stress by intervening during the muscle-tensing stage. This is accomplished by intentional tension/relaxation routines. Tense specific muscles/muscle groups, then specifically relax them. Move on to the next muscle/group. This can initiate the relaxation response, induce sleep and reduce muscle pain.
 

 
 

Calming / Stretching Exercises can help with the following:
 
 
Circulation  Atherosclerosis
 Mind/body techniques, such as yoga, meditation, relaxation, and biofeedback show promise in increasing cardiovascular health.

  Hypertension
 The relaxation and exercise components of yoga have a major role to play in the treatment and prevention of high blood pressure. A combination of biofeedback and yogic breathing and relaxation techniques has been found to lower blood pressure and reduce the need for high blood pressure medication. In 20 patients with high blood pressure who practiced biofeedback and yoga techniques, 5 were able to stop their blood pressure medication completely, 5 were able to reduce significantly the amount of medication they were taking, and another 4 experienced lower blood pressure at the end of the 3 month study.

  Varicose Veins
 Yoga' s stretching and relaxation techniques can be particularly beneficial for varicose veins.

Habits

  Calming / Stretching Exercise Need

Immunity

  Chronic Fatigue / Fibromyalgia Syndrome
 Studies from Texas Tech University found that the yoga postures helped increase circulation to the limbs and decreased physically related anxiety. FMS sufferers frequently complain about decreased energy, but the Tech subjects reported that the yoga exercises actually increased energy levels.

  Weakened Immune System
 This study points to specific protective benefits as related to shingles and aging. There may a broader, yet untested protective benefit against infectious disease.

Tai chi chih, the Westernized version of the 2,000-year-old Chinese martial art characterized by slow movement and meditation, significantly boosts the immune systems of older adults against the virus that leads to the painful, blistery rash known as shingles, according to a new UCLA study.

The 25-week study, which involved a group of 112 adults ranging in age from 59 to 86, showed that practicing tai chi chih alone boosted immunity to a level comparable to having received the standard vaccine against the shingles-causing varicella zoster virus. When tai chi chih was combined with the vaccine, immunity reached a level normally seen in middle age. The report appears in the April issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, currently online.

The results, said lead author Michael Irwin, the Norman Cousins Professor of Psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, confirm a positive, virus-specific immune response to a behavioral intervention. The findings demonstrate that tai chi chih can produce a clinically relevant boost in shingles immunity and add to the benefit of the shingles vaccine in older adults.

"These are exciting findings, because the positive results of this study also have implications for other infectious diseases, like influenza and pneumonia," said Irwin, who is also director of the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology. "Since older adults often show blunted protective responses to vaccines, this study suggests that tai chi is an approach that might complement and augment the efficacy of other vaccines, such as influenza."

The study divided individuals into two groups. Half took tai chi chih classes three times a week for 16 weeks, while the other half attended health education classes - including advice on stress management, diet and sleep habits - for the same amount of time and did not practice tai chi chih. After 16 weeks, both groups received a dose of the shingles vaccine Varivax. At the end of the 25-week period, the tai chi chih group achieved a level of immunity two times greater than the health education group. The tai chi chih group also showed significant improvements in physical functioning, vitality, mental health and reduction of bodily pain

The research follows the success of an earlier pilot study that showed a positive immune response from tai chi chih but did not assess its effects when combined with the vaccine.

The varicella zoster virus is the cause of chickenpox in kids. Children who get chickenpox generally recover, but the virus lives on in the body, remaining dormant. As we age, Irwin said, our weakening immune systems may allow the virus to reemerge as shingles. Approximately one-third of adults over 60 will acquire the infection at some point.

Infections

  Shingles (Herpes Zoster)
 Tai chi chih, the Westernized version of the 2,000-year-old Chinese martial art characterized by slow movement and meditation, significantly boosts the immune systems of older adults against the virus that leads to the painful, blistery rash known as shingles, according to a new UCLA study.

The 25-week study, which involved a group of 112 adults ranging in age from 59 to 86, showed that practicing tai chi chih alone boosted immunity to a level comparable to having received the standard vaccine against the shingles-causing varicella zoster virus. When tai chi chih was combined with the vaccine, immunity reached a level normally seen in middle age. The report appears in the April issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, currently online.

The results, said lead author Michael Irwin, the Norman Cousins Professor of Psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, confirm a positive, virus-specific immune response to a behavioral intervention. The findings demonstrate that tai chi chih can produce a clinically relevant boost in shingles immunity and add to the benefit of the shingles vaccine in older adults.

"These are exciting findings, because the positive results of this study also have implications for other infectious diseases, like influenza and pneumonia," said Irwin, who is also director of the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology. "Since older adults often show blunted protective responses to vaccines, this study suggests that tai chi is an approach that might complement and augment the efficacy of other vaccines, such as influenza."

The study divided individuals into two groups. Half took tai chi chih classes three times a week for 16 weeks, while the other half attended health education classes - including advice on stress management, diet and sleep habits - for the same amount of time and did not practice tai chi chih. After 16 weeks, both groups received a dose of the shingles vaccine Varivax. At the end of the 25-week period, the tai chi chih group achieved a level of immunity two times greater than the health education group. The tai chi chih group also showed significant improvements in physical functioning, vitality, mental health and reduction of bodily pain

The research follows the success of an earlier pilot study that showed a positive immune response from tai chi chih but did not assess its effects when combined with the vaccine.

The varicella zoster virus is the cause of chickenpox in kids. Children who get chickenpox generally recover, but the virus lives on in the body, remaining dormant. As we age, Irwin said, our weakening immune systems may allow the virus to reemerge as shingles. Approximately one-third of adults over 60 will acquire the infection at some point.

Mental

  Depression
 A few studies have looked at the effects of yoga breathing exercises, practiced daily for several weeks, on depression. One study showed that breathing exercises produced faster improvement than no treatment. Another study found that breathing exercises were as effective as an antidepressant drug for patients who were severely depressed, but less effective than electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

  Stress
 Many people who practice yoga say they experience a "freeing the mind from mental disturbances," "calming the spirit," or "steadying the mind" with reduction of nervousness, irritability and confusion, depression and mental fatigue.

Metabolic

  Insomnia
 It is claimed that the practice of yoga will benefit your sleep in three ways:
  1. The quality of your sleep will improve because of yoga's beneficial effect on the nervous system, in particular the brain. This results from certain yoga postures increasing the blood supply to the sleep center in the brain.
  2. You will need less sleep because of the improved quality of your sleep, and because yoga increases the elimination of toxins from the body. On average, for every minute you put into yoga you will need one minute less sleep.
  3. You will fall asleep in a shorter time. This is because your body and mind are more relaxed.

Musculo-Skeletal

  Neck Pain / Problems
 Yoga exercises may provide the activity needed to achieve greater flexibility, postural balance, and tension relief that will reduce the incidence of neck pain. "Yoga is one of the best methods someone can use to help decrease their back and neck pain," says Dr. Mary Pulig Schatz, author of A Doctor's Gentle Yoga Guide to Back and Neck Pain Release.

  Muscle Pains (Myalgia)
 Yoga is believed to reduce pain by helping the brain's pain center regulate the gate-controlling mechanism located in the spinal cord and the secretion of natural painkillers in the body. Breathing exercises used in yoga can also reduce pain. Because muscles tend to relax when you exhale, lengthening the time of exhalation can help produce relaxation and reduce tension. Awareness of breathing helps to achieve calmer, slower respiration and aid in relaxation and pain management. Part of the effectiveness of yoga in reducing pain is due to its focus on self-awareness. This self-awareness can have a protective effect and allow for early preventive action.

  Rheumatoid Arthritis
 According to a 1994 study published in the British Journal of Rheumatology, 20 patients with rheumatoid arthritis participated in a yoga program. Left hand grip strength improved significantly and all patients who completed the course expressed the desire to continue after the study.

Organ Health

  COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
 In an experiment conducted in Western Australia, 22 male patients aged 52 to 65 were selected for severe breathing problems such as chronic bronchitis - emphysema - that made normal breathing impossible.

Half of the men underwent standard treatment for 9 months: physiotherapy, that included relaxation techniques, breathing exercises and general workouts to improve stamina. The other 11 men were given a yoga teacher instead of a physiotherapist. He taught them techniques of yoga breathing, which encouraged the use of all chest and abdominal muscles as well as ten yoga postures.

The difference between the two groups was striking. The men who had practiced yoga showed a significant improvement in their ability to exercise, but the physiotherapy group did not. Eight or more out of the 11 patients who underwent yoga declared that they had definitely increased tolerance for exertion and that they recovered more quickly after exertion. The physiotherapy group reported no similar improvement. A significantly greater number of patients reported that "with the help of yogic breathing exercises, they could control an attack of severe shortness of breath without having to seek medical help," according to the study.

Doctors analyzing the results from the study postulate that, after the training, the breathing pattern of the patients in the yoga group changed to a slower and deeper cycle, allowing them to tolerate higher work loads. Patients in the physiotherapy group continued in their shallow rapid breathing pattern.

Pain

  Low Back Pain / Problems
 Yoga has consistently been used to cure and prevent back pain by enhancing strength and flexibility. Both acute and long-term stress can lead to muscle tension and exacerbate back problems. A number of components of yoga help to ease back pain. Postures provide gentle stretching and movements that increase flexibility and help correct bad posture. Breathing exercises can affect the spine in various ways, such as movement of the ribs and changes in pressure within the chest and abdomen. Exhaling can help relax muscles. Relaxation provides a physiologic antidote to stress.

Healing Back Pain Naturally: The Mind-Body Program Proven to Work by Art Brownstein shows you just how to stretch overly tight hamstring muscles, which has resolved many cases of low back pain.

Respiratory

  Asthma
 Studies conducted at yoga institutions in India have reported impressive success in improving asthma. For example, one study of 255 people with asthma found that yoga resulted in improvement or cure in 74% of asthma patients. Another study of 114 patients treated over one year by yoga found a 76% rate of improvement or cure and that asthma attacks could usually be prevented by yoga methods without resorting to drugs.

Another Indian study of 15 people with asthma claimed a 93% improvement rate over a 9-year period. That study found improvement was linked with improved concentration, and the addition of a meditative procedure made the treatment more effective than simple postures and breathing exercises. Yoga practice also resulted in greater reduction in anxiety scores than drug therapy. Its authors believe that yoga practice helps patients through enabling them to gain access to their own internal experience and increased self-awareness.

A study of 46 adolescents with asthma found that yoga practice resulted in a significant increase in pulmonary function and exercise capacity and led to fewer symptoms and medications. Patients were given daily training in yoga for 90 minutes in the morning and one hour in the evening for 40 days. Practice included yogic cleansing procedures (kriyas), maintenance of yogic body postures (asanas), and yogic breathing practices (pranayama).

Skin-Hair-Nails

  Hyperhidrosis
 Practicing deep breathing exercises can reduce the stimulation of your sympathetic nervous system, which is often the cause of the excessive sweating that can occur when you are feeling anxious.
 
 


KEY
May do some good
Likely to help
Highly recommended







GLOSSARY

Anxiety:  Apprehension of danger, or dread, accompanied by nervous restlessness, tension, increased heart rate, and shortness of breath unrelated to a clearly identifiable stimulus.

Cholesterol:  A waxy, fat-like substance manufactured in the liver and found in all tissues, it facilitates the transport and absorption of fatty acids. In foods, only animal products contain cholesterol. An excess of cholesterol in the bloodstream can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis.

Chronic:  Usually Chronic illness: Illness extending over a long period of time.

Nervous System:  A system in the body that is comprised of the brain, spinal cord, nerves, ganglia and parts of the receptor organs that receive and interpret stimuli and transmit impulses to effector organs.

Panic Attack:  A brief, irrational episode of fear that is perceived as so real that an individual may be driven to escape from the place or situation where it occurs. The attack is sudden and increases in severity until it leaves, usually within ten minutes. Panic attack symptoms are numerous and involve both mental and physical signs and symptoms. A panic attack can occur in other anxiety states such as agoraphobia and with certain activities and places. It may occur spontaneously without an apparent cause.

Parasympathetic:  Usually Parasympathetic nervous system: Portion of the autonomic nervous system that is generally associated with increasing digestion and intestinal muscle activity; decreasing blood circulation and respiration.

Stomach:  A hollow, muscular, J-shaped pouch located in the upper part of the abdomen to the left of the midline. The upper end (fundus) is large and dome-shaped; the area just below the fundus is called the body of the stomach. The fundus and the body are often referred to as the cardiac portion of the stomach. The lower (pyloric) portion curves downward and to the right and includes the antrum and the pylorus. The function of the stomach is to begin digestion by physically breaking down food received from the esophagus. The tissues of the stomach wall are composed of three types of muscle fibers: circular, longitudinal and oblique. These fibers create structural elasticity and contractibility, both of which are needed for digestion. The stomach mucosa contains cells which secrete hydrochloric acid and this in turn activates the other gastric enzymes pepsin and rennin. To protect itself from being destroyed by its own enzymes, the stomach’s mucous lining must constantly regenerate itself.

Varicose Veins:  Twisted, widened veins with incompetent valves.